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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Speculation that the U.S. Navy could cut up to 25,000 sailors over the next few years is “widely off the mark,” a spokeswoman for the chief of naval personnel said Thursday.

The Navy is reviewing the size of its ranks as manpower costs grow and finances tighten but will not announce any plans until early next year, according to Cmdr. Brenda Malone.

The possible deep cuts in manpower were described by unnamed officials in a story published this week in Navy Times.

The 25,000 figure “does not reflect an option under consideration. It is widely off the mark,” Malone wrote in a statement to Stars and Stripes. However, the Navy refused to discuss what numbers are being reviewed.

The Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are all under pressure to reduce manpower and costs.

About 5,750 airmen will be let go over the next year, the Air Force announced in March.

The Navy is taking steps to remove underperforming sailors with less than 10 or more than 19 years of experience through the Perform to Serve program and a first-ever senior enlisted performance review board.

The service has already reduced its ranks by about 48,000 since 2001 while its responsibilities have grown, according to a presentation last month by Rear Adm. Donald Quinn, commander of Navy Personnel, to the National Navy Counselors Association. There are currently 328,000 servicemembers in the Navy.

But the service is still under pressure to reduce the rising costs of salaries, benefits and health care at a time when the entire Department of Defense is squeezed by an economic recession.

Those factors are pushing the Navy into a “lean and selective” period, according to Quinn’s presentation.

The prospect of losing a military job is causing anxiety among sailors.

“We’re downsizing,” said Chief Petty Officer Tasha Wright, a career counselor at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan. “The biggest concern a lot of the junior sailors are having now is just being able to stick around to actually have a job.”

The economic recession has driven Navy retirements and separations to the lowest point in five years.

Wright said sailors are being advised to either do high-quality work and look for undermanned positions or face leaving the service.

“Their performance is going to make a difference,” she said. “Their evaluations are key.”

trittent@pstripes.osd.mil

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