The first post I ever wrote here was horribly written. I admit this.

The point I attempted to make was this: if you continue to pay Sailors at the current rate, you will not be able to afford us.

Now, this thought seems to be coming to life.

The Navy’s top officer has announced that the service, after some study, will embark a detachment of civil-service mariners on a yet-to-be named amphibious ship during the next year.

Head over to the good Commander’s place and see what he had to say about this. For additional background here is another post of mine, when I first caught wind of this possibility.

I’m not going to launch into another diatribe concerning how I feel about this. But, I am going to ask some questions. To qualify my questions, I am going to say that I spend a good deal of my free time reading about everything I can concerning the Navy. These are the questions I am left with… Imagine what the average deckplate Sailor will question.

Why should I sacrifice just because I wear a uniform?

Is our ability to train Sailors so broken that we have to do this? I would only assume this would be considered as a last resort, with all other options not viable.

Is the Chiefs mess not able to hold the deckplates to standards? If it was, would we need to be doing this?

What does service to one’s Nation mean? Standing side-by-side in harms way–a civilian just as much a warfighter as myself.

Alright, so I am going to give a small diatribe, as I feel I must further qualify my questions. I don’t believe there is any problem with the Chief’s Mess. I don’t believe there is anything irrevocably wrong with the Navy’s training system. But, I do believe that this initiative belittles any sense of honor I can have as a service member, let alone a Sailor. Warships are MY ships–Sailor’s ships–not a Mariners. I understand this the way I do, after reading every biography of every great Admiral I can get my hands on (currently reading: Bruell’s biography of ADM Spruance), as well as every account of every great deed our Navy has ever committed–every great deed done by Sailors. I predicated my own self worth in being a Sailor from their deeds and me carrying that legacy. I can’t reconcile what I’ve read and come to understand with what the Navy is doing here. I just can’t. I’m not sure my Navy will be able to reconcile this for me, either. I go through all the lousy stuff I have had to go through, not because of the pay check. But, because of the sense of honor I gain.

The last time I talked about this, I said I wish I could make myself a drink. This time, I have beer. I really cannot overstate how much this bothers me. But, the meat of how I feel, is not for public consumption. Please Navy, please do not just start doing this. Talk to your Sailors. See what they have to say.

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

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  • Anathema

    YN2 – you are not alone. And it will take me some time to figure out how to be able to talk about this “initiative” without passion, anger, or a general feeling of loss and hopelessness.

    This feels like the beginning of the last decade, all over again…

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Well, steering the torpedo via the wire into a reattack….

    Once again,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 due to 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).

    In this case the key point is that warships, including the fleet train, the advanced base logistic mission ships, the landing ships and the specialist killers (CVN, CG, DD, FF, SSN and SSBN) MUST be manned by Sailors and Naval Officers under strict naval discipline. Otherwise crew members & those ships die needlessly.

    They cannot be manned by Mariners, Mates and Assistant Engineers.
    These are Civilians. Capable Mariners, yes. Civilians, very.

    But it is by no means enough that those manning the Navy’s fleet be capable mariners. They must be that, of course, but also a great deal more…

    In other words, Sailors.

  • Chuck Hill

    A bit more history. Prior to US entry into WWII Navy transports were manned by Navy sailors, but Army transports were manned by civilians. In a joint exercise the civilian mariners refused to darken ship–too dangerous. Consequently the Coast Guard took over manning of Army transports.

    Plenty of civilian mariners are brave and patriotic, but they are not individually cheap to hire. Man for man, military are still cheaper, the differences are:

    Depth of experience–the civilian has probably been doing the same job a lot longer,

    Different Maintenance concept–civilian crews don’t do much maintenance underway, and

    Work requirements–we expect more from our sailors. civilian mariners are expected to do “their job” and nothing more. Military personnel have to go to various meetings, they do DC, they are in boarding parties, they have to do PRT, etc, etc.

    What is less obvious is, where do the civilian mariners come from? Since we effectively no longer have a merchant marine, they are ex-Navy and Coast Guard. That is where they got their training and expertise in the first place. If we stop training new recruits, because we are using civilians, the civilian mariner population will age rapidly and we will soon have no one to man the ships.

    • Ken S.

      You’re completely wrong. Merchant mariners are not sourced from the Navy and Coast Guard (except for a handful who need extensive training to be brought up to civilian standards), we do more maintenance underway than the Navy, our engineers aren’t effete bureaucrats just getting their tickets punched, our costs are lower because it takes one of us to replace ten so-called “Sailors,” we aren’t constantly crashing into other vessels, and we waste less time on pointless exercises in humiliation after we’ve gone to school. We’re better, cheaper, and safer than Navy crews. We don’t belong on combatants for legal reasons, but we absolutely destroy Navy crews at running ships. If we had equivalents for the rest of the Navy ratings, we’d sail circles around them, too.

  • Anathema

    For all those who want to talk historical analogies – they are fine and dandy. But this issue, from my seat, is more about long term effects on the Navy culture and a continued marginalization (first CLF then tenders, and now amphibs) of the forces most in use over the past 40 years.

  • Bucherm

    Question, didn’t the Navy already try this with the Coronado? Or am I misremembering?

    I guess where I’m going with this is that hasn’t the Navy tried this before? What lessons did they learn from it? Or did they learn lessons Big Navy didn’t want, so they are going to try and try again until they get the results they want?

  • I honestly think that someone in the E-ring has come up with this idea that that contracted sailors are cheaper than uniformed due to some sort of financial balancing (i.e. we don’t pay their health care costs, etc).

    It’s sad. It’s wrong. And it’s just a fundamental mis-appropriation of logic. When the CNO says things along the lines of like “We’re going to have to look into how we allow them into combat” you’ve got to check your entering argument.

    The real question is: how do we get to this point? How is this even being presented as an option?

    There’s been this constant do-loop between the Pentagon and Congress for the past few years. Congress gives us no money =>we come up with a plan to build ships, etc. based on the money we’ve been given => Congress craps on us for not coming up with a plan that will get us to the manning and ships we say we need (313??) => we refuse to say anything that resembles “if you don’t give us money, we can’t get there, so here’s what we have to offer you. So, either give me the funding needed to do my job or get off my ass.” => Congress continues to underfund because we haven’t stood up for what we need => Weird initiatives like slowly turning the amphib fleet into MSC ships comes up.

    I don’t blame whatever Pentagon O-6 came up with this plan for its idiocy. He got handed a bag of crap and was told “find a way” so he/she did.

    What I blame is our lack of forthrightness with Congress to get the resources we need due to whatever political storm we’re not willing to whether.

    Any person with a modicum of reason can tell that the costs from DoD are not what’s driving up our National debt, so there should be no reason to not be forthright about the cost of the defense of the nation. However, because some are unwilling to step up to the plate, the Fleet is being fed a sandwich made from the Pentagon’s expired lunch meat.

    Just my federally provided $.02

  • Centipede

    This subject so incenses me that I can barely pick my words.

    Warships should be manned by Sailors. Our history and tradition dictate this. If you want to save money, cut our ships and cut our manpower. But do not man our ships with civilians.

    I have twice been aboard a warship that was converted to USNS, one of the little ARS boats. First time was under Navy control, and she was a good ship, a smart ship, and she was driven and operated well.

    Years later, I came aboard the same ship under USNS control, and there was apparently little discipline, the ship was dirty (and rusty) topside, and the crew seemed to be disjointed (several did not even know each other).

    Now that may work for a diving salvage ship, but it would not for an amphib.

    To the leadership – stop this, before it is too late.