Richard V. Spencer, secretary of the Navy, addresses a packed theater Tuesday morning at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Navy secretary visits Whidbey

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s role is “integral” to the Navy moving forward, the secretary of the Navy said Tuesday during a visit to the base.

“It’s a very meaningful asset that we have in the puzzle,” said Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer.

Spencer talked about the goals for the Navy and fielded questions from the audience during the “all-hands call.”

Spencer said one of his goals is to repeal the budget control act, or BCA.

“We are fighting as hard we can to do away with the budget control act and the caps associated with it,” he told the sailors and civilian employees in the packed theater.

The BCA was signed into law in 2011, ending the country’s debt ceiling crisis. The bill instituted spending caps on defense budgets, excluding war-related funding.

Spencer also said the Navy is investigating the two separate collisions involving the Navy ships USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain, which resulted in the deaths of seven and 10 sailors, respectively.

Spencer only spoke for about eight minutes and spent 20 minutes answering audience members’ questions.

Asked about retention, Spencer said the Navy can’t always compete with the private sector on salary, but his goal is to offer other resources that cause people to want to stay.

“The onus is on us now to create the environment for you to attain the goals and get the rewards you want to stay in,” he said.

He mentioned health care and housing as examples of the Navy’s support for its members. He said opportunities should be made available for those serving that enable them to follow the tracks that interest them most.

For example, he said if someone wants to fly, he or she should be allowed plenty of flight time.

His focus does not include support for veterans, an effort Spencer said is headed by other organizations.

Asked about potential solutions to ongoing issues with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, he said “I have no idea.”

“You, wearing the uniform, are my concern,” he said.

One sailor suggested that members can be bogged down by the numerous required training programs.

Spencer said he shares that concern and spoke about reducing the amount of training required to only the most essential — only what makes members better “warriors.”

“At the end of the day, you are all the tip of the spear. You’re warriors,” he said. “You’re here to deliver the fight.”

Spencer was sworn in as Navy secretary in early August. His visit to the base is part of a tour of the Northwest to understand the industrial processes that support the Navy.