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Strategies & Market Trends : Lessons Learned

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From: Don Green3/28/2023 7:50:52 AM
   of 922
I am retired Navy So I find this very interesting and a Lesson Learned

Reinforce the Navy Reserve

Sailors man the rails as the USS Ronald Reagan departs for Yokosuka, Japan, from Naval Station North Island in San Diego, Calif., August 31, 2015. (Mike Blake/Reuters)none

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“It is not that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better.” —Sir Francis Drake

Here’s what we know: The Navy is as valuable in peacetime as it is in wartime. Were it not for our forces afloat, the seas would be significantly more at risk from the predations of piracy, as well as endangered by rogue states. The stolid presence of American warships is the guarantor of international sea lanes by which the world’s poorest are supplied the means of economic advancement and by which the world’s wealthiest nations develop their life-bettering technologies. From the South China Sea to the Suez and Panama Canals, vessels bearing the designation “USS” protect the goods necessary for energy, nourishment, and shelter.

Here’s another thing we know, having been reported almost everywhere: The market has rarely been tougher for military recruiting. When the Navy reports that it cannot find enough new sailors to replenish its annual losses, it is an international trade concern just as it is an American defense concern. An arrogant assertion? No, it is the unvarnished truth. There exists no force on earth that can secure the sea lanes if our Navy is allowed to atrophy — and the atrophy would be self-inflicted by rigid bureaucracy.

To take Drake’s remark a step further, life at sea should be the keel upon which the modern Navy’s retention lies. A sailor on land, in the shipyard, or at a mustering depot is a body that can be better used aboard the nation’s seagoing vessels. Be he mopping, working an underway replenishment, or filling one of the multitudinous roles required to maintain the vessel’s mission readiness, it should be a priority to see the young seaman detached from anything other than deployments and preparing ships to deploy. But what to do when fresh sailors are getting hard to come by?

Last year, to make up for its recruitment gap, the Navy dipped into its delayed-entrant savings account. Consequently, there’s no longer a fund of pending recruits to draw from. If young Americans are both less inclined to serve as well as less qualified — just 23 percent are qualified today, and not even 10 percentare inclined to join up in the first place — then we must look elsewhere for those who would take up a seabag and cross the ship’s brow.

If not new bodies, then what about Certified Pre-Owned? We should recruit the already recruited, some 48,000 of them, the young veteran sailors in our schools and workplaces — and it would be easier than one might think. As any salesman will tell you, a repeat sale is easier than a cold call.

Right now, when a sailor leaves the service, he’s gone. He’s made the excruciating decision to leave his shipmates, attend separation classes, and finally walk himself outside the gates of the naval base with nothing but a DD-214, a few tattoos he didn’t have at 18, and, for some, a void of purpose. For many, this void is an opportunity, but it is nonetheless novel and terrifying. There’s no easy way back aboard, though he’s more qualified than anyone driving past him.

Separating requires hardening one’s heart against the appeals of senior leadership to stay, so it’s unlikely he’s ready to return. But a year later? When he’s meeting up at a bar in Greater Milwaukee with other guys he served with, and they get to talking about their time, isn’t there a part of him that wishes, as they do, that he could go back for just a while longer? Almost always, yes.

But to return to the service often requires as much or more work than his original enlistment, and he doesn’t want to go through a year of paperwork just to get orders to a ship in the yards, where he’ll be for four years — he wants to sail. He wants to fly to Oahu and step aboard a ship the day it points its bow westward under steam.

Here is an opportunity: We should seek out experienced separated sailors and offer them temporary positions back aboard soon-to-be-deployed vessels the sailing of which depends on men with their qualifications. Additionally, we should reformat the reserves to make continued deployments possible without unnecessary mustering and rigamarole.

First, the hard numbers. When a sailor enlists, he signs up for eight years in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) as an addendum to his active-duty contract (i.e., the timer for the inactive obligation starts counting down the second he’s sworn into the service). Additionally, a recruit often receives a “secret” security clearance that lasts for ten years; without the clearance, a sailor is essentially unable to serve on a ship. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume neither of these numbers is adjustable. Whether a sailor has a four-year enlistment or extends it to six or eight, he has the inactive obligation and the benefit of a decade under a security clearance.

It would benefit the Navy to keep sailors on retainer even after an active enlistment ends. If I had my druthers, the process would be as simple as the engineering officer getting the captain’s approval (a captain who needs to meet certain minimums for viability to deploy), then picking up his phone and asking his former sailors if they’d be willing to come back for a cruise. If a former sailor said yes, the JAG — a Navy lawyer — would send over a contract that reenlisted the refrigeration mechanic for nine months, with the understanding that the deployment could be extended. The sailor would report to an existing Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) and go through the normal medical lookover. He’d then be handed a ticket and jet off to meet the ship. After a successful deployment, the sailor would receive a completion bonus and return to whatever else he had going on in his life. (More practically, an anodyne call from the chief engineer urging a former sailor to report to MEPS to hear about an opportunity seems like a more OPSEC-friendly version, though lacking in dramatic satisfaction.)

Simple as that.

The former sailor already knows ship life, the Navy’s expectations, and how to manage a watch rotation and maintenance. It takes two years to get a recruit past the NUB (non-useful body) stage (boot camp then schooling then on-board qualifications); it’d take two days to get a former sailor back into the routine. When old salts rode along on Tiger cruises — an opportunity for civilians to ride a ship home from Hawaii to homeport with an active sailor they know — it was easy to pick them out because they knew how to move around the ship and speak the language. The only difference was that the salts were grayer, happier versions of active-duty sailors.

But I’m not talking about bringing back retirees for a glory cruise. No, we have tens of thousands of sailors leaving the service every year who are of sound body and mind, most of them still in their twenties, who don’t want to do the Navy full-time or put up with the imposition of Selected Reserve (SELRES) — the type of reserves that have monthly drilling musters and other superfluous obligations.

Most return sailors would be junior enlisted — the labor force of the ship. We could have used an extra couple of watch standers on every deployment I was a part of, but I never did see a reservist slotted in to that or any other position needed before deployments. Having to switch to a twelve- from an eight-hour shift because someone was busted for drugs or got pregnant weeks before deployment was . . . frustrating. Frustrating because we knew no one was coming to fill that gap, so we should all get used to less sleep. Please know, however, that officers in the reserves inform me that a recent policy shift looks to improve this relationship. Sailors in high-demand rates (jobs) — such as a fire controlman with an AEGIS specialty — retain that title when joining the active reserves. Also, there’s now a portal where active reservists can apply for billets on ships in need of certain qualifications.

Consider the secondary advantages of more fluid hiring practices. The Navy would clean out some of the ranks of reluctant lifers who are leery of returning to the civilian world. If sailors knew the door wasn’t slamming behind them and so were less afraid of going forth, I have to think that some of the nastier culture issues in the service might dissipate with the pressure relief of a door left ajar. People who feel trapped are rarely generous or fun to work with — we all served with an E-6 like this at some point.

Then the financial incentives. On one hand, the Navy would be paying for the part of a ship’s cycle that gets the best return — the deployment phase — instead of offering huge reenlistment bonuses to sailors leaving for shore duty or for a ship welded to a pier. For many sailor-turned-civilian-turned-sailors who are hard-up in their civilian lives, the opportunity to stash away cash would be welcome and, with the move away from the pension system, would allow former sailors to avail themselves of the Thrift Saving Plan (the pension’s replacement) for a protracted period to ensure a more secure retirement.

Here’s what I know: The Navy needs sailors, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be streaming into recruiting offices. I offer my suggestion as a way for the most vital branch of the military to quickly rectify a deficit, improve the mission readiness of the fleet, and allow captains to efficiently man their ships without having to beg a detailer for the impossible. We have built into an enlisted man’s contract the structure for eight to ten years of at least sporadic assistance. Rather than allow qualified individuals to disappear, we should call them back for the things that matter most. With 90,000 sailors between IRR and SELRES, we have the bodies. Let’s make it as seamless as possible to get them where we need them to be.

Sailors will forever wish to sail. Let them.
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