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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy’s experimental “Sea Swap” program could be expanded to sailors serving in Bahrain who recently said goodbye to families evacuated because of risks of possible terrorist attacks.

Navy leaders are looking at how they might “do Sea Swap … with the crew in Bahrain so we do not have to have them be away from their families for a long period of time,” Vice Adm. Timothy LaFleur, commander Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet, said Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, more than half of the nearly 1,000 dependents being evacuated as part of a mandatory relocation order had left Bahrain, with the remaining slated to be out by next week, a defense official said.

The evacuation order is for one month, and then the situation and threat conditions will be re-evaluated before families can return, the official said.

The Sea Swap program of leaving destroyers out at sea and swapping crews on and off the vessels has been hailed as an overall success by the Navy and the Center for Naval Analyses, a Navy-sponsored think tank, which Tuesday released its study of the program.

The CNA review included results of a quality-of-life survey that highlighted a possible snag in the program when it comes to sailors’ desires to re-enlist.

“Survey results indicated that the sailors protested the implicit changes in Navy culture and the extra work,” reads a portion of the CNA report. “There were frequent claims that Sea Swap was generally bad for morale. Preliminary retention data show a negative effect on re-enlistment rates.”

However, Navy leaders from two of the participating ships, the USS Higgins and Fletcher, challenged the CNA reporting, saying their crews were seeing retention rates and plans in the 70-plus percent range.

“We’ve not seen a drop off in retention,” said Cmdr. Roy Kitchener, commanding officer of the USS Higgins. “Ask a sailor on my ship on any given day, and the answer could be different. … But at this point, we haven’t seen [a drop in retention.]”


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