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New CNO listens to sailors' concerns at Norfolk Naval Station

By DIANNA CAHN | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: September 23, 2015

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Tuesday marked Adm. John Richardson's second working day as chief of naval operations, and he chose to spend it with the fleet in Norfolk hearing from sailors about what issues concern them.

"This is day two of my tenure," the admiral told a nearly full auditorium at Norfolk Naval Station. "As quickly as I possibly could, I wanted to get out and start to engage with all of you."

Then, after a brief pep talk — in which he informed the sailors that their creativity, resilience and commitment to safety, integrity and accountability were the Navy's secret weapon — Richardson got a sampling of what was on sailors' minds.

There was discussion of technology and training with a simulator, as well as fitness requirements and whether they should be gender-specific. There was an opportunity for Richardson to talk about budget constraints and the threat of a government shutdown next week.

But most questions centered around lifestyle, ranging from paternity leave, housing and pay to uniforms and coveralls to child care and shaving regulations.

During the tenure of his predecessor, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Navy adopted a series of family-friendly policies. Those included extended child care hours, longer maternity leave and changes to physical fitness tests.

On Tuesday, a sailor asked whether the Navy was considering paternity leave, a suggestion greeted with loud applause.

In response, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens said the issue was under discussion. He said that while the decision is up to the Pentagon and lawmakers, Navy leaders are making recommendations.

He called the sailor up to the podium, and then asked three other sailors — all fathers — to join him. He told them to brainstorm for 30 seconds and come up with a recommended time frame. They suggested four weeks.

Stevens said that was right in line with the rest of the Navy, which is saying three weeks.

As he did when he assumed command last week, Richardson stressed Tuesday that the Navy has taken steps to ensure that scheduling, maintenance and training were being streamlined to shorten deployments to seven months starting in October.

But he acknowledged during remarks to media following the meeting that the looming threat of a government shutdown, which will occur if Congress can't pass a government-funding measure, will affect Navy operations.

"When you get those disruptions in our funding, it's a cause and effect across the Navy," Richardson said. "We have to continue to advocate for stable resourcing, and that's the way we get our job done."

He said there's a commitment from senior Navy leadership on down to implement a plan that will get ships' maintenance done on time, one of the biggest causes for extended ship deployments.

Richardson also said new coveralls were being tried at sea.

"I am very interested in a coverall-type uniform that is useful, looks sharp and allows for us to do our jobs in a more effective way and a more efficient way," he said.

At the conclusion of the questioning, Stevens asked the sailors to close their eyes and rate Navy morale on a scale of poor, good, good-high, excellent and outstanding.

The vast majority raised their hands for good.

Asked later whether he was disappointed that out of five options, most sailors rated morale second from the lowest, Richardson said he was encouraged.

"I think the vast majority of the people raised their hands to say the overall morale was good," Richardson said.

He did not account for the fact that four of the five options were positive.

dianna.cahn@pilotonline.com

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Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson speaks with Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Terrance Branch after an all-hands call at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., Sept, 22, 2015.
EDWARD GUTTIERREZ III/U.S. NAVY

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