Fleet members, online trolls and the Navy’s top sailor all convened Friday on Navy Reddit for a question-and-answer session with Master Chief Petty Office of the Navy James Honea.
Honea, who became the Navy’s senior enlisted leader in September, is the first to use the discussion website for an “ask me anything,” or AMA, session.
Navy Reddit is a “subreddit” and is not affiliated with the Navy.
It serves as an online smoke pit of sorts, an often-irreverent forum for sailors to vent, share funny sea stories and get help on matters for which their command has no answer.
It’s also a forum that some Navy leaders and their staffs keep an eye on.
Honea spent roughly two hours answering questions, offering insight on several issues important to men and women in the fleet while promising to circle back on other queries.
Before he started answering questions, Honea addressed three issues often on the minds of sailors: mental health, pay issues and beards.
Honea, who enlisted 35 years ago, noted that a Navy beard study directed by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro remains ongoing.
“Beards is not a hill I want to die on, one side or the other,” he wrote. “I understand this is something many of you have brought up and find important and I hear you.”
He noted that problems with the service’s pay and personnel systems “are not acceptable,” and that while personnel support detachments, or PSDs, are not coming back, staff at the replacement transaction service centers “are working hard every day to process transitions quickly and accurately.”
“We are not going back to the past to change our future,” he said of PSDs. “PSDs had problems as well and [are] why we’re going through this transformation. Reminder closing PSDs are not the sole reason for this backlog.”
As for the ongoing pay and paperwork problems, he advised sailors to “continue to elevate issues to leadership to address concerns. If necessary, elevate the concern to me. As your MCPON, I will get involved to make this right.”
Honea repeatedly advised sailors to message him about issues they brought up during the AMA.
While Honea urged sailors to seek mental health help if they need it, he also acknowledged the provider shortage facing not just the Navy but the United States in general.
“But we can make this better,” he wrote. “We are doing everything we can to alleviate this on our end.”
He urged Navy Redditors to check out telehealth options and pointed out a Humana/Tricare link in particular.
“If you see someone acting off, step in to help them even if they aren’t actively asking for help,” Honea wrote.
Several Redditors decried the informal fiefdom of the Chiefs Mess and asked why there is such a stark division between chiefs and lower-ranking enlisted.
Some also asked why the Navy doesn’t place more resources into developing the leadership skills of lower-ranking sailors.
One Redditor decried the tempo required of both sailors and units.
Honea replied that “our competitors get a vote on the conditions of the world and what is demanded of our Navy and Sailors,” while noting that U.S. Fleet Forces Command “is considering strongly how do we reduce the operational demands” and preserve readiness.
Another asked if Honea would consider transcribing and releasing any all-hands calls that he hosts.
“This has to be possible as the last MCPON made public via text the entire infamous interaction with the (aircraft carrier George Washington) crew that created ‘lower your standards’ memes that are still being regurgitated across all social media daily,” the sailor wrote.
Honea replied that it was a great idea, but that “it is a lot of work to transcribe an (all-hands call), so I don’t plan on asking the team to do that any time soon.”
In actuality, a plethora of audio transcription apps exist online that make transcribing audio relatively easy.
Many Redditors noted that sailors feel overworked and that their commands are undermanned.
Honea wrote that he agreed that “exhaustion is a leading factor toward mental illness in the Fleet,” and that “more must be done to stop this cycle.”
Others questioned why the Navy is offering juicy bonuses for new enlistees and lowering the test scores required to join the service instead of doing more to retain the people already in uniform.
While the AMA’s ground rules requested that sailors refrain from trolling, some commenters nonetheless squeezed in some pointed jabs:
“I just want to say keep up the great work,” one Redditor wrote. “I’m a veteran recruiter who works with troops transitioning out of the Navy. Every day people tell me why they’re leaving and then I help them apply their skills in places where they will be financially and professionally respected. Due to low retention, business has never been better.
“You are driving so much business to my inbox that I barely have to source,” the post continues. “People will talk to me, and then their friends will talk to me, and then they all end up somewhere happier. It’s especially satisfying when I talk to someone on the fence about reenlisting. It takes so little to help with that decision. I give basic facts about a company and suddenly the choice is clear.
“I really don’t have to sell at all when the alternative is continuing to be in the current Navy,” the post concludes. “So I’ll probably be one of the only people to say this but, great job!! Keep it up!!”
Honea did not reply to that Redditor.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.