Navy career unit at Little Creek is speeding up answers to sailors’ questions — and getting an admiral’s thumbs-up
By DAVE RESS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: March 2, 2021
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NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Vice Adm. John Nowell, Jr., chief of naval personnel, swung by Little Creek to say thanks for hard work during the pandemic — but the three-star also had some questions.
So he hunkered down with MyNavy Career Center staffer Emily Odom to see how the latest additions to the Navy’s 2-year-old call center approach to helping sailors with pay, benefits and movement questions is working. The idea is to use software much like corporate human relations or customer-service operations use, along with a recently installed internet-connected telephone service that together let Odom and her colleagues at MyNavy speed answers to sailor’s questions and problems.
Nowell’s thinking about ways to help MyNavy operators do even more.
“When sailors are deployed, there’s enough to worry about without having to worry about pay or rent or personnel records,” Nowell said.
Odom walked him and Fleet Master Chief Wes Koshoffer through Koshoffer’s record, telling them how she could check on back pay and benefits levels.
Nowell and Koshoffer asked her about the kinds of questions she needs to refer on to other Navy offices — earlier, Koshoffer told MyNavy supervisors that he hears a lot from sailors about referrals that can take frustratingly long to deal with relatively routine matters.
Later, he asked Odom’s colleague Marcie Farley what would be involved to empower her to update a sailor’s list of dependents, something where now Farley’s role is limited to helping sailors get the right paperwork and guiding them through filling the forms out if they need the help.
Handling Social Security numbers and dates of birth could be an issue, Farley said.
“Well, I’d trust you,” Koshoffer told her, taking a note about her comments on that and on the database input authority she said was also a constraint.
The call center at Little Creek has fielded more than 390,000 queries from sailors since the pandemic started, Farley said. On top of the usual questions, she and her colleagues had to deal with pandemic-related issues — typically involving travel issues because of restriction of movement orders or quarantine after a positive test.
Things got pretty intense when the pandemic first hit. The Navy imposed a “stop-go” halting all movements, at a time when some 30,000 sailors were in transit.
There were lots of calls then — just as there are when a hurricane hits, and the call center is on the front line for sailors reporting in about where they are, what they are facing and what they may need, Farley said.
Hardship duty pay and permanent change of duty station orders have been the two areas with the most questions — and the ones of most concern to senior Navy leadership.
Since then, the COVID-related messages that accounted for many of the more than 300 administrative messages Nowell issued last year have helped make responding to questions a bit easier, Farley said.
Nowell said Odom, Farley and their colleagues can resolve some 90% of sailors’ issues within two or three days, while follow-ups show more than 70% of sailors said they’ve been pleased with the call center’s work.
Being an flag officer, he couldn’t resist asking Odom about another issue that’s been on his mind: job opportunities for military spouses. He asked if there were any at the center.
Odom raised her hand. Her husband is a chief petty officer on a Norfolk-based destroyer.
“So he’s got a direct line here for any complaints,” Nowell said. “What kind of feedback do you hear, negative or positive?”
Positive, only positive, she replied.
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