MANAMA, Bahrain — Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, emphasized the importance of the Navy’s Middle East presence Wednesday, telling sailors at an all-hands call that Bahrain remains the best option for operating out of the region.
He also addressed rumored cuts to the basic housing allowance for 2015, saying he was “still working on it.”
“Bahrain is going to suddenly emerge” in the eyes of the public and the Defense Department, Greenert said. He described a plan to bring two more coastal patrol ships to the island nation in the spring, along with a long-term proposal to port littoral combat ships, which could replace the current fleet of minesweepers that operate here. The first littoral combat ships are expected to arrive in Bahrain in 2018 with rotational crews, he said later in an interview with Stars and Stripes.
Initiated in 2002, the new littoral combat ship is touted as a fast and agile platform that can operate in near-shore environments.The ships have been under the microscope because of numerous maintenance issues.
Besides new equipment, more crew and families will be coming to Bahrain, Greenert said. Construction is now underway to build more infrastructure and capacity to support the additional units on the base, which is home to the U.S. 5th Fleet.
“We have to get hot on some things,” he said. “Bahrain has a plan, it has a cost, it’s in our budget.”
Greenert stressed Bahrain’s key role in the service’s Middle East presence, telling sailors that the base here would continue to be its “centerpiece.” He said there is “no really good plan B … compared to what we have.”
“We don’t have that kind of deep relationship with any other country that we have with Bahrain,” Greenert told Stripes.
Sailors pressed him on a wide range of topics, most having to do with budgetary issues. Both sailors and Navy civilian employees expressed deep concerns about looming cuts to the Defense Department’s budget.
Greenert said tuition assistance, retirement, pay and compensation would not be an issue in fiscal year 2014. Regarding reports about cuts to housing allowances in 2015, he said the Navy is not aiming to cut pay, but it is looking at what it can afford in terms of pay and basic housing allowance.
Regarding recent news reports that some commissaries might be shut down, he was reassuring at the all-hands call. “There is no momentum to do that,” he said, though he suggested that there may be changes to the way commissaries are run.
On the impact to the civilian workforce of furloughs and the government shutdown, Greenert said: “I apologize for what has been an awful year and a half.”
While in Bahrain, Greenert also met with Bahrain’s king. He was to spend Thanksgiving with sailors on the USS Harry S. Truman.