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.