Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson

Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson ()

The nation’s economic crisis means fewer sailors are choosing to leave the Navy at a time the service already has too many troops, according to Navy leaders. And that means some sailors might miss out on bonuses this year.

"We began to see that the economy is causing different behavior on the part of the force," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead said in a podcast on Monday. "Our retention is extremely high; we’re continuing to retain great sailors. We are not seeing the attrition, or people leaving the Navy, in the numbers that we have in the past, and I really do believe that that’s being driven by the economy."

In February, the nation’s unemployment rate jumped from 7.6 percent to 8.1 percent — the highest in more than 25 years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

As a result of more sailors staying in, the Navy predicts it will end the fiscal year about 2 percent above its authorized end strength, Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson, the Navy’s chief of personnel, told congressional leaders last week.

Congress has authorized the Navy an end strength of 326,323, and the Navy started its 2009 fiscal calendar with about 332,000 sailors, Ferguson said during the House Appropriations’ defense subcommittee hearing on March 19.

The mounting numbers have forced the service to do some "reprogramming" in order to reduce the force by a targeted 3,000 sailors.

For example, the Navy slashed re-enlistment dollars as it tweaked its Selective Re-enlistment Bonus program, changing hundreds of job specialties across three enlistment zones that range from first-term sailors to those with up to 14 years’ service. The cut of $45 million from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2009 will impact more than 33,000 sailors.

The bonuses are "an incentive to re-enlist. If you take the incentive away, you may end up with fewer people enlisting," said Sharon Anderson, a spokeswoman with the Navy’s Personnel Command. "It is market-based. In the end, yes, it does change some people’s mind if the SRB has gone down or has been eliminated."

The service also is maximizing its Perform-to-Serve program, keeping those sailors who prove to be the top performers within their job specialties. Those sailors who don’t make the grade are not permitted to re-enlist, Anderson said.

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