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NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — Re-enlistment rates in the Navy are higher than all of the other services and at their highest levels since the all-volunteer force began, Chief of Naval Personnel Gerald L. Hoewing said Thursday.

Hoewing, a vice admiral, was at Atsugi’s Cinema 77 on Thursday, one of the last stops of a whirlwind tour of naval bases in Japan and South Korea to ensure sailors know their opportunities and options in the Navy, now and in the future.

Re-enlistment rates for sailors with less than 6 years of service exceed 60 percent, Hoewing said. For those with six to 10 years of service, it’s about 77 percent; with 10 to 15 years, about 88 percent; with 16 years through retirement eligibility, about 99 percent.

“That’s great news. That’s why we are able to man those seven carrier strike groups, nine amphibious readiness groups including the two amphibious task forces” for Operation Iraqi Freedom, he said. “We had 61 percent of our ships at sea in support of deployment for all of those missions.

“All of those units out there were manned at or about aggregate 99 percent of their mission requirements. ... We were able to do that ... because our sailors stayed in the United States Navy.

“Thank you very much for the work you’ve done to create a culture of outstanding performance and a culture of readiness that has allowed our Navy and our nation to fight and win two wars in the last two years.”

Advancements also have been significantly higher than anticipated over the past several years, Hoewing said. “We advanced over 25,000 sailors off the March exam, the exam prior to that about 25,000, and we will advance another 25,000 this time. Off the March exam of last year, advancement to 1st class petty officer was the second highest than it’s been since the early 90s.

“Many people think the advancement exam process is going to change,” he said, but “we will continue to do the advancement exam in its present form for at least another few years. We are not quite ready to move into a fully performance-based advancement process.

“I can tell you, as fast as we can get there, we believe the discriminator to determine who gets advanced should be performance on the ‘deck plates,’ not necessarily the ability to take an exam. So that’s going to come and it’s coming as fast as we can get there.

“But don’t expect the advancement exam to get phased out,” Hoewing said. “There will probably be still some level of exam that you’ll end up having to take, to at least make sure you have the opportunity to come to the advancement table.”

Hoewing also offered enlisted servicemembers a big-picture view of the shape of today’s naval personnel force.

“In the year 2000, 75.5 percent of our billets in the Navy were E-4 through E-9 but only 69.9 percent of our people were in those pay grades,” he said. “We have put hundreds of millions of dollars, in fact billions of dollars, in advancing more people to E-4 through E-9.”

Hoewing said his visit also offered an opportunity for him to learn from sailors — important because “every policy we do in the manpower and personnel business is not done in isolation, they are done with the advice and support of the fleet, because it’s the fleet that has to execute them.”

Accordingly, the vice admiral also opened the floor to sailors’ questions — and heard concerns about the somewhat controversial continuous overseas tour policy that requires servicemembers to obtain waivers to do more than two consecutive overseas tours.

“It was great he had a chance to come by and kind of get a sense of the what the problems are out here,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Coulson, 22, an aviation maintenance administration man. “I’m just hoping he’s able to do something about the continuous overseas tours.” Critical jobs remain unfilled while “people in Japan ... are being kicked out” because of the two-tour limit, the 22-year-old said. “I brought it to his attention, so I hope he can do something about it.”

Another sailor who said she was glad to have heard the admiral was Petty Officer 3rd Class Jasmine Luazcano, an aviation structural mechanic.

“I thought it was really great that he actually came out to give us some insight on some of the things that go on, that we don’t get to see, as far as manning, rating and pay,” said the 23-year-old.

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