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No fast answer for Navy’s manning issues, top enlisted sailor says

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano speaks to sailors during a town hall meeting at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

LEON COOK/STARS AND STRIPES

By TYLER HLAVAC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 13, 2017

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — There’s no quick fix for manning issues that may have contributed to recent deadly collisions at sea, the Navy’s top enlisted sailor said at an all-hands meeting at Yokosuka on Wednesday.

More ships overseas and smaller crews mean overworked sailors who can’t complete maintenance on time and potential safety issues, the Government Accountability Office told a hearing last week into the collisions involving the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain that cost 17 sailors their lives.

“Manning is one of those things we need to get fixed immediately,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano told sailors gathered at Yokosuka. “We need the right people on board at the appropriate pay grade. We don’t want you out there operating with reduced manning at a level that has you working 100-hour plus weeks.”

One of the sailors at the meeting, Petty Officer 2nd Class Akram Omar, a boatswain’s mate with port operations, said his unit is one of many facing personnel shortfalls.

“What is the Navy doing for us on shore side for manning, training and maintenance?” Omar asked. “Based off a 2015 model, we are 20 personnel short. We’re out there with the fleet when they’re underway. What is the Navy doing for the shore side?”

Giordano responded that manning is an issue across the Navy and that the service has been pulling sailors from shore units to try to fill manning gaps on ships. But he doesn’t see the issues being resolved soon.

“Manning is affecting every part of our Navy,” he said. “It’s not just here at 7th Fleet, it’s not just at sea, it’s not just at shore. We just don’t have the inventory right now to get that manning level where it should be at across all spectrums, at sea and at shore.”

Rear Adm. Richard Brown, head of the Navy Personnel Command and deputy chief of Naval Personnel, told Stars and Stripes last summer the Navy would consider giving 7th Fleet a higher priority when it comes to manning.

“They are always on deployment,” he said. “We want to make sure that we have the priorities set correctly.”

The Navy announced last month it would begin shifting more than 1,100 senior enlisted sailors from shore billets to fill about 3,000 “gaps” in operations at sea.

The service is trying to add new sailors and retain those already enlisted, allowing some to stay in uniform longer without being promoted. The Navy’s budget for the 2018 fiscal year aims to add 4,000 sailors, bringing its roll up to 327,900.

However, Giordano said a series of short-term spending bills by Congress have affected the Navy’s budget and ability to bring more sailors into the fleet.

“The biggest bill to the Navy is each and every one of you,” Giordano told the Yokosuka sailors. “You’re about 50 percent of our total budget. Manpower is quite expensive.”

hlavac.tyler@stripes.com

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano speaks to sailors during a town hall meeting at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.
LEON COOK/STARS AND STRIPES

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