Ed Note: The post below was written by a mentor of mine from the Chief’s Mess, who has asked to otherwise be anonymous in this post. I will say nothing else, and let him take it from here.

Navy manning policy cycles through phases so regularly it could be best described as a soap opera “As the Pendulum Swings.” First was the Reagan Era build up, then a Clinton Era “peace dividend” drawdown. With Donald Rumsfeld came “faster, leaner, more lethal,” and the twin monsters of “Optimal Manning” and the infamous “Top-6 Roll-down.” Broken ships and ineffective crews were the result. Now the revealed Word from Washington is that the Optimal Manning Experiment is over. ADM Greenert’s statement of “we’re going to effectively migrate, reconstitute in a way, the surface fleet afloat,” is encouraging, but the actions needed to meet his goal of sustaining the fleet seem distant, if not impossible given the corporate track record.

The Balisle Report recommended that over 6,500 billets be restored to the fleet. Only 2,200 were approved, with another 3,900 slated for FYDP accessions. The fine print never makes the headlines in All Hands, or the Navy Times. At this time we are told to cut the Navy by 9,000 Sailors. We have to cut solid performers who happen to be in overmanned ratings, while we should cut those who don’t meet standards, or are marginal performers at best. Why must we do this? Because personnel costs, and the billions of healthcare dollars those personnel require for readiness and recovery, are “eating us alive.” Leadership chants the mantra of “people are our most important resource,” but the reality of where the Navy is putting its money is clear. The Naval Vessel Registry lists 245 active hulls as of June, 2011. The same registry lists 268 Flag Officers: 243 Active, 22 Active Duty for Special Work, and 3 Full Time Support. Last time I walked the Naval Station piers, only three ships had broken an Admiral’s Flag at the masthead. Merging Second Fleet into Fleet Forces Command is supposedly one such “cost savings” designed to optimize the Fleet. But, no Flag billets were harmed in the merger. With President Obama announcing a drawdown of 33,000 combat personnel from Afghanistan, and Congress clamoring for further cost savings, it is only a matter of time before budget pressure on incoming Secretary of Defense Panetta turns the magnifying lens on our “greatest asset,” Deckplate Sailors.

Division officers and Leading Chiefs rarely have time, much less energy, to spend on the fine print in the “big picture.” Getting through the training cycle with often less than 70 percent of their required Sailors, often inadequately trained, to meet all the tasking given down by their Commanding Officers is an 18 hour a day job. Mandatory training days, meetings, and pre-meetings, operational briefings, watchstanding, and documenting every Sailors performance and attendance is a job in itself. Additional time to train, mentor, supervise maintenance, preservation, professional development all comes from somewhere – sleep time most likely, which NAVMAC cheerfully points out is eight hours a day – but in reality is maybe five or six.

What the spreadsheet wizards at OPNAV N1 and BUPERS missed in their calculations is a vast amount of time and work that is always needed, yet seldom calculated in manpower estimates. How do they account for the hours preparing for a 3M spot check, only to have the inspector reschedule because of a surprise visit from ATG or the Squadron Chief of Staff? Trite promises such as “civilians will do surface preservation when in port,” to justify the loss of half your deck department force, ring hollow. Standing up additional Force Protection Condition (FPCON) requirements drain away both production, and stamina. My last ship stood up FPCON CHARLIE measures in a CONUS maintenance availability because Second Fleet enforced a requirement written for “non-Navy controlled ports.” If there was ever a port controlled by the Navy, it is Norfolk Virginia. Yet that is what we did for 18 months–until leaders with the best interest of the crew proved it was hurting production far more than ensuring security. Lest anyone be ignorant, every VIP or Flag Officer visit adds another 4 hours of field day to the ship’s workforce; time also needed for training, preventive and corrective maintenance. More time is lost checking up on the contract repair teams that require quality inspection time equal to the time spent on the repair itself–another thing not factored into NAVMAC’s computer. A couple years ago I went to a conference to discuss the “standard Navy work week.” After several days of reality based discussion, the whole meeting was round-filed because our input would have increased the documented hours – and thus full time billets required – by 30 percent. “Not the answer we were looking for you to endorse,” was the message, and we went home to our ships. What safety procedures could be changed to reduce manning? Could we get by with less wing-walkers when moving aircraft? NATOPS categorically said “no,” and had safety statistics to prove it. Could we add the three hours of CNO mandated physical training to the work week calculation? No, because it would create a need for more billets. The message was clear – we want to reduce head count – don’t confuse the system. Dilbert seemed very apropos.

Manning requirements are estimates. When designed, they are one number. After built, they are usually less, because N1 is looking to save money for N4 to buy missiles. After being in service for a while that number drops again. Congress lowered the authorized end strength, or “boots on ground” requirements exceed two whole Carrier Battle Group’s worth of Sailors. Someone gets a medal, for reporting those ships stay “mission ready” despite manning shortfalls. It’s just a SHELL GAME.

Your ship must be at 90 percent or better manning to deploy. You have 75 percent. Calls are made, hands are shaken, and golf course diplomacy secures the critical NEC and general labor is sent TAD to the ship – for 90 days or so – enough to show the TYCOM you are at manning requirements. But this plus up is not really a fix. TAD Sailors in critical specialties don’t end up on the Force Protection watchbill. They often don’t end up in the repair locker. Sometimes, they don’t even stand duty. Because they are special – it’s in “the deal.” They often don’t use chipping hammers, needle guns, or paint brushes either.

Your division’s work is supposed to be done by 35 Sailors. The Ship’s Manning Document (SMD) calls for so many Sailors of different ranks, NEC and specialized schools. Odds are, You won’t have them. Due to “funding constraints” the Billets Authorized (BA) is only 30. If your command is lucky, the Navy Manning Plan (NMP) allocation might equal funded billets. Often, the time your Division’s share of NMP might be only 20. Either way, your division is still not going to have all 35 Sailors. First, some will be on terminal leave. Some billets will be gapped either from the Sailor being LIMDU, or ADSEP for discipline issues. Secondly, some billets may seem filled, but the Sailor is TAD away to required schools (that never seem to get completed) en route to your command. Depending on the billet they are designated to fill, some Sailors need up to nine months of schools AFTER reporting aboard for a 3 year tour. Lastly, the open wound of Individual Augmentation festers on your Watch, Quarter and Station Bill.

When a message tasking your ship to provide a critically needed NEC E5-6 with a perfect record, security clearance, and long enough PRD to meet the Noble Eagle mission timeline is likely to grab your divisional LPO, 3M Workcenter Supervisor, or the ONE and ONLY Sailor with that NEC needed for mission critical maintenance. You might have two on paper, but the other sailor is LIMDU or TAD to a critical school for another couple months. So, you protest. You send up your impact statement to RECLAMA. Your protest falls on deaf ears since the Commodore is going to HAVE to send someone, and dammed if it’s the guy from his flagship.

Optimal Manning was supposed to streamline training to “just in time” pipelines that provided fully trained Sailors to ships at the right time, so no loss of readiness occurred at PCS time. It’s a pipe dream. The Sailor you are losing has years of experience with that equipment, which is guaranteed to be slightly different from another ship of that class. The new guy is very likely to be junior, or not quite fully recovered from LIMDU, or missing the pipeline training. The last 30-60 days of the outgoing Sailor are focused on THEIR moving off. The arriving Sailor might not report for weeks or months after he transfers. End result is you’ve lost six months of effective production from that billet and everyone else in the workcenter, duty section and ship needs to work that much harder.

Optimal Manning never seemed to hit the Wardroom as it did Mess Deck or Goat Locker. My last ship was designed for a complement of 23 officers. Most of the time we had 40 officers on deck, and a few more off TAD, IA, or other places. It was sickening how many titles started with “A.” Yet, officers need training, and the best place for that is at sea. But many officers without portfolio cab give the XO heartburn, so they all get some job. VBSS officer, Anti-Terrorism Officer, Fire Control Officer, Weapons Officer, Magazine Officer, and other such lofty titles were given the Ensigns, despite the requirement for those billets to be held by second-tour division officers or department heads.

If the Navy needs to save money on personnel costs, I suggest it start with the Wardroom, and then move on from there. I would have a more effective ship with 25 officers, and use the cost savings to retain 30 more blue jackets. If the Enlisted Retention Board is kicking out Sailors who made Senior Chief Petty Officer in less than 14 years, simple fairness suggests we explore ALL options. Lengthen sea tours for officers to develop them further, rather than an 18 month sprint to the next ticket punch. Increase the time in grade from ENS to JG, and JG to LT. Since it’s an automatic promotion, it cannot “hurt their career.” Do we really need all 268 Admirals on the current (and future) payroll? Could all the limited duty officers be as effective as Warrant Officers? Many could, and it would save money for other programs.

My take is this: When 23 of your 40 officers are LT or senior, almost no junior officers are left in duty sections to stand watch, get leadership experience, and master their craft. Being a commanding officer is a grueling slog with professional pitfalls surrounding you. Spending a few more years moving up the chain, especially as a junior officer afloat for 3 year sea tours, 3 years in grade, would give current CO’s the TIME they need to develop them. With the XO fleet up to CO on many ships, that XO/CO will now have the time on board to see that process through, rather than a 14-20 month snapshot.

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

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • ewok40k

    The Naval Vessel Registry lists 245 active hulls as of June, 2011. The same registry lists 268 Flag Officers…
    I think 200 ship navy is not far away… and there is already more admirals than ships. Ouch!

  • Byron

    Lucien, that sounds like a damn fine Chief. Pearls of wisdom are dripping from every sentence.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    YN2 Gauthier,

    Your Chief speaks with “big medicine”, as some of the gang here are fond of saying. Let’s hope someone is listening. But, as your Chief can attest, that is doubtful. Just how bad things had to get before “Optimal Manning” was announced (though not yet implemented) is witness to the “shell game” lengths some Officers will go to champion and enforce unwise and losing propositions to gain favor with their bosses.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    That should read “the end of Optimal Manning”…

  • Jay

    YN2 – much of what you mention — is the almost non-changing nature of our business.

    You are missing the ~109 MSC ships in your count. Somehow — we make do with 2 Admirals and a handful of SES…hmmmm….(OK, not really a fair comparison, but an interesting number)

    I am surprised to hear of a wardroom with that many additional Officers (almost double!). “When I was at sea…” we were lucky to have 80%.

    I do recall reading that when the U.S.S. COLE got underway for her 2000 deployment — she had an all-Enlisted watchbill. I am not sure how that worked — but I think CDR Lippold’s intent was to have the Officers focus on the training & admin of the crew (and their own) — freeing the crew to operate the ship. Perhaps someone can comment on whether or not I am mistaken, or was this a short-lived experiment.

  • JD Smith

    Once again the Navy need listen to their Chiefs. They hold the pulse of the service. I myself had no idea that the service was so top heavy. This news is alarming to me as it reminds me of the stories my chiefs told me of the state of the Navy before Reagan. With Recent news of the PLAN’s incursions into the South China Seas…the importance of a properly manned and efficiency surface fleet to meet this possible threat to such a vital seaway. Thanks for letting the Chief stand up and clear his throat. This should be a more regular occurance.

  • ADMIN Note, for clarification, the guest post it is not by SCPO Jim Murphy, author of Proceedings’ From the Deckplates.

    We welcome opinions expressed and encourage guest posts.

  • Tootall

    This is very interesting and is certainly something that should be considered. There is a study that has been done on the number of Junior Officers that are required in the pipeline to create one Flag Officer. If the Flag ranks are reduced by just a few it is going to have an impact on the fleet wardroom sizes.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Well, there it is. Neatly and professionally laid out. Shocking numbers? Sadly, should be, but aren’t really. The Chief, well, knows.
    As should be expected. Good Chiefs are priceless. Thank God we still have some.

    Coupla side comments (The Chief has spoken the straight story, nothing more need be said.)

    Always before, the Navy lengthened time in grade. It worked. Why not now?

    I’m revising my recommendation on flag officer cuts to retain a max of 120. 20 for DC.

    100 others.

    It’s either that, or name the last LCS built USS Alliance, since it will be decommissioned when 250 Admirals gather to attend the decommissioning of the last ship in the Navy. The shore establishment would go on, somewhat diminished.

    The only ratings left will be YN, PN, and HM (to man the Flag Officer special clinic and wards at the last Naval Hospital, everybody else would have go away and die care).

    All non HM’s to the staffs.


    High level corruption? Opinions vary. Somehow “never blame on collusion what can be explained by stupidity” just doesn’t seem as clever as it once did.

    Me, I have no idea. Suspicions, however dark, are neither evidence nor accusation. Dark suspicions, those I have.

    Dear God I hope they are baseless.

  • GIMP

    Outstanding post and my experience with manpower matches the guest’s.

    From “Collapse” by Jared Diamond (on mining and I paraphrase) “try to understand why any person or group on society would knowingly do something harmful to society as a whole…their actions may be in their short term interests, but bad for society and their long term interests. A corollary to the money making process is not spending it needlessly. They differentiate between expenses that are necessary to stay in business and those characterized as moral obligations.”

    We have been witnessing for quite some time uniformed senior leadership that treats personnel costs as “moral obligation” costs, (costs to be avoided) and procurement costs as “necessary to stay in business costs.”

    The Sailor has neither advocate nor political constituency. Our uniformed leaders’ dream is to use people up for as long as they can and toss them out with nothing. That while buying anything they can get funded. The political constituency is in buying stuff. These senior leaders look forward to transitioning to being the sellers of stuff when they leave the service. There’s value to them personally to keep money flowing to contractors and no value to have any of that money going to Sailors.

    It seems counter to common sense that the Navy’s senior leaders would do things to destroy the Navy while they’re in it, but their reasoning is similar to that in the book excerpt above. Short term gain for themselves above the long term needs of the Navy and the nation at every possible opportunity.

    We are in this mess for only one reason. Bad leaders at the highest levels of the organization. They are the only ones with the power to fix things, and they absolutely will not do it. Maybe one day a leader of the highest caliber and moral fiber will rise to lead the Navy. If so it will be despite the system rather than because of it. Don’t hold your breath.

  • Mike M.

    Another point to consider is trying to improve efficiency.

    How much time and effort does the Navy squander tracking nonsensical metrics? And how much more to try and track progress on rule-of-thumb estimates to three significant figures? I won’t even mention the “magic spell” nature of so much of modern management and acquisition – the notion that blindly following a process automatically guarantees a good product.

    Something has to give. In the current fiscal environment, we aren’t going to get more manpower. And the current administrative overhead is eating the Navy alive. It’s time to change the way we manage…before we manage ourselves out of business.

  • MAD

    Interesting comments…however, this Chief’s comments would carry more weight had he decided to make “big medicine” statements under his own name. Definitely gets a mark of 2.0 in Active Communication.

  • Aubrey

    MAD – what in today’s navy indicates that he would not pay a heavy personal and professional price for his honesty?

    There is absolutely nothing going on that shows an openness to anything other than properly repeating the “company line” as put foward by DC. Differences of opinion are hostile acts to that mindset, and such fire will be returned with massive retaliation.

    As to the post itself – well put, Chief. There is much to fear that he has described, and sadly change does not seem to be a priority for today’s “leaders”.

    I honestly hope and pray that at least one of today’s Admirals will prove me wrong – but I doubt it.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Don’t see you sticking your neck out. Speaking truth to power in mid-career is not for the fainthearted, and the risk to career hopes and viability is real and significant for a man in his position. Somehow I doubt “Mad” is the name on your income tax return. You get your 2.0 reduced to 1.0 for hypocrisy in my book. Nothing personal. All the best. For myself, as long as you don’t roll the report card up and stick it in my eye, fire away.

    Gimp and Mike: Very well put and in my opinion very valid.

    While I was playing with reducio ad absurbum, you guys were much more cogent and persuasive. Well said.

  • Byron

    Grandpa, you’re always a joy to read 😉

  • MAD,
    Attack the messenger and not the message. Typical.

    BTW – as someone who has seen it up close – if I were the author, I wouldn’t put my name on this either as the phone calls would be made. Also, as someone who, ahem, knows a bit of N-1ese … his comments are spot on.

    So, pivot to the subject at hand – shall we?

  • AT1 Charles H. Berlemann Jr

    Sure lets pivot to the subject at hand. Lets us talk about as well where our leadership is failing their sailors with all the manning and lifestyle juggles. The folks at OpNav and BuPers (old school sailor here, I know it is NavPersCom now), are suggesting that we take a snap shot look at 16k sailors and cut 3k of them across the board. The first to die are the airdales, but dollars to donuts says the rest of the rates will be neck up on the tree stump for chopping. A number of folks fit the metrics they are looking to cut from, a heavy percentage (I am not going to make up numbers, just swing by NPC’s website and read the quotas for your own) are from the senior or mid-tour PO2 and PO1 ranks. So let’s see if this makes any sense on the logical scale? We have sailors who came in just as the last round of RIF sailors (the folks who saw the cuts in the mid 90s) were making PO1 and CPO, those of us started to see what would look like happy times again.

    The bleed from our ranks into the economy was massive you would be lucky to see one ship or one squadron along the waterfront or flight line get the gold anchor for retention. Then all of a sudden a war (or two or more) starts and the economy hiccups. Retention sky rockets, now where we had recruiters begging and pleading for bodies, they are actively turning away candidates because there aren’t any holes in the fleet. So we roll back High Year Tenure, makes sense those of us who are advancing like rockets to the moon; clear out the dead wood and give us a chance to get jobs. Then they started to clear out shore duty billets, turning those over to civilians or just out right eliminating them since we aren’t doing those jobs. Hmm, a few of us think, something isn’t right or fair here. Where are we supposed to go after we have done two or more combat deployments with a surprise IA in the middle there? If my leaderships says “Sailors and their Families are Pri-1” then why aren’t they showing it, but “Aye, Aye” and life goes on. With an impact coming to families and sailors growing embittered.

    Then all of a sudden the Perform-To-Serve program and tightening of PRT program catches up with us as we make senior PO2 or junior PO1. So now we have a series of programs that for the last decade have been trying to trim the fat, meanwhile the leadership on the Bridges and in the ready rooms are saying “Optimum Manning makes about as much sense as giving a goat a third horn”. While they are saying that those that have the BatGru Actual attached to their titles are still judging folks on the need to retain folks. So the word filters all the way down that sailors we all know shouldn’t be retained should be asked to leave years ago or even at the end of the first enlistment are being retained under the mistaken belief that we need bodies. So we have padded their evaluations/Fitness Reports to give them an better leg to stay. At the same time competition becomes harder within some rating communities simply cause the jobs and advancement isn’t there anymore. So commands see good sailors either walk or be told to walk by NPC, and those who just don’t mesh with the military or couldn’t navigate their way out of a paper bag even with a piece of string leading out, are retained.

    Meanwhile we also realize that the Fleet Response Plan isn’t working out because ships are having to see the yards and those civilian contractors in those civilian yards for longer because of more deployments. So some “Good Idea Fairy” comes out to say the old metric from the Reagan Navy, that 6 months is the longest we should deploy someone, goes out the window and introduces the 7/8/9/whenever deployment schedule comes out. On top of that IA which even our leadership in the Naval Yard doesn’t fully understand, is still going on. A few failed INSURV’s and a few others bubbles pop around the Admirals saying, “Optimum Manning sucks hind quarters”. So they come out saying Optimum Manning sucks, but it is the path we go on because the nation is almost broke and the war is breaking us. So they come out with some new retention boards to see where else we can trim the fat, so a whole series of sailors who can see the light at the end of the tunnel where they have lifted the heavy weights and never really shrugged off their packs due to the wartime conditions (what wars?) are being asked to think about either change their rates mid-stream (isn’t there a comment about not shifting horses mid-river?) or walk early with a full lose of the last 13-15 years of their life and nothing to show for it. Some of this shift are to rates that are in a few of the year groups already manned up tight and to some folks just moving someone from the center of the pan to the edge waiting for the heat again.

    This is only going to be an issue the further we go down this rabbit hole. Someone who survived the hollow-force of the 1970’s told me. You think you have leadership incidents or non-deployable assets now. Just wait, it will get way worst before it may get better if it even does get better.


    Well written and well covered! Too bad it probably won’t circulate much past this blog. In a couple days, even, it will be page back. Further, and more unfortunate, not much can be done about it. It is bigger than he, and all of us here reading…

    Thanks YN2 and anonymous Chief for posting.

  • The Usual Suspect

    For those at the top the truth is hard to swallow. The Chief has a lot of insight and Lucien a lot of guts for submitting it. Nothing like the view from Reality.

  • Gundog15

    NVYGUNZ, this thread has visibility on other Navy-related webs however the discussion is slanted more towards nthe umber of admirals vs. ships, vice the declining number of those needed to make the ships run.

    Having started my Navy career while we were still recovering from the Carter-induced hollow force, I’ve lived through the extreme lows of poorly maintained ships and disgruntled Sailors. I’ve also seen the high points of an attempt at a 600 ship Navy and served at exceptional commands, with outstanding leadership and motivated crews. Unfortunately the writing is on the wall and we’re falling…fast. Due to the fiscal realities of our country, combined with the current administration reliance on DoD cuts in an attempt to cover the deficit, there will be no end in sight. I agree with AT1 Berlemann, “You think you have leadership incidents or non-deployable assets now. Just wait, it will get way worst before it may get better if it even does get better.”

    Navy leadership has options. We’re way too top heavy and it’s not just at the Flag level either. Every O-billet needs be knocked down a paygrade or two. Command and support infrastructure that does not deliver goods and services directly to the waterfront or training commands needs to go away. The focus needs to shift from admin readiness back to combat readiness. Get rid of useless programs that do nothing to put ordnance on target. There’s a litany of “people” programs that fall into this category. Stop wasting time and money pampering the crew. Quality of Life (QOL) programs have done nothing to improve combat readiness. This is the military, dambit! The number of uniform revisions and changes I have seen in almost 30 years is baffling. We need to get back to basics; real, hands-on training for the crew; Chiefs take the lead; redesign the IDTC to include a real FTG like the one we used to have at GTMO. We need to return to the days when the crew were the experts in operating and maintaining the gear and the absolute last thing they would ever consider is calling in a tech assist. Give the Sailors the training and material to maintain the ships properly and we might turn the corner. Keep going at our current pace and the likely result will be a hollow force.

  • Byron

    And with programs like LCS, you’ll see the life get sucked right out of the Navy.