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Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West speaks with a group of sailors Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. He spoke for only a few minutes before opening the floor to questions for more than an hour to sailors.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West speaks with a group of sailors Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. He spoke for only a few minutes before opening the floor to questions for more than an hour to sailors. (Trevor Andersen/Stars and Stripes)

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West speaks with a group of sailors Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. He spoke for only a few minutes before opening the floor to questions for more than an hour to sailors.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West speaks with a group of sailors Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. He spoke for only a few minutes before opening the floor to questions for more than an hour to sailors. (Trevor Andersen/Stars and Stripes)

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West does clapping push-ups with ''motivators'' he selected from the audience during a meeting with sailors Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West does clapping push-ups with ''motivators'' he selected from the audience during a meeting with sailors Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. (Trevor Andersen/Stars and Stripes)

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West takes questions from the audience during a meeting with sailors Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base. Question topics included the Perform To Serve sailor retention program, uniform regulations and future naval technology.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West takes questions from the audience during a meeting with sailors Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base. Question topics included the Perform To Serve sailor retention program, uniform regulations and future naval technology. (Trevor Andersen/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy wants to give sailors being involuntary separated from the service earlier notification of their impending exits, the service’s top enlisted sailor said Thursday.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West made the comments at an all-hands gathering at Yokosuka after sailors said that earlier notice would give them more time to plan for the civilian world.

Record re-enlistments and a slowdown in retirements have forced the Navy to cut sailors, some of whom were six years from earning their retirement pensions. Several thousand sailors have been separated from the Navy in recent years under the Perform to Serve program, which evaluates enlisted sailors under the rank of E-6 with between six and 14 years’ service prior to each re-enlistment.

“When I came into the Navy, we had 40 percent first-term retention,” West told sailors. “Now we have almost double that.”

The service’s personnel command is exploring ways that it can more quickly predict who will be separated, West told Stars and Stripes. Currently, sailors are supposed to get as many as six “looks” before they get a definitive answer on whether they will keep their jobs.

Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Marshall, who asked West a question about the possibility of earlier notification, later told Stars and Stripes that he thought the Perform to Serve process should begin at least 18 months prior to enlistment.

For those being separated, six months isn’t enough time to find new employment, plan out a move and find family medical services, Marshall said.

It’s also less likely that continuing sailors would have much choice on their next duty station in that time frame, he said.

“It’s a tremendous amount of stress for servicemembers and families,” Marshall said.

West also told stories from his 32 years in the Navy and thanked sailors for their service during what was most likely his final stop in Yokosuka in uniform.

West, originally of Rising Fawn, Ga., is scheduled to retire this year. The process to name his successor is ongoing, he said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Trevor Andersen contributed to this report.

slavine@pstripes.osd.mil

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