SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — With an eye toward unfilled sea-billets and maintaining current force levels, the Navy has suspended a program that allowed eligible sailors to opt out of their service contracts up to 24 months early.
The Enlisted Early Transition Program began in 2008 amid “unprecedented” retention and recruiting, allowing sailors to request to separate up to 12 months early, according to a Navy statement. The program was expanded to 24 months in 2011, but was rescinded Friday.
Commanding officers still have options to approve sailors departing up to 90 days early for things like medical reasons and if their separation date falls during the month of their unit’s deactivation, Navy documents state. Sailors seeking an early release from active duty also can still do so through the Early Career Transition Program if they intend to continue to serve in the Navy Reserve.
“Today’s challenges have shifted from reducing the end strength to stabilizing the force and filling gaps at sea,” Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, said in a Navy statement. “EETP will remain suspended until there is sufficient future need for this program.”
The Navy has gone back and forth with force level maintenance over the past year, drawing criticism from sailors. The Navy just convened secretive enlisted retention boards and separated nearly 3,000 mid-career sailors in 31 overmanned fields without providing a window into their deliberations.
While those deliberations were ongoing, the Navy then reported that a third of its total enlisted ratings at sea were unfilled, so cash and other perks were offered to coax sailors back to sea. However, those measures fell short, so hundreds of sailors were forced back to sea before their projected rotation dates to fill the undermanned positions.