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Navy moving sailors, marines into the 21st Century

Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Juan Garcia III, addresses personnel Tuesday, July 17, during an all-hands call at the Skywarrior Theater on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.  - Kathy Reed/Whidbey News-Times
Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Juan Garcia III, addresses personnel Tuesday, July 17, during an all-hands call at the Skywarrior Theater on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
— image credit: Kathy Reed/Whidbey News-Times

A new initiative being implemented by the Department of Defense got a high profile introduction July 17 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Juan Garcia III, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, spoke at an all hands call at the Skywarrior Theater on the Ault Field Base. Garcia’s first task was to announce the rollout of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative.

“The second piece to my visit is to say thanks — and that comes from the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations,” Garcia told the group.

According to Garcia, there are five key areas of the new initiative: Readiness, safety, physical fitness, inclusion and continuum of service.

Safety — motorcycle safety in particular — is a big focus of the program.

“We lost 12 sailors last year to motorcycle accidents,” Garcia said, commending sailors on the recent effort to find Aviation Machinist’s Mate Senior Chief William Wolf, with Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 136, who was injured while motorcycling and spent two nights in the wilderness before being rescued and hospitalized.

“Nine of those 12 sailors had completed the introductory motorcycle safety class, but had never gotten around to the advanced course or the sport bike course,” Garcia said, adding that new time requirements could be implemented in the future to ensure sailors take the advanced safety classes.

Coming changes

A new and much talked about part of the 21st Century initiative is the addition of breathalyzers, which will be in place in every command in the Navy by the end of the calendar year.

Nobody in your chain of command is interested in stopping the legal, responsible use of alcohol,” Garcia said. “But you can’t ignore the data. There is a correlation between alcohol and suicide or sexual assault, for example.”

Garcia said that of the 20 commanding officers relieved from duty last year who consented to an interview, 13 revealed they were relieved because of an alcohol-related incident. But Garcia told sailors the breathalyzers are not meant to be used as a punishment.

“This is a leadership tool,” he said. “This is for duty section sailors who need to be on the top of their game. It will be randomly used on those who are going to work.”

Sailors will also see changes coming to the Navy’s tuition assistance program.

“We know what a valuable tool tuition assistance is, and we’re going to keep it, but it’s going to come down,” Garcia said. “We want to make the money go as far as possible.”

Garcia said future tuition assistance could be limited to those earning associate, bachelor or master degrees. Those earning a doctoral degree may  not be eligible. Those who use tuition assistance and fail a class could be made to pay it back.

But Garcia was also there to reassure personnel on other issues, one of them being the Enlisted Retention Board.

“The ERB was a one-time only measure to break the choke points in the Perform to Serve program,” Garcia said. “The early indication in the aftermath of ERB is that PTS is back in balance.”

High retention rates, due in part to people wanting to stay in because of the economy and because of 9/11, caused a backlog in some of the rates at a time when the Navy was trying to reduce numbers, Garcia said.

“There were 31 rates we were able to identify that were 103 percent overmanned,” he said. “Every sailor was encouraged to transfer into those undermanned rates.”

To date, Garcia said 2,936 sailors were transitioned out of active duty through the ERB, which represents about one percent of the force. While some were granted early retirement, others were transitioned into the Reserves.

“These are good sailors,” Garcia said. “We’re committed to ensuring they have the best transition possible to try to keep them on the Navy team.”

More information on the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative is available at www.21stcentury.navy.mil/default.aspx.

 

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