The Navy is offering more than $100,000 in surface warfare bonuses as the service contemplates new ways to boost retention within the community.
Active duty officers could earn as much as $105,000 to become SWO department heads, while active duty lieutenant commander SWOs may earn up to $46,000 after signing on for another three years — the same amounts offered to officers last year, according to Navy data.
“SWO lieutenant junior grades will have the opportunity to commit to [a department head retention bonus] as early as their 3rd year of commissioned service (YCS-3) anniversary date if screened on their first look for DH,” according to new naval administrative messages. “The service obligation incurred by a DHRB will begin no earlier than the officer’s minimum service requirement.”
Those screened for department head on their first look are eligible for the $105,000 bonus, which will be issued in several increments, depending on when the agreement is signed.
For example, those with four years of commissioned service will receive an initial payment of $20,000, another payment of $10,000, followed by five $15,000 increments annually. However, those with six years of commissioned service will receive three $25,000 payments and two $15,000 payments.
“Total compensation is reduced if the DHRB contract is not signed prior to YCS-6 for first-look screeners, YCS-7 for second-look screeners, and YCS-8 for third-look screeners,” the NAVADMIN said.
Those eligible for the department head retention bonus must be active duty, and have already served at least one division officer tour or be assigned to a fleet-up or single longer tour billet. They also must agree to complete at least two afloat department head tours, or a single longer department head tour.
For lieutenant commanders with at least 11 years of service and no more than 12, the Navy is offering active duty SWOs $22,000 on the second anniversary of their promotion to that rank. An additional $12,000 will be issued on the third and fourth anniversaries as well. Reserve officers will receive the bonuses on that schedule, but will only receive $12,000 on the second anniversary of their lieutenant commander promotion, for a total of $36,000 to remain in the service.
Historically, SWOs depart their community at higher rates than their peers in the submarine and aviation communities, according to a Government Accountability Office report from 2021.
But Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander of Naval Surface Forces, said retention is improving within the SWO community and that the service is considering several options to continue that trend.
Retention among SWOs remains at approximately 34% to 35% among officers with three to eight years of service — up from a 30% percent retention rate roughly 20 years ago.
Kitchener said that bonuses facilitated retention initially, but that growth has stagnated as of late. As a result, the Navy is considering developing other options like self-selectivity, leadership development, and a culture of mentoring and coaching.
“We’ve been thinking about how do we put into place more self-selectivity at our sessions for SWO candidates,” Kitchener told reporters in January. “The other communities have their test they do and some other things, so we’re exploring some options on that, the idea being okay, this person, this is what a SWO does. This is what we think the capabilities are that you have to have in the mindset. And so you’re bringing people in that are really wedded to doing it.”
Kitchener’s goal is to reach a 35% or 36% SWO retention rate in 2023. Still, he acknowledged that the long-term impact of COVID-19 and the resulting lengthy deployments may lead to a decrease in SWO retention over the next couple of years.