Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sailor snapshot

One of my readers sent me an email, part of which I wanted to share with you (with his permission). I've anonomized for all but the inside bunch, slightly edited, and redacted some things - but on balance it is as I received it.

You read very little what it is like for the Fleet Sailor out there.

Heck, I'm as guilty of that as the next guy - but enough of that, let's get a snapshot of what our Sailors are doing - and more importantly what they are thinking about and talking about.
(we completed) an 8 month deployment with the [REDACTED] Strike Group. We are getting ready to leave again ... for two more months of my cruise. I absolutely enjoy being part of a low-density, high requirement asset like the Electronic Attack platforms. I was sitting at the house on my two weeks off before I go back at work, the POM leave thing; while talking with my wife about the future of my career some thoughts have come together, ....

As of this June I will have been in the Navy for [REDACTED] years. Out of that [REDACTED] years according to my latest LES, I have been drawing sea pay for just over half of that, or roughly [REDACTED] years. I am currently on my third sea tour and just extended myself to make the transition from the EA-6B over to the EA-18G. I have completed four cruises all of which have been extended anywhere from one month to two. My first was with the Big E in the summer of 2001 and my latest will be completed (if you add in us going out for two months for RIMPAC) in August of 2010. I have also done one shore based deployment to Iwakuni to gap the EA billet for the Marines in the summer of 2006. Interestingly enough, that was almost extended for a month because of the nuclear bomb testing and missile testing by the NORKS.

I am also a newlywed, since I got married just before my latest deployment. That has been a challenge and have had some interesting discussions about my career future with my new wife. I throw this at you mainly to let you know that there are some of us down in the trenches who look up at our leadership and wonder what the heck is going on. I perceive a leadership failing on the people at TypeCom and higher who aren’t throwing up the BS flag about deployments, doing more with less, and other BS bingo phrases/words. All they seem to care about is appeasing the civilian leadership above, while seemingly paying lip service to those of us below. Until the recent economic troubles, there seem to be a growing trend of personnel voting with their feet. I am not ready to be one of them, one because I have faith in that what I do is important, two I love my job of fixing airplanes on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, and three I am so close now to retirement (even with the threat of PTS over my head) that it only makes financial sense to stay until the end.

Transition for the Electronic Attack bubbas is going to be interesting and what is really throwing all of us for a loop right now ... the first deployment for the EA-18G is going to be shore based, expeditionary style to one of those fun tourist spots like [REDACTED]. Why? Because the CNO and all his OpNav advisors saw what happened to the USAF vis-a-via the F-22. The word on the flight line here in Oak Harbor is that after SecDef as the CG of the USAF what was the last mission the F-22 preformed was and then was basically told it was just now entering squadron and transition process. At which point the SecDef told them that their wonder weapon is done and the government isn’t wasting any more money on it.

There is probably a kernel of truth to that, but I would bet you the first two bottles of fine wine out of your choice Columbia River Valley that is why both LCS’s were sortied on deployments before all the kinks were shaken loose. Anyhow, as each one of the EA-6B carrier squadrons comes homes and enters the pipeline, one of the concrete (expeditionary) EA-6B outfits will replace it in the air wing. Only problem with that is this; there are three active and one reserve EA-6B squadron that are in the concrete role.

Those of us that are making transition are being told to sign open ended extensions, I just signed my on this morning. There were no dates in the when extension starts or ends and to expect at a minimum of three shore deployments to those tourist spots I mentioned earlier. The open ended extensions are to get us through schools, for example the [REDACTED] schooling takes about seven months out. We either go to [REDACTED] or [REDACTED] and go through the standard E/F schools for [REDACTED] stuff there and then return to [REDACTED] to finish up the [REDACTED]. So when we enter the training pipeline we enter the neutral duty loop. After we get out of the training pipeline they tack on a 24 month extension to our tour at the current command. If we choose not to go on the transition bus, then we get a phone call to the detailer and have to make a career decision in about five minutes.

This is really interesting to me that no one has applied lessons learned from the previous transitions like the F-14 to F-18E/F, A-7 to F-18, S-3 removal, SH-3 to H-60, etc. Not finding ways to have smoothed the process or taken the unknown factor out of this. Maybe it is because we are trying to do transition in the middle of a war, I don’t know. It just feels as if there are too many questions and too many “That is a great question, glad you asked that, let me get back to you about the answer…” replies or answers that seem to be set in snowballs being thrown in hell.
Why do we still treat our Sailors like what is described in the last couple of paragraphs? Priorities and personalities, that's why. That, and because we can, we have, and we will.

Besides the Sailor, the Detailer, and a dozen other people - who is going to know? ..........


Byron said...

Trust what he says...I know this young man, and he should have made Chief. He's an outstanding sailor. I know. I've sat down, broke bread, and shared beers with him, and more importantly, looked him in the eye. If he's saying it, you can take this to the bank. He's not just a sailor bitching. He's a Navy man who's wondering what the hell the Navy is up to.

Southern Sailor said...

Concur.  I'm in a different community, halfway across the world and see similar behavior from the chain of command.  For most of us, we wonder if it's merely our command (most of us are young and on our first tours) or if it's an endemic problem throughout the Navy.  Many promising sailors are voting with their feet.

WTF is wrong these days?

LBG said...

I feel his pain.  I am thinking of voting w/ my feet and moving to another service if I can work it.  It is not long hours, or hard work, but the failure in providing real leadership, honesty and actually living up to the Navy Core Values.  The BS keeps raining down while the hours in a day remain the same.  The Navy is damned lucky the economy tanked.  Between diversity drivel, ESAMS, GMT crap, NKO mess and a couple other BS training agendas that provided FITREP bullets for a putz in DC, the job still needs to get done.  Less ships, more admirals, longer deployments, less Sailors to keep up PMS and more paper chase leads to a broken Fleet.  If the economy starts humming again and jobs open up, I suspect the Navy will lose a lot of bright, young, Sailors to more or equally enjoyable jobs with less political crap.  They outlawed trafficing in persons and chasing prostitutes, but I think it is because the leadership in DC didn't like the competition because they have whored their values for follow on jobs or FITREP bullets.  That is the only way I can figure they let us go down this road.  Clark, Mullen and Roughhead have done the Navy no favors sucking up to or just sucking the civilian leadership. 

MR T's Haircut said...

Leadership could fix this... we have enough Flags.. any one of them worth the salt?

2190TEP said...

A)  Looks like "shut-up and die like an aviator" has gone out fashion.
B)  You could be in the ARMY, on your fourth or more combat rotation in as many years.
C)  You're on POM, something your snipes won't' see.
D)  If you wanted full term sea pay, you should have been a SWO.
E)  Last night you slept with your wife, rather than a HESCO.

Anon said...

<span>"Why do we still treat our Sailors like what is described in the last couple of paragraphs?"</span>
<span>Is that surprise or sarcasm?  If it's surprise then I am surprised.  By this point you should know that the bosses only care about how they look and their next tour.  And I don't say that with hate or disgust, but with the realization that our short tour lengths breeds Officers who do not have to live with their descisions.  Besides forcing longer tours, which generates other unintended consequences, I'm not sure how we can get people to make decisions not just for themselves but for the Navy.</span>
<span>"When doing a job — any job — one must feel that he owns it, and act as though he will remain in that job forever."  Rickover</span>

YNSN said...

He is right.  For all the lessons learned we try to gain, no one really learns anything from what they do.  There isn't time, optempo is just to high.  Process inflation has gotten to the point to where nothing ever really is finished.  This is the end result.  Having been away from Sea Duty for nearly six months, it is becoming hard for me to remember how exactly I pulled it all off.

When I was on my ship and we'd send the Marines ashore, I used to think they left our ship to go accomplish things more difficult and demanding than what we all did aboard my Ship.  Having been out here in AFG now with more than one Army unit.  I know that serving on a Ship is a hell'ova lot harder than being in garrison.  Year tour or not, anything short of seeing somone killed or nearly being killed myself and I will return home in a much better mental state than I did from my Ship deployment. 

I used to wake up with scratches on my arms not knowing how they got there on my last deployment.  Mentally I really about lost it.  Out here in AFG, the tempo is so much slower, more laid back, each person has so much less to do and be responsible for. 

Either we need more people or we need less to do.  Reset our processes and get rid of some outright.  What is happeneing to Sailors today is just the shot across our bow.

cdrsalamander said...

Pick your rate; pick your fate?

cdrsalamander said...

Didn't I answer that in the next two sentences?

ShawnP said...

We are very, very close to having a "Carter" Navy again. More close than alot of Flags and Sailors want to admit. In ways our can do attitude is our worse enemy as we sometimes push ourselves to far.

Southern Air Pirate said...

Do a search over at the Navy Equirer, I mean the Navy Times, they had an article from about a year ago this month talking about the Reagan and her strike group had completed as many deployments since she had been commissioned. There are more then a fair share of carrier groups that have completed just as many back to back deployments with only minimual dock side or yard time to keep the ships afloat.
I know more then a few guys that could care less about sea pay and like the deployments just cause it is a chance to visit the world. The problem is when you start to look at your time in the Navy at the half way mark and realize that your sea pay counter is almost equal or at the 75% mark because all you know is your home is the ship.
Also think about this there are a few strike groups that are having thier deployments upset because of the Navy's inability to follow US Code and maintain 11 carriers in active service. I have friends in an air wing who if they dont deploy by this June, then they will now have a disrupted deployment cycle because the ship NEEDS to do a dry dock period. So they either end up deploying on another carrier or going out and then in 6 to 12 months later leave again to finish up the started deployment.

The Navy just put up a family gram at the start of the month talking about how the Navy family is important, but by pulling the sailors around like this then they are just paying lip service to thier own messages.

2190TEP said...

Every once in a while a transport lands and taxis to the VIP Ramp at Hanger 3.  A hearse pulls up, accepts and continues the mission.  We walk out the front door and join the hundreds lining the Florida Keys curbside honoring the passing to Bayshore and beyond.  Last month CPL Porto, before him another Marine and a Soldier received those salutes. 

cdrsalamander said...

And your point is?

NavyDave said...

My hat's off to anyone putting up with the crazy deployments in the midst of a war, then having to deal with all the Political Correct Bravo Sierra. Its nice to hear from someone who is excited about his job despite all that is going on.

My wife and I got married in 1975. 3 days later I went out for 10 fun filled days in the Va Capes. A month later we left for the Med for six months which turned into nine. We surrived a tour at RTC, 8 SSBN Patrols (and refits), 4 med cruises, 2 trips to gitmo, a couple of cross country moves and a West Pac. We're still together after 35 years...

I hope that those of us on the beach can help change things enough in Nov to help out guys like this.

Skippy-san said...

Say it all together now-"Thanks Uncle Vern!". He will go down as the second worst CNO in history, primarily for setting the pre-conditions that have people doing eight month deployments. FRP? All it was , was a fancy way to make it culturally acceptable to violate the six month portal to portal rule that had been dogma for years. FRP was and remains a huge mistake-made worse by some of the administrative re-organizations, IA's and a whole lot of other things (manpower cuts). Especially since the Navy was tackling the supply issues that were creating the "bathtub effect on readiness".

How many USAF units are doing eight month deployments?  For that matter, it is probably worth asking the question-why-when the ATO's are flying less over all sorties, the Navy needs to be providing CVW aircraft all the time.

It might have been necessary in 2003 or 2002 in the ramp up to the Iraq war-but even then, I question why we needed five carriers on station for a non-existent air force. Linclon did an 11 month deployment and for what? Oh yea-that was the only way to ensure the F-18 E and F got into combat for OIF. If they was so important they could have trans IO-ed those aircraft to shore bases in Qatar or Bahrain and let the rest of the folks go home. But we did not. The ship's reward for a job well done? Two more deployments in two years.

It used to take SECDEF approval to extend a deployment too. Even during Desert Storm, people did not stay deployed this long. It is simply wrong-worse yet, its not necessary. There are some more innovative ways to attack the problem. Problem is, no one will attempt them for fear of becoming "irrelevant".

Skippy-san said...

One other point-this is primarily a Navy created problem, and Navy can fix it. No "mother may I" required.

Skippy-san said...

Even if the Republicans win every seat in November it will not stop this pace of deployment. The same pace of deployment existed under Bush and a Republican Congress. Only telling the COCOMS "NO" and reducing their appetite for forces they may not need will reduce what is happening here. Short of peace breaking out in Central Asia and the North Korean government collapsing the fundamental causes of hi-optempo will remain. And so too will most of the current Naval Leadership.

And having a few more airplanes-a problem the Navy could have fixed a long time a go, but chose not to. As I said earlier, Navy created this problem-Navy can fix it.

Outlaw13 said...

I write this not to say I have it tougher than anyone, but to illustrate that this issue isn't just Navy it's DOD wide.  Since 2004 I have spent 37 of 72 months in Iraq.  My unit has just returned from a 12 month deployment to Iraq and are already on the list to go to Afghanistan for another 12 months.  This is typical of Army aviation units.  People are beginning to vote with their feet.  The workload is reaching a point where families and spouses either take a beating one more time or the Soldier makes the decision to get out.  One can make the flippant remark about this being "what they signed up for" but it doesn't fix the understandable strain that is placed on individuals and those who care about them.

It is a problem and unless someone admits it and addresses these issues we are going to have serious manpower issues in the near future.

MR T's Haircut said...


Lobotomized said...

I can empathize with this Sailor, but what is not being explained by Big Navy is why everyone is being asked to be more flexible right now.  The EA-6B community was almost finished with the planned downsizing as we were not funded to maintain the expeditionary EA role past 2012.  Despite the fact we saw the impending train wreck caused by the USAF lack of planning, we could not pad our numbers in anticipation.  Congress has now given the US Navy new marching orders and both officers and enlisted have to flex to the new mission.  Pipelines for aviator and maintainer production were shut off years ago.  Instead of having a healthy flow of new people coming into the community we have had to keep people around longer, put senior folks into junior rolls and in general jump through lots of hoops.

I think the Navy was prepared to fully execute the transition that was planned, but now its having to execute a mission that it had not planned.  One other note - expeditionary electronic attack USED to be a good deal with short USAF deployments to Iwakuni etc.  Exped EA is now done in Bagram and Al Asad in a 6 month on 6 month off rotation.  During the "off" months, the squadron is required to complete a full workup cycle.  This usually means away from home 9 out of 12 months PER YEAR.  The sailors I have spoken with recently have spent as little as 4 months home in 30.

Skippy-san said...

Don't forget the other down side-when people are spending as much time as our Sailors our spending at sea, they are not doing the things that help them do the "other" things they are supposed to be doing, like getting professional education and serving with their other service compadres in joint tours etc. That would be fine if it were not still a criteria for promotion and senior positions-but it still is.