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Navy admiral calls for more sailors and longer tours

Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, chief of naval personnel, meets with sailors and civilians Thursday at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, discussing issues such as manning, job performance, education and training and deployments in this July 2012 photo.

SANDRA JONTZ/STARS AND STRIPES

By ED FRIEDRICH | Scripps Howard News Service | Published: September 12, 2012

BANGOR, Wash. — The Navy shrank from 390,000 sailors to 320,000 during the past decade while demand for its ships and submarines ballooned. More sailors are needed at sea, requiring a rebalancing, the Navy's chief of personnel said during an all-hands call at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor before about 500 sailors.

"Adjusting gaps at sea is my primary focus," Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk said Monday. The USS John C. Stennis is a good -- but exaggerated -- example. The aircraft carrier returned from a seven-month deployment to the Middle East on March 2 and wasn't scheduled for another until January.

But with tensions remaining high in that region, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered the ship back out to sea for eight more months. The directive came July 16; the Stennis departed Aug. 27; there was little time to round out a crew.

Sea duty incentive programs already in place helped, but the turnaround was too quick. The Navy changed its policy July 12 to enable it to send sailors with critical skills to sea before their shore duty was completed. They'd receive a lump sum based on the number of months of shore duty lost. Sailors on land the longest would go first, beginning at two years. Two hundred seventy-one sailors took this route to the Stennis.

The policy is meant to be temporary, but that depends on world situations.

"We use a variety of long-term and voluntary initiatives to support our seagoing force," Van Buskirk said. "Now, while these actions begin to take traction, we've determined that we need to take additional measures to reduce these gaps at sea."

Long-term measures include Sea Duty Incentive Pay and the Voluntary Sea Duty Program. The first offers sailors in pay grades E-5 through E-9 in jobs undermanned at sea to get a monetary incentive for extending their sea assignment or curtailing shore duty to return to sea duty. It began in 2007 and is adjusted often to meet Navy needs. Sailors get a lump-sum payment based on the length of the sea-duty extension or shore-duty curtailment, ranging from $500 to $1,000 per month.

The Voluntary Sea Duty Program, which was announced in January, allows sailors and their families to stay in their same duty location or move to a duty station of their choice if they extend at sea or return to sea duty early. They can take advantage of both programs at the same time.

The Navy is working on balancing manpower among jobs, or rates. Sailors in overmanned rates might not advance unless they convert to a different rate. The Navy has never had a higher-quality workforce, said Van Buskirk.

"To remain competitive, you have to be assignable, distributable and deployable," Van Buskirk told the sailors.
 

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