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Exclusive interview: SECNAV on sea pay, tobacco use, gender equity and more

Apr. 7, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
SECNAV Mabus Interview MWM 20140327
In an exclusive March 27 interview at his Pentagon office, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said a detailed plan outlining tobacco-sale restrictions across the service will be released soon. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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Navy Secretary Ray Mabus wants to make your job better.

Mabus, now in his fifth year in the Navy’s top post, is pushing to boost quality of life for sailors and their families by expanding opportunities for women and paying sailors more for fleet duty. Mabus was a driving force behind the career sea pay hike, set to take effect this summer.

“We are unique in the world in how well-trained, and how much responsibility and accountability we push down to the very junior ranks,” he told Navy Times in a March 27 interview. “I want to make sure that force is resilient, is highly trained, and has the tools they need to do the job.”

But some of his moves have been more controversial, including breath tests across the force and his latest push to curtail tobacco sales to sailors and Marines. Mabus sees tackling cigarettes, dip and e-cigs as a way of boosting the force’s health and readiness.

“We demand that sailors and Marines be incredibly fit, and we know that tobacco hurts that fitness,” he said in the sit-down interview at his Pentagon office. “We know that the cost for health care far exceeds any profit that we could possibly make selling that. We know that it brings bad health-care results and fitness results.”

Mabus wouldn’t go as far as to say that the Navy is looking into banning tobacco use entirely, but said his office is taking “a deliberate approach” towardbarring tobacco sales at exchanges and commissaries and aboard ship, and expects to unveil a detailed proposal in the coming weeks.

Mabus emphasized how the Navy is even more pivotal to the nation’s strategy and is eying ways to better compensate sailors for the jobs most needed: Sea duty.

Sailors will still deploy around the world to maintain presence as they have been, and because of that and the smaller fleet, deployments will continue to push past the six-month mark. But the brass hopes to better compensate them for their time away.

“We are looking at ways to recognize that, to reward that, and to help sailors and their families — and Marines and their families — with some of the stresses that this tempo is putting on them,” Mabus said.

'Forward-leaning'

Among Mabus’ signature initiatives is expanding opportunities for women across the force. His accomplishments have been numerous.

He’s overseen the integration of the silent service and now the brown-water Navy, efforts that are gaining steam.

In March, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command got the final go-ahead to begin deploying female riverines, a year and a half after the first group of women graduated from initial training. And in 2015, six female officers will become the first to serve aboard attack boats when they report to the Virginia-class attack submarines Minnesota and Virginia. Two more subs will follow in 2016, when the service plans to add enlisted women to the sub force.

“We are as forward-leaning as you can be on that,” Mabus said. “One of the statements I make is, we literally couldn’t put our fleet to sea without women.”

Other far-reaching changes could be coming. Naval Special Warfare is slated to complete a study this summer that would determine if, and how, women could be integrated into the SEALs, the last Navy community to exclude them under combat rules.

If U.S. Special Operations Command gives the OK, women could begin reporting to boot camp in fall 2015 with the intention of heading to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado, Calif., the following spring.

Mabus is also pushing hard to ensure that women feel at home in the service, thus his initiative to outfit female sailors and Marines in the same uniforms as men.

“When I do all-hands calls — and I do a lot of all-hands calls — and I look out across 50 people, or 5,000 people, I see United States sailors. I do not see male sailors, or female sailors, and I do not think anybody else does, either,” Mabus said.

Last year, controversy erupted when the Marine Corps’ uniform board proposed a new, unisex cover that resembled the “bucket hat” worn by women. Dubbed “girly hats” by commentators, the Marines quickly backed off the plan.

Similar frustration arose in the Navy among female officers and chiefs who were ordered to start wearing male covers off-the-shelf; the covers gave many headaches as part of earlier wear testing for females to don “Dixie cups” covers and crackerjack uniforms.

Mabus, who’s been a leading force for the changes, has said he supports the idea of a cover for women that resembles the one worn by men; a prototype has been designed and is expected to be wear-tested this summer.

“I think, if the covers change ... it’s going to be shaped to fit a woman’s head, because they’re different than the jarheads we men have,” Mabus told Navy Times on Nov. 6.

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