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Sailors reassured that budget cuts won’t affect staffing levels

The aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush transits the Strait of Gibraltar on Feb. 27, 2014, on a scheduled nine-month deployment to the Mediterranean and Middle East. During a worldwide all-hands call March 5, 2014, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Bill Moran told sailors the Navy is working on moving to a more predictable and stable deployment cycle.

In the wake of Pentagon plans to slash the size of the Army and to rein in military spending, the chief of naval personnel insisted during a worldwide all-hands call Wednesday that the U.S. Navy would not be cutting back on personnel.

Vice Adm. Bill Moran went straight to questions during the hourlong session, which was televised on the Pentagon Channel and streamed on Navy.mil. Sailors from Norfolk to deployed ships in the Persian Gulf pinged the admiral with questions on a wide range of issues: pay, deployment lengths, uniform changes and advancement. But cuts seemed to be on the mind of most sailors.

“I’m not anticipating having to cut people at all ... The future is really bright for folks who want to continue to serve,” Moran said in response to the first question. He said the Navy expects to have a force of about 324,000 sailors in five years, the same as it does today.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s proposal last month to reduce the size of the Army and to slow the growth of pay and benefits has many sailors spooked about the future quality of life in the service.

Sailors asked the admiral about cutsto the basic housing allowance, subsistance allowance and commissaries. Moran called all those “myths,” asserting that pay is going up but the rate of growth is slowing. “They are certainly not cuts to those programs,” he asserted. Nevertheless, some argue that failure to increase pay and benefits to match inflation amounts to the same thing. Officials anticipate that cuts to the basic allowance for housing will mean that only about 95% of total housing costs will be covered. . Moran admits that reducing the subsidies on commissaries may increase grocery bills in some areas.

Sailors also wondered why deployments are getting longer if the war in Afghanistan is coming to a close.

“The Navy is going to be asked to do more forward,” Moran said, and that’s why there could potentially be longer deployments. However, Moran said he didn’t think 10-month deployments were the new norm; rather, the norm is closer to seven months.

Factors resulting in longer deployments include circumstances in places like Syria, Crimea and the Persian Gulf.

“It’s difficult to tell how long deployments will be,” Moran said, but the Navy is working on going to a more predictable and stable deployment cycle.

The Navy also aims to compensate deployed sailors more. On Tuesday, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced an increase in sea pay for the first time in a decade — a 25% hike for most sailors. But for those on deployments exceeding 190 consecutive days, the Navy is considering giving sailors an extra stipend on top of sea pay — a long-deployment pay incentive.

“We think we need to compensate sailors on long, arduous deployments,” Moran said.

However, the additional stipend is still in the discussion phase with the Defense Department.

simoes.hendrick@stripes.com
Twitter: @HendrickSimoes

 

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