Before talking the reins at Naval Personnel Command, Rear Adm. David Steindl served as commander of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, and he brings that perspective to his new job. (Navy)
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Navy Personnel Command is thousands of miles from any large concentration of Navy ships and aircraft, but Rear Adm. David Steindl, now five months into his job as leader of the Millington, Tennessee-based command, says he’s committed to ensuring fewer disconnects between the fleet and his staff.
“I am a fleet sailor,” he told Navy Times in a July 22 interview. “I’ve done seven deployments — five to the Arabian Gulf, one WESTPAC and one to the Med — and in combat five of those deployments.”
Before arriving at NPC, Steindl commanded the Carl Vinson carrier strike group — and has brought that perspective to his new role serving the fleet.
“I know that our ships must be ... fully manned by combat ready crews,” he said. “I’ve experienced that in my career. You don’t know when you will be in combat, so when we forward-deploy our forces, they will be ready.”
In a wide-ranging interview Steindl laid out his current initiatives to get deploying forces fully manned earlier in their training cycles.
To do this, he plans to roll out a brand new detailing system that will fill billets with fully trained sailors who possess the exact skills their commands need.
He’s also working with the fleet to fix overmanned ratings quickly to ensure sailors have viable career paths, and is streamlining overseas screenings.
Steindl is assisting Navy leaders in creating the new high-deployment pay, a monthly special pay that would kick in on a long deployment. The plan, for upward of $250 for every month over six consecutive months of a deployment, awaits DoD approval.
Here’s a look at Steindl’s priorities, edited for brevity:
Q. How is the push to close the manning gaps at sea going?
A. Over the past 10 months, since August 2013, manning has improved significantly. There’s been a 2.4 percent increase in fit and 2.9 percent increase in fill, and we’re currently up to — and this is our primary statistic in watching the manning health of the fleet — 96.1 percent fill. So, 96.1 percent of our authorized billets are filled and 90.4 percent are fit — filled with the right paygrade and rating.
We have reduced the billet gaps at sea by about 4,000 over those 10 months. We’ve made some good improvements, but we still want to to increase that.
Q. How do you see that improving more in the next year?
A. As you know, the optimized fleet response plan will be instituted in the next year, in fiscal 2015. And the Harry S. Truman strike group will be the first to go through that. We’re really locked on to make sure we meet the manning requirements for Harry S. Truman. That’s going to be the highest manning initiative for this year, ensuring all of those billets in the strike groups are filled to the mandated levels.
So we’re increasing the level of manning the Bureau [of Naval Personnel] is going to deliver from 90 percent fit, 60 days prior to deployment, to 92 percent fit and 95 percent fill at the basic phase of training.
Q. Are you working on other ways to get more sailors to volunteer to head back to sea? More incentives?
A. We’ve increased career sea pay and continue to offer some ratings sea duty incentive pay, and there’s also special duty assignment pay. And now we’re staffing a potential high-deployment pay, too, hoping to be able to reward high op tempo.
Our Early Return to Sea Program is working, and people are volunteering to go back to sea as a result. As part of our early return to sea, we’re taking a very surgical approach to identify senior leaders who are needed in sea duty billets. We’ve identified approximately 23 supervisors who have now been approved to fill those billets.
Q. I’ve heard you have changes in the detailing system coming in the next year — what can you tell us about that?
A. A major part of our initiatives to man the fleet is the coming rollout of “billet-based detailing,” which will occur over the next year.
I consider this one of the most important things that NPC will do in the coming year and certainly over the next decade.
In layman’s terms, we’re replacing a “push” system by rating [alone] with a pull system that is going to go deeper and identify the specific [Navy enlisted classification], rating, paygrade by tiller that the ship needs.
Q. How will this impact training — getting sailors to the schools they need to fill that next billet?
A. We’re going to know what the NEC requirements are for each billet and we’re going to provide the training for the sailor on the way to that billet.
Q. We’ve heard the complaints, as I know you have, about the overseas screening process. What’s happening?
A. We started looking at this hard in June, and what we are going after is a better process for screening our sailors and families for overseas duty.
The challenge that we have is that the current process doesn’t begin until after a sailor receives his orders — has the actual orders in hand.
So ... we’ve lost valuable time waiting for those orders to be released.
If that sailor falls out of the process later, we’re back to square one and ... late in the game, which can lead to more gaps in the fleet.
So to attack those gaps in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces and overseas areas, we’ve brought everyone to the table, and we expect to announce significant process changes in August.
We are looking at starting the screening process earlier — after the sailor is selected, but well before any orders are generated. Then we’ll also set tripwires in the process along the way if it takes too long. This will allow us to make the decision early if we need to find another sailor instead of waiting for this one to complete the process.
Q. Last year CNP changed Perform to Serve into the new Career Waypoint or C-Way program. But there are those who say PTS is not dead and sailors are still going home involuntarily. How do you feel about this?
A. The new system seems to be well-received by the fleet, and we’re pleased with the results of implementing that.
I would say that performance still does matter, and that’s going to impact a sailor’s ability to re-enlist. Secondly, our numbers don’t lie, and we’re able to re-enlist 99.6 percent of those who want to re-enlist.
We do have force-shaping programs to keep all of our ratings healthy, to convert people into undermanned ratings from overmanned ratings.
It’s not always going to be popular to take those necessary actions to keep those ratings healthy and allow for re-enlistment and promotion opportunities for all those sailors.
Q. You recently stood up a board to look at the future of the AW rating, specifically the mechanical aircrewman AWF and avionics aircrewman AWV service ratings. What can you tell us about that process, and is this a model for dealing with ratings in crisis?
A. What I can tell you is we’re committed to keeping all ratings healthy. Where there is a significant decrease in the requirement for a rating — a significant downsizing like is happening in AWF and AWV, then actions are required to maintain promotability in those areas.
At this point in my tour, here, I am not aware of any other ratings where that type of action is required, and every month we look at the health of every rating, and we’re trying to keep it in a range of manning that maintains the right numbers in each paygrade and year group so it allows for promotability.
As for the AWF and AWV, specifically, this is an initiative that I’d like to comment a little bit about.
The first board met July 11 and it brought together stakeholders from air forces, air forces reserve, [Naval Education and Trianing Command], NPC, BUPERS and many more. We’re working to develop courses of action to support these sailors so they have better promotion opportunities.
We are going to be briefing the business improvement team on progress on Aug. 12, and we’ll wrap up with an out brief in September.
So the total time of this board is planned to be about two months. This a very accelerated process to try and support these sailors.
Q. Could this board potentially improve opportunity for these sailors in the September exam cycle?
A. I can’t speculate on how soon this will go into effect. We’re trying to have a plan of action approved by September, and it seems to me that we would be hard-pressed to implement it in the same month.
I don’t want to say we can’t do that, but I’d prefer not to speculate on the timeline. We’ll get the solution first, then set the timeline.