Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert speaks to sailors during a May 3 all-hands call at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. (MC1(SW/EXW) Peter D. Lawlor/Navy)
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Top Navy leaders are looking at a more comfortable Navy working uniform, ways to better train their sailors, and how the service might reverse the dialed-down participation in fleet weeks.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert spoke to these topics and more in an interview with Navy Times.
Greenert has been traveling around the fleet, conducting all-hands calls, to field sailor concerns. On May 3, he and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens made two stops in Florida, at Naval Station Mayport and Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
That afternoon, Greenert spoke with Navy Times.
Excerpts from the interview, edited for space and clarity:
Q. In the Naval Air Station Jacksonville all-hands call, you spoke about some improvements to the NWU Type I that you’re looking into.
A. Yes, we’ve found in the warmer climates that folks are saying, “Hey, this thing is hot, and it doesn’t breathe well.” MCPON and I had made the decision not to focus on new [uniforms] but to make what we have now as high-quality and as comfortable as possible. But it has to be affordable. We’ve been down that road before and found that things were unaffordable.
Q. How is retention in the force going? You’ve had record-high retention for a number of years. Now, is it still holding at those high levels, or is it slipping?
A. We’re watching it very carefully, as there are areas of concern. SEALs in Zone B, [more than six years but less than 10], some of our nuclear-trained officers — that’s wavering a bit. It got very low, and in the teens, and I’m told it’s now in the higher teens. I don’t want to do this like you’re watching your stocks, if that makes sense, but I am watching that.
I am concerned about the high-tech ratings in our surface fleet, particularly the [ballistic missile defense] area. Those are dropping some.
There are some key areas that we have to keep our eye on as we watch unemployment. What I am doing is getting with the chief of naval personnel and saying, “Let’s take a look at what we have and how are we going to monitor this so, as much as possible, we’re at the leading edge of these things and not falling behind.”
Q. Are the new recruiting efforts going well? You are plussing-up Great Lakes to handle the new load, but will you need more recruiters to find these future sailors?
A. The short answer is we have enough [recruiters] to handle this load. But we are encouraging these recruiters to really push to get their quotas in the first weeks of the month. If you wait too long, toward the end of the month, then there’s a tendency to lower standards, and we’re watching that carefully.
Q. Diversity seems to be lacking in the aviation and submarine communities. What are you doing in these and other areas to change that picture?
A. I meet with the community leaders, aviation, submarine, CEC [Civil Engineer Corps]— there are 17, actually, and I meet with them semiannually and we talk about this very thing. We talk about gender, ethnicity; we talk about professional diversity, the whole concept. But to answer your question, the aviation community is reasonably improving. They’re happy with their momentum. They’re happy with the track they’re on, but they’re not there yet in recruiting and accessing junior officers.
What they’re not satisfied with, particularly in the gender arena, but also ethnicity, is getting department heads and people willing to stay and move on [in a career], especially in the type model series. Submariners, to another extent, that’s true, and so you go to work to make sure people feel confident and comfortable in their work and that it’s a career path they can continue on.
There’s various and sundry reasons, but we study it closely. I’ll tell you that community leaders give attention to it. I put personal effort into it and give time to the organizations that support these groups.
Q. Talk has died down since Congress acted and mandated the other services continue to provide tuition assistance this year. Are you seeing any interest from the other services on how the Navy manages its program, and do you expect any more action from DoD in how the services manage these programs this year?
A. I haven’t seen any real interest, but there is curiosity as to why I was insistent that we keep this benefit going. Some folks on the hill are concerned about for-profit institutions tending to water down or degrade the quality of education. I completely agree with that, and we have to watch that to make sure our kids aren’t getting education degrees just for the sake of getting a degree, but that there’s an intention here — a track they’re on that would tend to make them useful, without mandating courses or limiting majors, either.
DoD-wide, I haven’t heard of any movement. But there’s interest in our process and in possibly having one program for all.
Q. Fleet Weeks have been going on without the presence of Navy ships. Are you hopeful you can turn more of this back on next year?
A. Yes I am. I’ll sit down with [Chief of Information Rear Adm.] John Kirby, [Fleet Forces Commander Adm.] Bill Gortney and [Pacific Fleet Commander Adm.] Cecil Haney and see what we can do. But there has to be a consistency with what we do, Navywide. It’s what makes sense. Some localities, you can have a Navy Week and you don’t necessarily need ships because ships come and go from there all the time. It’s all about outreach and raising awareness of their Navy. We have to be a bit more sophisticated at how we look at this. It could end up that everything is going to be consistent, but we want to make sure we’re opening the aperture a bit on this.
Q. When sequestration hit, the Navy had to shut off a number of deployments, including the Southern Command area of responsibility. Navy Times has heard talk of possibly reinstating at least one frigate deployment down there.
A. What we’re doing is walking our way back through all of the combatant commanders with the original global force management allocation plan. We’re about done with that, and we’ll restore those that we can. We’re revisiting our 13 deployments [that were canceled] and seeing if there’s a reason to do that.
We are looking at a SOUTHCOM deployment. We want to make sure this is what the SOUTHCOM commander wants for the money that we have. What I don’t want to do is kind of willy-nilly cherry-pick a ship here and there without consulting with the combatant commander.