If I could pour myself a rum and coke right now, I would. I’d make it a double, too.

Fleet officials are studying how civil-service mariners could take the place of sailors aboard the Navy’s amphibious ships in as soon as the next five years, in what would be the biggest change to the surface force in the history of the modern Navy… Military Sealift Command planners in July for a range of possibilities of bringing together civilian mariners and the Gator Navy, from fielding “hybrid crews” aboard a few ships to manning some amphibs completely with civilians. Manning a ship with a small number of highly experienced professional mariners would cost less than active-duty sailors, the thinking goes; they would keep equipment in better shape and make sure it lasted longer, and they would free up sailors to take jobs on the cruisers and destroyers that have been suffering from the effects of lean manning.

I am in no way in a position to debate the efficacy of replacing Sailors with Mariners aboard Amphibs. My experience and knowledge of everything involved is no where near what it needs to be to speak towards the discussion. However, there is one aspect I can speak towards, one thing I have been thinking about, long and hard for pretty much my entire career thus far–with all these civilians, who am I as a Sailor?

Here is the logic in the thinking going into replacing Sailors with civilians aboard amphibs:

Manning a ship with a small number of highly experienced professional mariners would cost less than active-duty sailors, the thinking goes; they would keep equipment in better shape and make sure it lasted longer, and they would free up sailors to take jobs on the cruisers and destroyers that have been suffering from the effects of lean manning.

[editors note – the quotes are from “Civilians On Deck: Navy ponders ‘hybrid crews’ for amphibs, but questions loom over savings, manning duties” (NAVY TIMES 11 OCT 10) by Philip Ewing. The story is behind a pay wall. But, you can read it if you receive the CHINFO distro email at a .mil account. I would link to it if I could]

I’m not going to argue with the logic. But, I am going to follow this logic out to its eventual conclusion. 20 years from now, who outside of actual trigger pullers–those with a license to kill–will be left aboard ship outside of civilians? If it is logical to replace an Engineman with a civilian, why should a Yeoman be aboard? Personnel Specialists are being replaced with civilians ashore, why stop there?

If I understand the logic of this well enough, then the difference between a Mariner who does the same job as a Sailor, only differs from the Sailor in that they are not made to devote time to things outside of their job description–the Mariner’s primary duty is their only duty. I may be wrong, in that I have not worked side-by-side with an engineering Mariner or actually seen what tasks they perform. However, I have deployed and served with the engineers aboard ship. Engineers are responsible for the same basic qualifications I am as we are both Sailors. I can’t help but believe that the difference between engineering Sailors and Mariners, is that to this point Mariners have been absolved from all the ancillary training and duties that Sailors are held to. That we have added on these extra duties to the point where an engineering Sailor is not as proficient as a Mariner. Is it also that we have allowed our training pipeline to atrophy to the point to where for us to get the Navy back to where it must be in training our engineers, it now makes more sense to scuttle Sailor engineers for the civilian equivalent? A point of no return?

The debate the Navy is having highlights more about how we define a Sailor than it does the benefit of having civilians serving aboard a United States Man-of-War. It calls into question most, if not all, of the Basic Military Requirements we are tasked with in being enlisted. I also believe this is the last time we will be able to have this debate, before we have in fact, reached a point of no return and are forced to trade Sailors for our civilian equivalents. (on a side note, this reality has the same causes as so many jobs being sent overseas has. Though, for the sake of brevity I will not delve into that)

On a personal level, this also causes me to question why I even bother wearing the uniform. We are told that as members of the Uniformed Services of the United States that we are held to a higher standard than civilians are. We are told this is because of the great responsibility we have in defending our Nation and our way of life. Putting civilians aboard war ships ends the efficacy of that reasoning. The higher standards seem to make us less effective as Sailors, rather than more effective. Indeed, the standards that civilians are held to seem to produce a better war fighting product than the standards held by the professional military. As the deckplates catch wind of this debate going on, especially on the deckplates of the engineering spaces, we will need this explained to us and a new conceptual foundation will be necessary to justify the discipline and standards of the Navy. I as a Yeoman, a rate that is the polar opposite of an engineer, am not sure I understand who I am as a Sailor based upon this debate. How are the engineers supposed to understand themselves as Sailors?

In Afghanistan, there must be more civilians fighting this war than Service Members. Sitting at a desk on super-FOBs like Kandahar is all I’ve done for this war effort. A counterpart of mine at another command out here, was replaced by a civilian when they redeployed. What does that say about who I am as a warfighter? Basically, it says that I am not a warfighter. I am allowed to carry a weapon, and use deadly force if authorized. But, that is as close as I come to being an actual warfighter. In reality, every paper-pusher like myself needs to be removed from Afghanistan. It should be civilians doing the job I am doing. If for no other reason than the force cap for Afghanistan. COIN and counter-insurgency strategy demands bodies to be outside of the FOBs among the people, not cooped up inside FOBs. It is not efficient or war winning to have uniformed personnel doing something in a war that does not involve kinetic force.

Does all that apply equally to a Ship? I have my opinion, but not the credentials to give a qualified answer.

The Sailor, the State, the DOD and DON Civilian, and the Contractor… If Sam’s book were written today, it’d be twice the size of the original.

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Merchant Marine, Navy

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  • Roy E Dixon

    Ready your article before I hit the road.
    You are so right on target both on the mariner concept/military and civilians fighting the war.
    We have gone so far astray from goal oriented mission concepts.


  • Bernard Benson

    I totally agree with adding civilians to the surface and subsurface fleet.I’d jump at the chance if they offered it as a way to finish out broken service time or a means of retirement…you know offer the civilians incentives of their choice for doing this service…….DC2(SW)T.B.Benson vet.

  • “I have my opinion, but not the credentials to give a qualified answer.”

    Let me be the first to raise the BS flag on this statement. As a Surface Warrior, you have EXACTLY the credentials to give a qualified answer. The Surface Warfare designation demonstrates that you are not “just a Yeoman” but qualified in a broad range of shipboard operating requirements.
    Maybe the program has changed in the 15 years since I left active duty, but given the choice between a petty officer who is (SW) and one who is not for a tough assignment, I’ll take the qualified Sailor every time.

  • Aubrey

    I can see it now “…as a Chinese task force closed on the JFK the carrier was unable to defend itself due to a union strike in support of increased hazard pay.”

    Maybe we can hire the Russians to operate our few remaining ships…and we would have a whole new crop of victims, errr attendees, for the diversity seminars!

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    Well, to be honest. I am writing under my own name, and am just about at the bottom of the food chain. I am terrified to come across as too opinionated or to consider myself more qualified than any other Sailor because I have the privlidge of posting at USNI. As far as I know the CNO himself reads this and everyone on down, if I come across as arrogant and pontificating, I worry about what it may mean for what others impression of me might be.

    That said, I’ve given my opinion too many times in person, concering one thing or the other. Only to find out how wrong I was. I like Phil Ewing at Navy Times, I think he does good work. But, he still writes for the Navy Times. I’m not going to going to close ranks with them too closely in something they report.

    He11, all a Chief would have to do is tell me I’m wrong, and that’s it; game over, and I say “yes, Chief”. Doesn’t matter if I’ve ever met them face-to-face or not. You know?

    Bloggin’ ain’t easy…

  • Derrick

    Personally, I am against the idea of mixed civilian/naval crews aboard any military vessel, if only for the reason that a military vessel is essentially a target, so the crews are expected to fight to defend themselves. Civilians like me with no military training couldn’t clean a rifle if our lives depended on it, so I would just be a burden to the naval staff on board.

    I’m just extrapolating on the statement: “if you can’t load a rifle, don’t be a general”.

    I have no issues with civilians working alongside US military personnel in cyber warfare posts within the US though…as cyber warfare doesn’t really require hand to hand combat skills. But on a ship that could theoretically be boarded by hostile forces/pirates/terrorists…I believe we need uniformed personnel who have done basic training to crew those ships.

  • Byron

    Derrick: World War 2, merchant ships, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Pacific, etc. ALL of them sailed into harms way. Include in that statement my father who’s merchant ship had to navigate the minefields of the Persian Gulf during Gulf War 1.

    It’s a long and honored tradition of American merchant mariners.

  • Having served in amphibious units both at sea and ashore, in my opinion civilian crewing for Assault Echelon amphibious ships is the quintessential Bad Idea(tm). These ships are ships of WAR, and must be ready for WAR. The fact that we have not conducted an opposed combat landing with them since Inchon, regularly raised in these arguments, is irrelevant. When crewed by Sailors and loaded with Marines, the combat capability to land those Marines provides options that the combatant commanders need.
    Leave civilian mariner crews to the Assault Follow-On Echelon.

  • Byron

    I agree with Ken. Merchant Mariners are NOT accountable to the UCMJ. Because of this, they cannot be counted on to do the hard things that military people do. All it takes is a violation of union rules and things will go south in a hurry.

    Lucien, taken just on the merits of their ability to run a ship, I agree. Based on the real possibility of these civilians being involved in a shooting war, no. I think we’ve gone as far as we can go with the unrep ships regarding civilians involved in operation of Naval vessels.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    I don’t do manning at the Fleet level. I can’t speak towards it. But, I don’t like the notion, because I feel like it is stealing a Sailors honor. The Navy is more than a job, and if Mariners start doing their ‘job’ aboard ship, the whole notion of honor just seems like it was contrived in the first place, I don’t swallow that notion easily.

    If we compare what an engineer Mariner’s duties look like to a Sailors, we probably will find things that the Sailor doesn’t need to be doing, if we want him to “keep equipment in better shape and make sure it lasted longer”.

  • The Royal Navy long had civillians in limited non-combat roles on their warships. Pardon the Politically incorrect term, but there was a “Chinese gangway” for the Hong Kong folks who were employed on board ships through the 1970s. Now the issue seems to be economic — purely economic — and I am not sure how the real longterm costs are played out. We’ve had civilian tech reps on board, at least since WWII, and I am unaware of any difficulties reported aside from the occassional liberty incidents. But, it is difficult to engage in massive change and social engineering during time of war. I would prefer to see a zero based manning for all warships and see how the crew sizes can be reduced. We’ve gone down nearly 1,000 Sailors on CVNs in the past 30 years. The more you can reduce the warfighters the more you can reduce the support but the line can’t be too close to effect combat efficiency — especially when warships are designed to be fought and continue to be fought after receiving damage. Trying out this change in the amphib force is interesting but if we want to make it work let’s make the investment and make it happen in the carriers first. That would be a sign of commitment to success if there is merit to the proposal. LBBrennan

  • Sean Quigley

    YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III I agree whole hartedly with you comment that if investigated you would find sailors doing things that are unrelated to keeping equipment in better shape…once agin the good idea fairy has struck at someone on top of the chain of command or in a politicians head…I mean really whats the point of joining the Navy accepting low pay for lots of hours,having to acept the UCMJ and live within it’s guide lines when one could go to a tech school get a certification and make MORE PAY work less hours and have a less restricted life style…have an imidiate way to settle gerivences with a supervisor AND quit when ever you decide that the job is not to you liking…Sorry bout the misspellings but under the inluence of pain meds for dental problems

  • Chuck Hill

    Two issues I see.

    One is the issue of going into harms way. Certainly many merchant men voluntarily went into harms way, but we also saw other cases. Before the start of WWII Navy transports were manned by Navy sailors while Army transports were manned by civilians. In exercises the “professional mariners” on the Army transports refused to sail with out lights or maintain convoy formation. This lead to the Coast Guard taking over manning of the Army transports.

    The second question and the one most likely to lead to serious problems is, where do our professional sailors come from? Many, maybe most are ex-Navy and Coast Guard. The country has far fewer mariners than it used to, and it is not growing many. The ones we have are aging. Putting “professional mariners” on military vessels will dry up the source. It’s “eating our seed corn.”

    I can’t believe the civilians are cheaper for what you actually get. Also the maintenance concepts on merchant ships and warships are completely different and should be carefully considered. Part of what we get for the additional cost of a military crew is a degree of progressive maintenance that will have to be replaced at additional cost.

    The LCSs also reflect this attitude that we don’t have to have young sailors on board (where they might actually become tomorrow’s experienced mariners). It is a receipt for disaster.

  • Bernard Benson

    Derrick you are right about being a target but remember enlisted and officers are just. Civilians that are trained to do certain jobs. So if you get this opportunity go for it.

  • Bernard Benson

    People that are able to join in a civilian capacity shouls be accountable to the UCMJ also as a stipulation in the contract as a way of fairness between civilian and enlisted alike to control the violence aboard Naval vessels.

  • JAV

    Civilian mariners on warships. Blackwater providing security for generals and diplomats. Civilian technicians providing “technical support” for everything from our Non-Mission Capable Internet to our howitzers and missile systems. Civilian truck drivers providing convoy driver, firefighters and cook to FOBs. TCNs checking the IDs of underarmed Americans at the chow halls.

    We are on track to do away with the concept of military service and accepting this for what it is-a growing reliance on mercenaries and profit driven corporations to fight our wars for us. Anyone want to talk about the repercussions of that?

  • Aubrey

    JAV….want to talk about the repercussions? No way…I’m terrified of the picture you paint, although I think you paint it well, and as an all-too-real possibility.

    I know this is an area of extreme sensitivity, but I have actually changed my outlook over the last couple of years and now think bringing back the draft, at least in a limited way, is the only way we can save our military as an integral and fundamental part of American life.

    As we go now, I can see an increasing divide between those who serve (or who have family who serve) and those who do not. Down that road lie some potentially scary and dangerous place. That, however, is a topic for another day…

  • As a civilian, a taxpayer, and a US citizen living in China, if I may interject an inexpert but earnest point of view:

    If there is a single thought that assuages my angst each year when I write my check to the IRS, it is that at least some of that money will go to training, preparing, equipping, and caring for Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen. For my dollar, I want warriors – warriors at sea, on land, in the air, and the spaces in between. If history teaches us anything, it is that when it matters most, the difference between victory and defeat is the spirit and preparation of the military professional.

    In a war where the battle lines are amorphous, touching European airports, south Manhattan, and the Pentagon, surely we can see that anyone who sails sheathed in Haze Grey is sailing into harm’s way. All the more those who sail into waters brown and green.

    There are opportunities to find economies in many places in the defense budget, to say nothing of the national budget. And, I daresay, some of us might be willing to lose a little more of our paychecks if we felt certain those funds were going to support our nation’s defenders.

    For my dollar, though, I want sailors in every job and space aboard my Navy. Because when the fight begins, I want warriors at their stations, not laborers.

  • Chuck Hill

    JAV and Aubrey, it is definitely something the country should talk about. I also think we have started down the wrong path for a democracy. Start with a history of the Praetorian Guard…

  • There is a long history of Civilian Mariners operating in direct support of the Navy up to the present. MSC is a perfect example of this including how Civilian-manned vessels can operate alongside Naval vessels. That said, the Navy and Civilian Mariners operate ships in different ways. I don’t see mixing these two types of crews on the same vessel.

  • Paul

    My two cents

    “We’re paid to take bullets for civilians…”

    Besides the other excellent posts already made, the only way to entice civilians to work on board a warship is to pay them more money. If I was a young sailor and someone was being paid twice, if not three times my wage to do the same job I was doing, then I’d be a little vexed.

    What has happened to us as a nation? Since when do we depend on civilians to fight our wars, man our ships and provide the expertise to do both? We have a long history of capable, if not brilliant sailors and officers stretching back to our beginnings. What has happened to that expertise and esprit de corps?

  • Byron

    It’s sort of like a shipyard hiring temporary workers for a short duration contract: You work them 3-6 months, pay them a bit more than the temps, but at the same time you don’t have to worry about paying for insurance, workmans comp (the temp agency handles that) or their retirement plan. In the long run, the shipyard saves a lot more than it spends on the temp.

  • Flashman

    @JAV – I agree with your concerns, and I see this as a continuation of a trend of privatization that began with the All-Volunteer Force, continued to strengthen in the wake of 9/11, and looks like it will overtake the defining characteristics of military service.

    With regards to efficiency, I hold doubts as to whether it would be cost efficient to replace military crews with civilian crews without changing the way we operate ships. The real cost savings won’t be in terms of the costs per individual sailor/mariner, but operating our ships in a similar manner to the merchant marine. That begs the question: why can’t we do that yet retain active Navy sailors as crew?

    As far as measuring the costs per individual, I doubt we can truly capture all the data, and my experience with Blackwater/Xe (private military-style contractors) and U.S. government civilians working in the same exact jobs is that on a one-for-one basis, the civilians cost more and you run a much greater liability for their care. After all, they will get overtime, pay differential for night/weekends/holidays and can quit on short notice. Our deployable (GS-10 through GS-12) civilians costs us as much as O-5s and O-6s in terms of pay. IMHO, the logic of putting them in combat zones just doesn’t add up in terms of $$$.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    YN2 Gauthier,

    A very well-presented post. Your insight into the depth of this issue is impressive. And remember this: the Chief might be able to tell you to shut up, but he cannot tell you that you don’t have a right to hold a professional opinion. Ever. Your intellectual endeavors in thinking through problems like this are the backbone of an educated, innovative, and forward-thinking force.

    As for the problem at hand, the replacement of Navy sailors with mariners, we are seeing the classic effects of unintended consequences. The three most misunderstood words in the entire of the Department of Defense are “reduce operating expenses”.

    What DoD fails (or refuses) to recognize is the true concept of Total Cost of Ownership. Any end item of hardware, from a vehicle to an aircraft, to a warship, carries with it a Total Cost of Ownership. Very little can be done to change that cost figure, as it is inherent in the purpose, design, use, maintenance, repair, replacement of expendable components, and eventual end-item replacement, salvage, or rebuild. It also includes the number of operators, the level of training and proficiency required, and the time devoted to maintenance and repair tasks.

    The chimera of “reducing operating costs” through initiatives such as reduced manning, postponing or reducing scheduled maintenance, or early decommissioning and replacement (recapitalization) all squeeze the TCO balloon so that costs elsewhere increase.

    When the Armed Forces, particularly the US Navy, see those increases, it is usually an unpleasant surprise, and the “blame” gets pinned on some perceived wrongdoing. The result is usually some policy or action that is entirely in the wrong direction and has virtually nothing to do with the flaws in the underlying policy which brought about the problem in the first place. Often there is a 3 or 4 day (or even weeks-long) maintenance or safety stand-downs to correct problems that will take months or years to fix.

    But, as has been mentioned here and at Salamander’s place, if some 0-5 or 0-6 can show “reduced operating costs” in some particular area for a couple years, they get some kind of medal of merit, and great FITREPS with spectacular claims, because they got out of Dodge before the wildly inadvisable practices and policies that got the “reduced costs” blows up in a series of maintenance and repair crises.

    When such concepts make it all the way to Navy leadership, the problem doesn’t get solved by putting the proper number of appropriately trained Sailors on our hulls and canning the Diversity/Sensitivity/Sexual Harassment crap, but rather by putting civilian mariners in place of Sailors. The personnel version of painting over the rust…..

  • Chuck Hill

    URR, Right on.

    This is the same thing that killed the US auto industry in the 60s. The accountants took over from the engineers and the question was what can we do to reduce costs this year and the long term health of the industry was lost.

    Feast-or-famine/winner-take-all shipbuilding has destroyed competition and made a stable work force impossible.

    Now we have this proposal (along with the LCS) that will wreck the pipeline that “grows” future mariners.

    If we look at what has worked well. The Burke class and the submarines have had a long term stable program with consistent incremental improvement. This is also what we saw in the cruiser and destroyer programs in the 20s and 30s.

  • Dean Schofield

    Dirt Sailor says:
    My reading of history shows the Sailor/Soldier vs Mercenary/Contractor controversy has been with us since Myles Standish arrived with the Pilgrims on the Plymouth foreshore. Our senior leaders are simply adjusting that line…again. Before they do, however, a little research into what happened on Wake Island in December, 1941 might provide some guidance. Had the construction outfit on Wake been Seabees instead of civilians, the Battle of Midway might have been fought further west.

  • Sean Walsh

    Reading this, I was reminded of ADM Harvey’s recent speech at the ASNE Fleet Maintenance Conference (https://blog.usni.org/2010/09/22/addressing-the-navys-maintenance-culture/). Although he was addressing a different issue, he went through the history of shipboard engineers including the fact that they were originally civilians and why that was changed. We should also remember “The Sand Pebbles”. As a former shipboard steam engineer, one of my memories from reading the book was how the U.S. sailors had become totally dependent on the Chinese which Jake Holman (the character Steve McQueen played) fought against. Although a work of fiction, I’ve always assumed that this was based on Richard McKenna’s real life service on a China gunboat.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    There are two issues here, as I see it.

    First a little history. Once upon a time, the RN used civilian mariners to man minesweeps. The usual reasons given, economy, specialized skills not in the current fleet, smaller crews etc. etc and so forth.

    Peacetime decision, long peace.

    War came unexpectedly, as usual. A critical operation requiring effective sweeping of a narrow passage, prior to the fleet passing through enroute to the objective area, was carefully planned. Mineweeps were sunk, initial effort disrupted, surviving ships retreated, crews stated that they were civilians, not combatants, and had never contemplated sweeping command detonated minefields close inshore to commanding seacoast heights, with covering artillery emplaced. The “solution” was to replan, sieze the relatively narrow peninsula forming one shore of the strait and the mine control posts,(by amphibious assault), allowing the heavies to steam past unmolested. About all that is remembered of this tragic disaster before a subsequent huge disaster, is the name of the peninsula (if that)…Gallipoli. 95 years ago, stiil pertinent. Careful study and application only meant the Republic survived the forties, why worry about it now?

    Other than escorted vessels in convoy, carrying a naval armed guard for self defense, civilian manned ships’ crews are not up to bloody, essential naval operations. This most specifically includes amphibious assault ships. The AKA and APA and the L for Landing craft were manned by the Navy, for reasons made clear by other commentators above, as lessons learned from the first few operations of WWII.

    The problem is we have a long Pax Oceana, now being ended by doctrinaire politicians absolutely ignorant of any aspect of the sea, ensuring – in due time – a desperate, initally losing, war at sea. They just don’t know, and are sure they are the “smartest guys in the room”. (If you are sure of that, you aren’t.) The above goes double for commissioned naval officers, who have no excuse, except that selection for skill in rising to the top is
    no longer related to the general naval expertise describe by FADM King in the opening of his memoirs.

    The second, as URR described, is life cycle cost of warships. URR knows of the hard facts of this as a professional Marine Officer with an understanding of logistics, Byron as a student of the practical aspects of ship construction and maintentence and a life time of experience and observation of ships and their logistics. I picked it up along the way in a naval and subsequent merchant marine career (some might say varied, others checkered, potayto-patahto), and as a (largely autodidact)student of ships and the sea, and war therein and thereupon. A brief and simple example, every merchant (manned) ship has two crews, they just don’t swap them out all at once. Expertise? On a short bench; the industry is busily eliminating 3rd Mates and 3rd Assistant Engineers where ever possible. Fewer and fewer leaders are being grown as the industry shrinks ever smaller. They have only basic DC expertise and any serious damage will lead to the swift loss of the ship (think Atlantic Conveyor in the Falklands War) and its cargo. Acceptable in a series of supply convoys, disasterous in an Assault Task Force.

    Anticipated savings based on accountant’s assumptions, with no consideration of the cruel realities of (probably locally outnumbered)fleets at war, fighting at an initial disadvantage, are just horse shit.

    I could go on for a loooong time. Suffice to say…this is a bad idea. It has been tried before with disasterous consequences. Don’t do it. You will be sorrrrrry…

    Rap, rap, radio check, how do you hear… (light static, silence).

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    One acronym, two words. NROTC. Fleet. Input.

    Or three words. Any. Commissioning. Program.

    Get cracking, sailor.

    Doubtless you are a crackerjack YN2.

    The Navy and the Nation need you to stretch your considerable abilities and take to a higher level. Soon.

    Listen to Gramps.

    Best wishes and BZ for great article.