Posts Tagged ‘navy’

I mean seriously, Navy manpower woes are the gift that keeps on giving. There are three (!!!) more NAVADMINs that show the Navy is really struggling to keep its people, especially its technical people, from leaving.

The first is NAVADMIN 186/22, which concerns Special Duty Assignment Pay (SDAP). SDAP is an additional monthly pay for Sailors that are in hard-to-fill jobs or qualify in difficult assignments. The Navy uses SDAP to help incentivize Sailors taking the hard duty assignments, because a few hundred dollars extra a month might motivate someone to fill that position.SDAP has been changed for nuclear-qualified Sailors in the following manner:

Billet / NEC            Level    Pay              Change  RDMC/EDMC/CVN DLCPO     7        525.00           +75.00  N33Z NEC                6        450.00           New  NPTU W/SUPERVISOR NEC   6        450.00           No change  SEA W/SUPERVISOR NEC    5        375.00           No change  SHORE W/SUPERVISOR NEC  3        225.00           -75.00  SEA W/OPERATOR NEC      2        150.00           No change  SHORE W/OPERATOR NEC    1         75.00           -75.00 
NAVADMIN 186/22

So what does that mean? In a nutshell, shore assignment SDAP was lowered, while at-sea SDAP was either added or increased. The N33Z NEC refers to an at-sea Sailor that qualifies as an Engineering Watch Supervisor (EWS), which is the senior most enlisted watchstander on a nuclear power plant.Since SDAP is an incentive pay, this is yet more proof that the Navy is trying to push Sailors towards at-sea assignment and to qualify as an EWS at-sea. They wouldn’t bother increasing SDAP if Sailors were already filling those roles without issue.What about technically-savvy officers? Well, NAVADMIN 188/22 changes the accession rules for the Baccalaureate Degree Completion Program (BDCP), which is a program where civilians or enlisted Sailors that have at least 60 credit hours can apply to get a commission, where they get paid while they finish their degree. It’s not as great a deal because it doesn’t pay for tuition, however it does land you a job as an officer afterwards, with the catch of requiring an 8 year commitment. If that sounds a bit long, it is, because a normal ROTC commitment used to be only 4 years…which was increased to 5 years, and for aviators, to 5 years AFTER you qualified to fly (which ends up becoming 8-10 years).BDCP eligibility was extended to…you guessed it…the technical fields of cryptology, cyber, intelligence, networks and oceanography. The only reason to extend this program to those fields is because the normal methods of obtaining officers are not working.The last odd NAVADMIN is 184/22, which simply says that the O-6 continuation board will immediately follow the O-7 selection board. For those not in the know, an O-6 in the Navy is a Captain and an O-7 is a Rear Admiral.Now, normally this board is one of many that are on a routine schedule without any real attention paid to it. Remember that Captains eligible to be reviewed for selection to admiral are well past the 20 years needed to retire, and are allowed to hang out until 30 years of service. They can hang out longer if a continuation board allows it. Since the board already meets on a schedule, why would someone need a NAVADMIN to change when the board meets, and inform the rest of the Navy?Simply put, there was a significant uptick in O-6 retirements after the last O-7 selection board. I asked a few people in the know (who asked to remain nameless) and the word was that the Navy Personnel Office apparently didn’t bother to communicate with a lot of O-6s that were not selected for O-7, and a lot of them submitted retirement requests in response to this poor treatment. While nobody is entitled to be selected for O-7, its not hard to communicate with officers to let them know they weren’t picked. Especially for someone that has given over 20 years to the Navy, you would think the Navy could reciprocate and treat them with respect. The number of retirements stung Navy manpower, hence the short NAVADMIN to try and prevent this from happening again this year.Now, that’s all speculation, but given all the other things happening…is anyone surprised? I sure wasn’t. I am surprised at just how bad recruitment and retention are getting. I had predicted that 2023 would be the breaking point, but that was before the vaccine mandate and terrible withdrawal from Afghanistan. I think those events have accelerated a process that was underway long before this year. I see more and more servicemembers that would otherwise happily stay on a few extra years because they enjoyed the job instead decide to leave for greener pastures. When you go all out to make the Navy a miserable place to work, why would anyone be surprised that you have to increasingly bribe people to stay in?This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

It’s not often I get immediate verification of something I blog about. For example, I wrote about how we’re going to have to accept that Russia will in fact win in Ukraine, and at first that prediction looked incorrect, but as the conflict grinds on, its becoming more obvious that Russia can’t afford to lose, even at a terrible cost. I could be wrong, maybe Ukraine will pull out a big “W” in the end, but I still think its unlikely.

But the Navy’s manpower crisis…wow. That’s a gift that keeps on giving. Since the last article, Navy has released three more NAVADMIN messages that prove the Navy is in a middle-management manpower crunch.

The first is NAVADMIN 176/22, which seems like a mundane update to retirement policy. The second paragraph is most interesting:

2.  Reference (c) modified the service-in-grade (SIG) (also known as time-in-grade) requirements for O-4s.  Specifically, reference (c) modified reference (d) to require 3-years SIG for voluntary regular retirement eligibility. 
NAVADMIN 176/22

Normally you can retire as an O-4 after only two years. This isn’t a huge change, however, it might push more people to stay an extra year.

But then NAVADMIN 177/22 came out, talking about incentive pay for submarine commanding officer special mission billets. There is plenty of competition to become a submarine CO, so many good people don’t select for submarine command. They can select for CO Special Mission, which is basically a way of saying “we need you to stay in the Navy to fill billets at higher levels” because so many submarine O-5’s retire at 20 years. It’s a problem that has waxed and waned over the years, but is now becoming increasingly difficult to manage.

The NAVADMIN allocates a bonus of $20,000 annually for members that sign a 3-5 year commitment. That is an awful lot of money, especially considering an O-5 submariner is likely making over $150K a year anyway. The eligibility requirements make it very obvious what problem they are solving:

    b.  Have completed at least 19 years of Active Duty Commissioned Service (ADCS) and not more than 25 years of ADCS at the start of the period of additional obligated service. 
NAVADMIN 177/22

Which really means “prevent people from retiring right at 20 years and keep them in a bit longer by throwing $20K a year at them.”

Essentially, these two officer-related NAVADMINs are trying to stem the departure of mid-grade Naval Officers. Gee, I wonder why mid-grade Naval Officers would be leaving in the first place? I’ll let you debate that in the comments.

So are there applicable actions on the enlisted Sailor side? You betcha! The most interesting is NAVADMIN 178/22. The first two paragraphs lay it out pretty well:

1.  This NAVADMIN announces a pilot program for Senior Enlisted Advance to Position (SEA2P) designed to keep deploying units mission-ready by aggressively filling critical at-sea leadership billets.  The pilot program will convene a billet selection board consisting of senior representatives from Fleet and participating type commander (TYCOM) staffs to select those Sailors who are best and fully qualified to advance and fill specific priority sea billets.  The pilot includes the Nimitz Strike Group on the West Coast and the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group on the East Coast. Additionally, the pilot will include USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73). Factors for consideration in determining best and fully qualified applicants include sustained superior performance, documented qualifications, platform experience, and potential to succeed in the billet.  Sailors selected must obligate service (OBLISERV) to complete 36 months in the SEA2P billet and will be permanently advanced upon reporting to their ultimate duty station.  This pilot will be limited to critical E8 and E9 sea billets and is 
separate from reference (a). 
 
2.  To be eligible for SEA2P, Sailors must have been selected or screened as a non-select for advancement to E8 or E9 by the respective fiscal year (FY) 2023 selection boards, or be advancement-eligible for the respective FY-24 boards in line with reference (b).  Time-in-rate (TIR) waivers will be approved for FY-24 advancement-eligible Sailors who are selected for SEA2P.  All Sailors selected for SEA2P billets should expect to receive permanent change of station (PCS) orders with a transfer date as early as  30-45 days after selection. 
NAVADMIN 178/22

In one long sentence this says: “We are critically undermanned at sea in senior enlisted positions, yet somehow we have lots of people that haven’t selected for advancement to these senior enlisted positions, so now they can apply to fill this position and get permanently promoted when they finish the tour.”

Now, my first question is: if we don’t have enough senior people to fill these jobs, but we have people that aren’t selecting for senior positions, why don’t we just select more people? Enlisted management sits almost entirely in the Department of the Navy’s purview, unlike Naval Officers that face considerable Congressional oversight as to their selection and promotion. The DoN doesn’t appear to be upping the selection rate, and is instead opting for a tightly controlled board that meets in relative secrecy to pick people for specific jobs. There are advantages to this, since you can force someone to take sea-duty orders, but you could do that anyway (to an extent), so I’m not sure why they are opting for this method.

These NAVADMINs, coming on the heels of the messages I previously talked about, are just another indicator that the Navy is experiencing a massive flight of talent that is really getting senior leadership concerned. I think they would be far better off addressing the real concerns of junior officers and junior enlisted, and to be fair, Navy Sailors get plenty of surveys about the health of the force, but then the Navy doesn’t appear to act on any of these issues. Just like the suicide crisis on the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, Navy has all the data, but isn’t choosing to solve the correct problem.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. If you enjoyed this article, please like it, share it on social media, and send a tip to Peter in DaTipJar. You can also buy one of my books for yourself or a friend to help me out.

USS BONHOMME RICHARD on fire on 12 July 2020, from Wikipedia

Do you remember the USS BONHOMME RICHARD fire from 2020? Today marks two years since the fire was finally extinguished, having raged for four days while the ship was moored in Naval Station San Diego. Thankfully, nobody was killed in the fire, although 63 people suffered minor injuries, but the ship was ultimately scrapped, being sold for just over 3 million dollars and towed to a scrapyard in Texas.

A multi-billion dollar warship being scrapped due to a fire that should have been put out relatively quickly? Perhaps the Navy will hold someone accountable? I mean, when LtCol Stu Scheller said mean true things on social media, he was placed in jail for nine days and ultimately fined $5,000. Surely the incompetence that leads to the preventable loss of a warship in a US port would be punished more severely?

Well, the Navy unveiled its punishments on Friday:

“The disposition decisions included six Nonjudicial Punishments (NJP) with guilty findings, two NJPs with Matter of Interest Filings (MIF) and a Letter of Instruction (LOI), two NJP dismissals with a warning, one additional MIF, five other LOIs, three Non-Punitive Letters of Caution (NPLOC), two letters to former sailors documenting substandard performance, and six no-action determinations,” according to a statement from the service.”

From navy.mil

The Navy also issued a letter of censure to retired VADM Brown and two LOIs for other admirals.

For most non-Navy people, the language used for the above punishments listed is confusing, so I’ll translate what it says into what it actually means.

First, the letter of censure. In this case, it was issued to VADM (ret) Brown, who is already retired. The letter can be viewed here. A letter of censure is a “strongly” worded letter from the Secretary of the Navy expressing their disgust for someone’s actions. It sits in a service member’s record, so if you were hoping to promote, its unlikely to happen. That…doesn’t matter much to someone who is already retired. Worse still, it appears that nobody interviewed VADM (ret) Brown, and he is contesting the results, so the letter may ultimately be rescinded.

In other words, letter of censure = no punishment if you’re retired.

Let’s look at the non-judicial punishment (NJP) results:

  • 6 NJP with guilty findings
  • 2 NJP with MIF and LOI
  • 2 NJP dismissals
  • 1 MIF
  • 5 LOIs
  • 3 NPLOCs
  • 2 letters to former Sailors
  • 6 no-actions

NJP is a legal proceeding where the Navy doesn’t have to prove something “beyond a reasonable doubt,” instead they can punish someone if there is a “preponderance of the evidence.” If that sounds a bit sketchy to you, it should. The “preponderance” level essentially means you can find someone guilty of a crime even when there is substantial evidence placing doubt as to whether the person was really responsible.

The Navy is supposed to use NJP to punish small offenses quickly so as to maintain good order and discipline. NJP punishments are limited in nature and aren’t considered an actual conviction, so they don’t translate to felonies or misdemeanors on a service member’s record when they leave service.

The fire on the BONHOMME RICHARD was not a small offense. Reading through the description of the poor response to the fire should make you angry as to how the Navy, charged with maintaining the premier maritime fighting force for the most important nation in the world, could let a critical warship burn in a major city when it has plenty of firefighting equipment nearby. This SHOULD have gone to court martial. The one Sailor accused of starting the fire, a Seaman Apprentice, is facing criminal charges at a court martial, and we don’t know yet those results. Yet for some reason the Navy elected to not pursue court martial charges for any other person involved in this case.

So NJP it is. Six members were found guilty at NJP. We don’t have the full results, but the SECNAV said that two members, the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer of the BONHOMME RICHARD, were assigned letters of reprimand and forfeiture of pay. NJP limits pay forfeitures for officers to 1/2 months pay for up to two months. With this in mind, we can calculate the lower limit for how much pay was taken by assuming they each lost 1/2 months pay for one month, and the upper limit as 1/2 months pay for two months.

CAPT Thoroman enlisted in the Navy in 1988 and thus has 34 years of service. His base pay is $12,980 a month, so he could have been fined $6,490 or $12,980. CAPT Ray joined via NROTC in 1996, and his base pay is $12,725, so he’s being fined either $6,362.50 or $12,725.

Adding these up, the lower limit of total fines is: $12,852.50
The upper limit of total fines is: $25,705
The estimated cost to fix the BONHOMME RICHARD was around $3 billion, so these fines represent 0.000857% of the repair cost for the ship.

I might be off a bit, check my math and let me know in the comments.

So that’s the financial cost, and as far as I can tell, the ONLY financial cost. Granted, its not likely the Navy could get $3 billion from all the people involved, but only punishing the CO and XO financially seems a bit light. The other guilty NJPs probably issued letters of reprimand, which like the letter of censure is a black mark on your record that otherwise has no bearing in the civilian world.

What about the Matter of Interest Findings, or MIF? A MIF is a negative letter that also sits on a service member’s record that essentially says this person wasn’t necessarily guilty, buuuuut we think we should be concerned about this individual. Translating that to reality, it means that person will likely never get promoted, but the MIF doesn’t become a felony or misdemeanor in the civilian world.

Letters of Instruction (LOIs) are letters that say “You did something wrong, and I’m instructing you on how to do better.” Then, once you complete all those items, the LOI is considered complete. I have an LOI from my first command where I screwed up a tagout and my CO made me provide tagout training to my division. LOIs don’t go on your record and don’t affect promotion. They correct bad behavior and are one step above yelling at someone for doing something stupid. Again, not much of a lasting punishment.

A NPLOC is a non-punitive letter of caution. It has even less teeth than a punitive letter, because it doesn’t sit on your record at all. A NPLOCs whole purpose is to give you more evidence on someone that is likely committing crimes but staying just below the threshold to get caught. Do you remember the “I’m not touching you game,” where you irritated your sibling by putting your finger just bareeely in front of their nose or cheek and said “I’m not touching you,” like somehow not touching you meant you couldn’t be punished? Remember when your birthing person mom or dad said “That’s strike one, do it again and you’ll get a whooping.” That’s a NPLOC. Not a punishment at the time, but could be used later.

Did any Admirals besides VADM (ret) Brown get punished? Well, Rear Admiral Scott Brown (not related to the VADM (ret) Brown) and Rear Admiral Eric Ver Hage both got LOIs.

And that’s it. So, just to review:

  • USS BONHOMME RICHARD catches fire on 12 July 2020, burns for four days and is a total loss of somewhere around 3 billion dollars.
  • Two years later, the Navy issues approximately 30 pieces of administrative paper that say they are really, really mad with how a Sailor acted.
  • The Navy also issues somewhere between $12K and $25K in fines.
  • The Navy has an ongoing criminal trial into one Sailor they think started the fire that we don’t have resolution on yet two years after the initial event.
  • No other Court Martials were convened.
  • No Sailor above the paygrade of O-6 was held responsible in any meaningful way.
  • No person was sent to jail (at least not yet).

And that’s it. That’s the extent of how the Navy holds people responsible for losing a warship inside our own port.

We often talk about the “Deep State” and how it protects bureaucrats from punishment while holding all the “little people” responsible. While its been obvious for some time now, the failure of the investigation into the fires on the BONHOMME RICHARD confirm that the military should be included into this “Deep State” calculus. It goes far beyond COVID vaccines and extremist “training.” The people wearing stars in our military will gleefuly destroy the lives of the hard working men and women in our service while continuing to provide poor leadership, poor guidance and force an ever increasing focus on non-warfighting skills. They are responsible for the poorly structured command and control diagrams, the shortened damage control training pipelines, and the increasing focus on non-warfighting skills, yet they demand all the pomp and circumstance for their office from every service member below them, and demand that we ASSUME (always a dangerous word) that they are really ready to conduct warfighting on behalf of this great nation.

Contrast the response to the BONHOMME RICHARD fire to that of the USS COLE, which had a massive hole blown in the side at the waterline from a suicide bomber, yet stayed afloat long enough to be brought home in one piece on the MV Blue Marlin, and eventually returned to service. Think about that when you read the descriptions in the BONHOMME RICHARD report on how Sailors didn’t know basics about their fire fighting gear:

On the morning of the fire 87% of the ship’s fire stations “​remained in inactive equipment maintenance status,” according to the investigation. None of the crew members tried to use the ship’s foam sprinkling system because it had not been properly maintained and “in part because the crew lacked familiarity with capability and availability.” The crew made several other mistakes that day, including waiting far too long to report the fire, the investigation found. Several sailors decided not to put their firefighting gear on because they thought they were not wearing the proper uniform to take part in firefighting efforts. Sailors were also not properly trained on how to use emergency breathing devices, leading to cases of smoke inhalation.

Task and Purpose Article

What happened in the 20 years since the COLE bombing? How did we get worse at damage control as a Navy? Most importantly, who should be held responsible for that?

One final piece of history. The original BOMHOMME RICHARD was a converted merchant ship used by Captain John Paul Jones to raid the coast of Britain. In the Battle of Flamborough Head, Jones fought the HMS Serapis, which heavily damaged and eventually sank the RICHARD, but not before Jones had lashed the ships together, stormed the Serapis and ultimately captured her in a massive win for the fledgling United States Navy.

One has to ask how Captain John Paul Jones, currently interred at the Naval Academy, would react to his old ship’s namesake suffering such a tragedy, and how he would have conducted the follow-on investigation.

This post represents the views of the author and does not represents views of the United States Navy, Department of Defense, or any other government agency. You’re welcome to read their views in their official posts on navy.mil. If you learned something from this article, please consider donating to Da Tech Guy, or purchasing one of the author’s books for you or someone you care about.

One of the great things about being in the Navy is the chance to interact with people from all over the United States, and even the world. It’s diversity in its truest form. I’ve met someone from every single state, almost every territory and plenty of immigrants from countries in every continent and heck, I’ve even met people that traveled to Antarctica.

I’m quite proud that I never wasted these opportunities to learn about the background of the Sailors around me. It’s how I learned about the real difficulties my African-American Sailors faced growing up, or the difficulties for Sailors from the backwoods portions of America. I particularly remember one Sailor’s response to my question “Why did you join the Navy?”

“Well Sir, it was either that or working at a gas station my whole life.”

For many people, the Navy is there chance to get out of a bad circumstance. Compared to most companies, the Navy is happy to pay big money to train someone with nothing but a high school degree and give them a decent paying job with good benefits. In fact, I’d say it was one of the only places that did this.

But that has changed.

Walmart is now paying truck drivers over $100K a year.

Lowes and Home Depot are paying for employees to be upskilled, without debt.

These companies and others have always had a path for people to excel. A friend of mine works in McDonalds Corporate Headquarters, but he got started as a teenager flipping burgers. The problem was not that there isn’t much opportunity, but that it wasn’t advertised all that well. Now that it is, that’s a good thing, because the more skilled our labor force, the better it is for everyone.

Except the Armed Services.

The military depends on a constant flow of young, somewhat educated young people (mostly men) to fill its ranks every year and replace the older, burned out service members that leave. The choice between the service or a life of gas station work is a real choice many Americans face every day. But if you can drive trucks for Walmart at $95K your first year, you’re making more then any non-nuclear Petty Officers in the Navy. Combined with not getting shot at in a war zone or deploying on a ship in such conditions it might make you turn to suicide, and it looks like a pretty good deal.

Even Business Insider is reporting on it now.

In the quest for manpower, my money is on Walmart, not the military.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency, because they’ll tell you everything is great while I tell you the truth. If you enjoyed this post, check out some of my books on Amazon, they make great gifts for your friends.