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CNP's big changes: Higher sea pay, stable advancements and a streamlined uniform board

Feb. 24, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
CNP VADM Moran MWM 20140218
Vice Adm. Bill Moran, the chief of Naval Personnel, addressed issues from sea pay to advancements to uniform rules during a Feb. 18 interview with Navy Times staff. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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Vice Adm. Bill Moran is a man on a mission.

The chief of naval personnel wants to pay fleet sailors better. He wants to add the latest flame-resistant coveralls to your sea bag. He wants to improve the advancement system and give more sailors a chance to make rate. He wants to design more comfortable blue cammies.

He even wants to blow up the uniform board.

Moran, a career P-3 Orion pilot, has been jetting around to fleet areas to hear your complaints since he took over seven months ago. He’s grappling with a fleet still uneasy from the enlisted retention boards and thousands of gapped jobs, and one that’s eying expanding opportunities on the outside as the economy improves. His buzzwords are “stability” and “trust.”

In his first wide-ranging sit-down with Navy Times, Moran explained his vision for personnel programs, including big changes such as:

■ Hiking career sea pay levels for the first time in 13 years.

■ Revamping the uniform board to speed uniform changes.

■ Unclogging overmanned ratings and spreading opportunities.

“The trust level really comes from whether we are transparent, or we are open and honest with sailors in communicating our issues, our challenges and anything we are doing that may affect their lives,” Moran said in the Feb. 18 interview, during which he addressed his goals for uniforms, advancement, pay and more.

Sea pay boost

Fleet sailors are about to get more money in their wallets.

Officials hope to lure more sailors back to sea by boosting sea pay — the first such raise since 2001. In the interview, Moran made clear that he thinks it’s about time the payout went up, and he revealed new details about the proposal.

“We value sea duty,” he said. “The fact that we have not adjusted that pay in 12 years, it is hard to argue that you value sea duty when you are not even keeping up with the rate of inflation.”

The goal, Moran said, is to catch sea pay up with inflation. He’s proposed that change; it’ll be up to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to make the final call.

“Our recommendation is that we bring the value back up to inflation over that time period, which is 25 percent or so,” Moran said. “And that is across the board, officer and enlisted.”

That rate — a touch below the 32 percent inflation rise over that period, according to the Consumer Price Index — would be a substantial bump. Right now, sea pay can vary from $50 for a seaman to $700 for a warrant officer.

A petty officer third class with one year of sea duty, for instance, now gets $80 a month. The hike would make that $100, a pay boost of $240 for a sailor who spends the whole year on sea duty.

Similarly, a first class with three years at sea will now get $350 a month, up from $280. That’s $840 more a year.

It is also possible the inflation rise will be applied to the $100 sea pay premium that kicks in for those who’ve been in sea duty billets for more than 36 months.

Mabus will set the final rate and determine when any changes would take effect.

Officials are also laying the groundwork for an even bigger special pay hike in coming years, with the belief that those who sail on long deployments should be paid for doing so.

High deployment allowance pay would kick in after a sailor hits 190 days on deployment; after that point, the sailor would receive up to $1,000 a month extra. This pay was passed by Congress but then suspended in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Top Navy officials believe it’s time that it be reinstated.

“I do support it,” Moran said, noting that the new deployment plan, known as the optimized fleet response plan, makes eight-month cruises the standard. “Our deployments inside O-FRP are in the eight-month range as opposed to the more traditional six months. And if we go longer than that, I would tell you those are arduous tours for sailors to be at sea that long. And we ought to pay them for it.”

In order for sailors to get paid, the suspension must be lifted and Mabus must set the monthly payout amount. Moran said the pay levels are still being figured out.

“It is up to the secretary, where he is comfortable, and I am pretty sure it will not be a thousand a month, but it will be at the lower end of that spectrum,” Moran said.

Advancement chances

When it comes to advancements, the future is bright.

The advancement percentages are likely to remain elevated for the next few cycles, Moran said. The fall cycle’s overall chance to advance slipped to 27.71 percent — but was still much higher than the 20 it was in the fall of 2011.

“On the last advancement cycle, in September, when the results were released, we were able to tell sailors that we were advancing above historical norms,” he said. “So for the March exam cycle that is coming up, we expect to see similar advancement rates ... that we saw in September.”

Today’s opportunities are healthier for one reason: fewer overmanned ratings. The Navy advances to vacancies in the fleet, so it is obvious that an overstocked rating will have fewer openings.

Still, Moran said the key is stabilizing the swings between cycles and making sure that sailors in every rating have a chance to advance.

“We have got to stabilize this process,” Moran said.

“And we do not have these wild swings in advancement rates from one cycle to the next where you have zero one cycle and you have got, you know, 80 percent a year later,” Moran said. “That makes sailors wonder if we know what we are doing up here, and I do not blame them — they ought to have some reasonable understanding of what their likelihood is to advance.”

Moran said he is focusing on the undermanned and overmanned rates — ones that advance all eligible sailors or none of them.

“I do not like that picture. I think we ought to have something that gives every rate an opportunity to advance,” he said. “We should not be auto-advancing people based on vacancies all the time.

“And I see that probably sticking around for a few more cycles and then hopefully, stabilizing at a new norm that is still very healthy. If we all agree historical is healthy, then I think we will stay a very healthy Navy in terms of advancement rates.”

As the service tries to hold its end strength, Moran predicts that he’ll be able to reduce the number of over- and undermanned ratings. But the service isn’t there yet, he warned.

“We are still doing some work to understand what a healthy Navy ought to be.”

Better 'blueberries'

Your “blueberries” aren’t going anywhere.

It’s no longer an underway uniform, but the blue-and-gray Type I Navy working uniform will remain part of your sea bag and can be worn ashore or pierside, Moran said.

“NWU is here to stay,” Moran said when asked whether the Navy would continue to issue it in the wake of the fleet commanders’ October decision to bar it from underway wear, except for special occasions, because of its lack of flame resistance.

And he added that officials are working on a lightweight version of NWUs for sailors in warmer climates, a more breathable version similar to the woodland cammies, or NWU Type IIIs.

“I think it will be much more in line with what you see in the Type III in terms of comfort and weight, and people generally who wear the Type III like the overall feel of that uniform,” Moran said.

Officials have said that they hope to run a wear test of the lightweight NWUs in 2014 once the design is approved. The new ones could use lighter-weight fabric or could skip the curing finish that maintains the uniform’s permanent press. Officials say it will be hard, if not impossible, to tell the two apart.

Moran said officials are assessing whether to eventually add the new flame-resistant coveralls to the sea bag, replacing the utility coveralls that are also now barred underway. The first step is to make sure that every fleet sailor has three pairs, Moran said.

“Once that is done, we are looking at the cost and the ability to produce enough of the coveralls to issue them as part of the sea bag,” Moran said. “Of course, that makes sense.”

Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Ill., will continue to issue utility coveralls until that decision is made — likely closer to the end of the year, Moran said.

Moran will also be overseeing a closely watched wear test. Female sailors will don “Dixie Cups” and service dress blues, and female officers and chiefs will try on newly designed covers that resemble the round ones worn by their male counterparts.

'We are going to change it'

He’s also taking aim at the uniform process itself.

Case in point: the parka. For sailors in cold climates, the peacoat isn’t cutting it. After hearing that message loud and clear in late 2012, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert directed uniform officials to find and field a heavier parka for sailors to wear with service and dress uniforms, and decided to start with parkas worn by other services to speed up the process.

Still, after a chilly winter whose snowstorms have clobbered bases from Kittery, Maine, to Groton, Conn., to Norfolk, Va., there’s no sign of the parkas. It remains unclear whether these will be approved and issued to sailors before next winter.

Another example: the long-awaited update to white crackerjacks. The Navy Uniform Board unveiled these in 2007 — and still no one’s wearing them. Officials hope to begin issuing them to recruits in 2015.

It is for reasons like these that Moran is determined to overhaul the uniform board process. He, CNO and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens want to radically change it. Moran said they get more than enough fleet input and want to speed up the development, decision-making and fielding so sailor feedback can go from concept to prototype to the uniform store faster.

“And what we want is good input, good ideas, and to be able to attack those ideas in a responsive way that some sailors understand that we are not ignoring them,” Moran said. “Which they could view in this board process as just taking too damn long.”

Moran thinks it’s unnecessary to have a large uniform board that meets regularly to share fleet feedback, which he says is easy to get via surveys and emails.

“We are going to change it,” Moran said. “And we are going to let people that are on the board get back to doing what we really need them to do and let us worry about the uniform piece by getting direct feedback from sailors.”

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