The U.S. Navy is having a hard time filling at-sea positions, and it has a simple solution to the problem: Pay enlisted sailors more money.
When sailors are deployed on a ship, the Navy pays them a stipend called career sea pay. The Navy soon will increase that stipend for the first time in 10 years, Vice Adm. Bill Moran announced Tuesday.
“It's long overdue,” Moran told sailors aboard the USS Bataan. “We are convinced it's the right thing to do for sailors who are serving at sea. We want to compensate you more for the work that you do.”
At-sea sailors – practically speaking, on-ship sailors, as a ship does not have to be deployed for the stipend to kick in -- receive between $70 and $770 per month, depending on rank and number of years on sea duty. The Navy has struggled to fill at-sea billets, which require more time away from home and offer less stability than shore-duty positions.
The Navy has brought on 8,000 additional sailors in the last two years, Moran said, which has helped reduce the number of open positions significantly. About 7,000 billets remain unfilled. The Navy still is determining the exact amount of the stipend increase, but the change will come “in the next couple months,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, a Navy spokesman. “Real progress is being made on the manning front -- we have cut our gaps at sea in half, and are getting folks to ships earlier in the training cycle,” Moran said. “There is still work to do, but our collective efforts are making an impact.”
Another part of the Navy’s effort to fill billets involves providing more stability to sailors deployed at sea.
As part of its Optimized Fleet Response Plan, the Navy will limit a ship’s deployment to eight months, every three years.
“This is good news for sailors who stay in the Navy for the long term,” Moran said. “It's going to provide stability and predictability on deployments. It's going to provide sailors with more time at home for longer stretches, which I think is good.”
Moran also told the sailors not to worry about the possibility of cuts to pay and benefits, despite the recent interest in targeting personnel costs as a way to bring down Defense Department spending.
“We are not cutting your pay,” Moran said. “The retirement system that you came into the Navy with is the retirement system you are going to get.”
The Pentagon, however, is currently conducting a review of military compensation and retirement benefits, and is expected to issue a report in early 2015. The December budget deal reduced pensions for working-age military retirees, but lawmakers are currently fighting to repeal that provision. The Congressional Budget Office recently introduced several strategies to reduce Defense outlays through cuts to the TRICARE program.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey also recently spoke to the need to reduce personnel costs. Dempsey said the department could trim spending through smaller pay raises for troops, higher health care co-payments and enrollment fees for military retirees and less generous housing allowances.
Without such cuts, personnel costs “will become a crisis,” Dempsey said.