Volume 24, Issue II /Legislative Priorities
Legislative Priorities

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael Leavitt

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West
Excerpted from testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies' Hearing on Quality of Life in the Military, February 16, 2012

America's Navy is defined, first, by its agile war fighting capability. Operating forward and always ready, our fleet is deterring aggression, protecting sea lanes, projecting power and delivering humanitarian assistance where needed.

Despite the fiscal constraints facing our nation, the world's oceans and waterways are not getting smaller. We still remain engaged in every theater of operation.

Sailors are the singular keystone in our Navy's total force. Their families share our burdens and our sacrifices. They do this with admirable strength, conviction and resiliency.

It is imperative that we provide [a] quality of life commensurate with the immeasurable contributions of our sailors and their families. We must also ensure our sailors are safe, healthy and well compensated, well trained, well educated, and that sailor and family support programs and initiatives must continue to evolve as the needs of our families change.

The brave men and women of the United States Navy continue to perform exceptionally well under demanding conditions. Congressional support remains fundamental to their success and the readiness of our force.

As I complete my 32-year career, I would like to take one last opportunity on behalf of the men and women of the United States Navy and the families who faithfully stand by them to thank you for your unwavering support.

On deployments:  About 40 percent of your Navy is underway today, out doing the J-O-B. We've been doing that for the past years as well, so we're used to those deployments. We had a ship recently, due to some events around the world, complete a 10.5 month deployment. That caused a little angst in the force; hey, is that normal for us? We're in the process of saying, no, that's not our norm.

On retention and ERBs:  Today, as I look at you, [retention is running] almost 70 percent. That's a good problem, but it also can be a little bit difficult. Our folks are concerned about things like retirement. They're talking about the future of the force, with all the budget debates that are out there. We’ve had to make some tough choices to balance our force. Perform-to-Serve is one and the Enlisted Retention Board is the other.

The Navy [has drawn] down about 55,000 sailors over the past 10 years, while meeting our missions and doing what we need to do. Recently, due to the high retention and low attrition that we have, and the funnel of folks coming in, we’ve used Perform-to-Serve as our lever for adjusting the amount of people we have. About eight or nine out of 10 sailors who want to stay can stay. We [are] focusing on performance, [which] allows us to not only balance our end strength, but balance the ratings as well.

We advance to vacancies in our force. If you don't have a vacancy there, it's hard for a person to advance. And in fact, in many ratings, they weren’t advancing. They were being stagnant. So we had to implement something this past year called the Enlisted Retention Board (ERB). It wasn't something we wanted to do. It's something we had to do. We looked at performance first. And then we had to look into quotas, [which] focused on 31 ratings that were severely over-manned.

We just completed that [and] have about 300 of the 2,947 folks affected … who are eligible for the Temporary Early Retirement (TERA), which was a big help for us and the eligible sailors. We [also] put in some other things, for example, such as exchange- and commissary-type services, as well as medical benefits, to help those folks transition. Plus, we've hired a world class placement organization – Challenger, Gray and Christmas – to provide them with the mentorship and coaching to transfer to the civilian sector.

On retirement benefits:  Our folks [are] talking about the Defense Business [Board’s recommendations to reform military retirement, which] make a lot of folks nervous. Some folks would tell you that people don't join the Navy for retirement. Maybe they didn't initially. But once they get in and see the contributions they make to the nation, they start thinking about some of that. And so anything you can do to help out in that arena would be beneficial.

Last year, I opened my statement talking about the [continuing resolution, Sailors’ concerns about getting paid] and how it was causing a lot of prop wash, as we would call it in the Navy, a lot of churn. Anything you can do to stop those type actions, it really does help us focus on what we should be doing. And that's war fighting. That's what our job is.

On suicide:  One hundred sixty suicide-related behaviors a month is typically what we've seen. That could also be seen as a good news story, because those [numbers include] related behaviors, [such as seeking] help.  Many of the programs we've put in place are working.

On sequestration:  [Sequestration is] going to have a huge and immediate impact. And I think that's going to really hurt your military overall -- now I'll speak for the Navy here -- if that was enacted.

We have a total force, [including] our Navy Reserve and our Navy civilians. And when you start cutting folks, and you start talking sequestration, it's going to be very tough for everybody and not a good thing at all.

On family readiness:  I'd like to just point out is this is an all-volunteer force. And I think to have a very good sustainable voluntary force, you have to make sure those folks at home are getting everything they need.

On child care services:  This year Navy is meeting its OSD goal for potential need for our child care services. Last year, we opened up 7,000 new spaces for our folks and, by using a mix from our [child development centers] and our youth programs, we've taken our waiting list from about eight months down to three, which is a really manageable number from our perspective.

On housing:  I will tell you in my 32 years, I have never seen family housing better through PPV or public-private venture. And CNO has committed to improving the overall quality of our bachelor housing. We actually have PPV barracks where our single sailors live. And that is absolutely incredible, [but] we still have about 5,000 of our sailors that live on board ships. We’re on track to meet [our Homeport Ashore] goal by 2016.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett

Excerpted from testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies' Hearing on Quality of Life in the Military, February 16, 2012

Right now, 30,000 Marines are forward deployed around the world, defending our nation's liberty, saving strategic environments, training and engaging with our partners and our allies, ensuring freedom of the seas and deterring aggression.

Over the past year, the forward presence and crisis response of America's Marines, working in concert with our most important joint partner, the United States Navy, has created opportunities and provided decision space for our nation's leaders.

Your Marines were first on the scene to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in Japan, Cambodia and Thailand. We conducted the first precision air strikes over Libya, and successfully executed a tactical recovery of a downed American aviator. We conducted non-combatant evacuation operations in Tunisia, and the reinforcement of our embassies in Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain.

While accomplishing all of that, your Corps continued to conduct sustained combat and counter-insurgency missions in Afghanistan. General Amos and I have just returned from visiting many of our nearly 20,000 Marines and sailors currently deployed there. And I can tell you first hand that their martial spirit and their moral remain notably high.

Through the fidelity and support of Congress, our Marines and sailors in the fight and at home have received what is necessary to ensure success over this past year. To best meet the demands of the future and the many types of missions Marines will be expected to perform now and beyond the post-OEF security environment, the Commandant of the Marine Corps established four priorities.

And to that end, we will provide the best trained and best equipped units, who will forward deploy into harms way. We will rebalance our Corps and posture it for the future. We will better educate and train our Marines to succeed in distributive operations and increasingly complex environments. And we will keep faith with our Marines, our sailors and their families who have sacrificed so much for more than a decade of war.

And as we take on the challenges of the future, faced with shrinking budgets and forces, the Marine Corps continues its efforts to ensure Marines and their families maintain the quality of life they so richly deserve.

I have much to report regarding our progress in family readiness and care, support to those who have lost a loved one, cared for our wounded, ill and injured, our revised Transition Assistance Management Program, behavioral health, support to our deployed Marines, and improvements to our infrastructure and our facilities.

We embrace these critical areas as one Marine community and as one team. Mission first; Marines and their families always.

Your Corps is ever mindful that meeting our nation's need for an expeditionary force and readiness that operates capably in every time and place is paramount. Our Marines and families are, indeed, national treasures. They continue to march forward in their dedicated service to the nation.

We will keep faith with them. We owe them no less.

On behavioral health and suicide:  All of our behavioral health programs are closely integrated at the headquarters level. And the purpose for that is to better synchronize all of our research, all our policy, all our training, all our prevention and all of our treatment -- in regard to sexual assault, suicide, combat operational stress control, family advocacy and domestic violence issues as well. All those are grouped into the behavioral health domain.

In regard to suicide, FY '09, we had 52; FY '10, we had 37; and FY '11, we had 33. So we've shown a marked improvement. But one is too many. So we're not dancing in the end zone yet that we're making all this great progress. But have seen a great improvement, in large due to our training programs, Never Leave a Marine Behind training continuum, which is peer led. We also have, for lack of a better term, a hotline called Distress. It’s a phone line that is manned by Marines, for Marines. Because Marines feel comfortable talking to other Marines and they'll bring their problems to other Marines.

Also, we're very proud of our Combat Operational Stress Control Continuum, known as the OSCAR training, which is Operational Stress Control and Readiness. It takes on the core functionality of training the leadership at the battalion level, and all the way down to the squad level, where we have the commanders; we have the sergeant major; we have the staff NCOs, who live and sleep with these Marines day in and day out. It's designed to identify somebody who has characteristic changes. And as the continuum goes, you strengthen a Marine in training, therefore strengthening him. He gets resiliency. And then you start to put in those prevention and mitigation factors.

Leadership understands the need to maintain continual vigilance for any type of characteristic changes. And that's part of the mental health professional, the corpsman, the doctor who does these post-deployment health risk assessments [90 to 180 days after deployment, and] talks you through any changes you might have in your day-to-day living, kind of raise your own awareness, and that for those of the people around you. We [also] have a contract outreach program to Marines, 30, 60 and 90 days post-deployment [as] part of the Psychological Health Outreach Program.

We've just amped up our Transition Assistance Management Program. And we're actually referring to it now as Transition Readiness Seminar, because we're taking it to a whole new level. As this thing starts to grow legs, there's going to be touch points throughout the Marine's career. And throughout the life cycle of a Marine, there will be touch points for counseling and things of that nature [that will] add to the resiliency or strengthening of a Marine.

On retention:  Our retention has never been better. Only the best get to stay. We get to be very choosy. We're only keeping tier one and tier two in each MOS, meaning these are young men and women who are first class PFTers … exceeding in their Marine Corps martial arts program … doing all the education they're supposed to be doing … shooting well on the rifle range. They're doing everything right. Those are the ones that we're keeping.

On housing:  Our housing is magnificent. From 2006 to 2011, we got very aggressive on [building] brand new bachelor enlisted quarters and we're going to [build] four more BEQs this year alone.  Right now we account for 90 percent of all bed spaces for our single Marines. And as we start to draw down, we'll be closer. We’re on track with our family housing, too.

On higher healthcare fees for retirees:  If you're on active duty, it's not going to affect you that [much right now]. But there is a breaking point associated with this. You talk about slow [growth] for retirees’ pay. You start talking about increased costs for [pharmacy] co-pays and raising [TRICARE] Standard and Prime [enrollment fees]. And now, let's start messing with the commissary, too. And then we start breaking faith with those who have served [in the past]. There is a breaking point in there somewhere.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael Leavitt

Excerpted from testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation on the Fiscal 2013 Budget Proposal for the U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Programs, March 7, 2012

I continue to be humbled and amazed by the sacrifice, dedication and commitment I see every day by our Coast Guardsmen, and for the unwavering support they receive from their families and loved ones, which allows us to better serve our nation to the fullest extent.

Our dedicated Coast Guard men and women are working hard every day to protect our nation's interest. We are overseas, we are in the high seas, we're in our nation's waters, we're in our nation's ports and waterways, we're manning operation stations, and we're working with the local agents in the industry so we can help keep our nation secure.

Right now, these brave Coast Guard [members] are out in the maritime environment, saving lives, protecting property, conducting law enforcement, setting and working on buoys … breaking ice and so much more. I couldn't be more proud of the men and women of the United States Coast Guard for the outstanding job they do every day.

For example, just recently the icebreaker Coast Guard Cutter Healy completed a 254-day deployment where she and her crew successfully supported important scientific research in the Arctic. But as you know, the Healy was diverted very late in her deployment to escort the Russian-flag tanker vessel, Renda, along the 800-mile journey to deliver fuel to the people of Nome, Alaska. As the nation watched, USCGC Healy fought through severe storms and freezing temperatures to escort Renda through the ice for the first-ever wintertime fuel delivery at sea.

It is my responsibility to look out for our workforce and their families' wellbeing [and] the assets requested in our budget will provide our people with highly capable, safer, more efficient and effective platforms. Not only do these new assets meet our most urgent operational requirements, they also help to greatly improve the quality of life and safety of the men and women that serve aboard and operate them.
As you've heard before, the material condition of our cutter fleet is unacceptable. These ships were built over 40 years ago. The [quarters] are cramped with up to 20 people sharing a common area along with the sanitary facilities. Our crews spend countless hours repairing old, outdated mechanical systems to keep the ships running, [resulting] in lost training opportunities and a decrease in operational proficiency that negatively impacts the crews' morale.

We are now delivering and operating national security cutters to replace the aging high-endurance cutter. I can tell you the crews on these new ships are very excited to operate these new, very highly capable cutters.

Last year in my testimony, I mentioned some of the challenges our men and women and their families face, particularly with regard to housing and child care. And on behalf of the service members, I am truly grateful for the housing and child care [improvements] made possible in the fiscal year 2012 budget. Because of your support, we are making great strides towards enhancing these programs and bridging the parity gap [with] the Department of Defense (DoD).

I visited multiple Coast Guard units during this past year, and I have heard the concerns of our members and their families. Ensuring adequate housing for our Coast Guard members living in the high-cost areas is a high priority. Fiscal stewardship is also a high priority and as such, we are currently in the process of assessing our housing inventory across the nation, including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.

In this constrained fiscal environment, we need to be very smart on how we spend our maintenance [and] recapitalization funding to sustain frontline operations so we can best support our members and our families.

On the most pressing challenges facing the USCG enlisted force:  It hasn't really changed since I testified last year. Housing and child care are the [top concerns] for our workforce, and we’re making great strides to shore up that parity between the [USCG and] DoD. But there are other things on the minds of our workforce, too. They [are looking] at the reductions that the Department of Defense is looking at in regard to personnel, and wondering how [those reductions will] relate to them and the Coast Guard. And there is a lot of anxiety [regarding what] pay and benefits, including retirement, are going to look like in the future. Last year’s continuing resolution [had our personnel wondering how it] was going to affect our pay. There are the same concerns this year with the way we're going forward.

On Coast Guard housing:  The national housing assessment [will look at the national housing situation and] should be completed at the end of May. With the new authorities, we want to be careful about where we put those monies. This is going to give us a great plan forward. We have about $8.8 million that we've already diverted into the housing fund. And we sold six houses in Maui, three properties here in the National Capital Region, some housing up in Clyde Hill in Seattle and … properties in Buxton, North Carolina. I'm really optimistic about this, and I think [the assessment is] really going to help us focus those monies in the right area.

On childcare:  We’re looking to hire seven daycare specialists … and I'm really optimistic about these because when we put these folks out there, they're going to help. A lot of our spouses like to do in-house childcare, but they're unable to break some of the red tape we have in regard to getting their houses inspected, getting the first aid training they need, etc.  We have 370 families/450 children [benefiting from our new subsidy program]. We have 150 new families who have already put in for the new subsidies and 129 applications that are pending. Everyday we're getting 20 more applications in and we're going to market this through our ombudsman program to get all that information out there.

On parity with DoD programs:  During Deepwater Horizon, our Coast Guard [personnel were] working side by side with our DoD counterparts, doing the same exact job, but Coast Guard personnel [operate] under Title XIV [and DoD operates] under Title X, which gives a lot more benefits in regard to healthcare … and education benefits. There's [also] a resource income replacement program.  [DoD has] those types of programs, where our folks in Title XIV don't have those same benefits, but yet they're doing the same job. We need to take a look [and] see if we can bridge that parity [gap]. 

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