By Rear Adm. Rick Snyder
Director, 21st Century Sailor Office
As the 21st Century Sailor Office Director, it’s important for me to get out into the Fleet to share the latest information on 21st Century Sailor programs from the D.C. perspective, but also because it’s vital that I hear from Sailors, both at senior levels and on the deck plate. Several topics were at the forefront in a recent trip to visit the Fleet in Hawaii – the physical fitness assessment (PFA), mental health, sexual assault, and prescription drugs.
We are looking into the PFA to improve your satisfaction with the program. Based on Fleet feedback, we are reviewing the height, weight and body fat requirements to see if changes to the standards or measurement techniques are needed. We are exploring ways to reward and recognize those Sailors who consistently demonstrate outstanding performance on the PFA. We’re also looking into ways in which we could perhaps reinforce a culture of fitness with expanded gym hours and improved nutrition support. You’re not satisfied with the current PFA – shipmates in Hawaii made that clear. I’ll keep you posted on the decisions regarding the above efforts.
Sailors were also concerned about mental health – theirs and that of their shipmates. It’s a concern I share. Last year was a tough year in the Navy for suspected deaths by suicide. We lost 68 Sailors, 53 active and 15 reserves. Every one of those losses is tragic; one is one too many. Being there for every Sailor every day means knowing your shipmates – build those relationships so you’ll know when something’s wrong and step in to help without having to ask.
Many of you are asking for more stress control training and better access to mental health specialists. We will continue to provide Operational Stress Control (OSC) Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) to the Fleet. Though limited in number and availability, I’ve heard nothing but outstanding feedback on the training the teams provide. We’re looking to increase the number of teams available to the Fleet, and I encourage you to explore the www.navynavstress.com website for additional resources. You can access many of the training tools the OSC MTTs provide. We’ve also added deployed resilience counselors on big-deck ships to provide better deckplate, non-medical counseling support for Sailors faced with challenges. We want to ensure Sailors understand the tools to help navigate stress and have access to mental health specialists wherever and whenever they need them.
Sexual assault, like suicide, is a vexing problem. We must continue together towards our goal of a Navy in which every Sailor understands what sexual assault is, how to play a role in prevention, and how to report it; a Navy in which if prevention fails, victims know they will be supported and everyone knows that perpetrators will be held appropriately accountable.
To that end, we’re making progress. We know that compared to 2012, the occurrences of unwanted sexual contact are down and reports of sexual assault are up. This means fewer Sailors are being sexually assaulted, and more of those assaulted are confident to come forward to get the help they need and help us hold the perpetrators appropriately accountable. However, we still have work to do. Male Sailors who are sexually assaulted are reluctant to come forward. We need to address this challenge by encouraging and supporting those Sailors. We also know that retaliation for reporting sexual assault is a problem that we must continue to address. People who have the courage to come forward after a traumatic event must be treated with dignity and respect. They cannot be stigmatized or unfairly disadvantaged. We’re looking to better understand the problem of retaliation and get after it.
Another topic that came up during the All Hands Calls was the rise in prescription drug misuse and abuse. Positive hits on urinalysis tests are down for illicit drugs. However, the number of Sailors popping for prescription drugs is increasing. Prescription drugs may only be taken when validly prescribed to you by a medical professional. To help you understand what exactly this means, we’re working with the Bureau of Medicine to make it clear to Sailors what validly prescribed means. If you’re not sure whether it’s a legal use of your medication, don’t take it. Contact your doctor – it’s not worth risking your career.
On a positive note,when I arrived in my room at Pearl Harbor Naval Station, one of the first things I noticed was the MWR ‘glossy’ – the booklet listing MWR activities available to Sailors – fantastic gyms, Mongolian BBQ, standup paddle boarding, fishing trips, painting classes surf lessons, hikes to waterfalls, group fitness classes, bike trips and more. Wow – this is how we help prevent destructive behaviors. Provide the opportunity for lots of constructive behaviors – a chance to make good decisions. BZ to the Hawaii MWR team!
I also got to meet with one of my favorite groups – the local CSADD chapters. CSADD is the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions – Sailors helping Sailors. These Sailors get it. They take full advantage of the activities listed in the MWR ‘glossy.’ In fact, they add to the list by organizing events within and amongst the commands, in port and at sea. If you don’t know CSADD, you’re missing an opportunity to help yourself and help your shipmates…get involved.
My thanks to all Sailors for your hard work, sacrifices, and support of our Navy and our Nation. My particular thanks to the many Sailors who spoke up during my visit to the Pacific Fleet. As always, please continue to share your feedback with me. I will be traveling again throughout the year to engage face-to-face, but in the meantime, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your comments and questions. I’ll see you out in the Fleet.