Sailors say they sign on for more than just pay

"Overtime, family stress, travel, expensive housing, but healthy benefits all come into play when they decide whether to re-enlist, or try their luck with higher-paying civilian jobs."

  • Monday, December 20, 1999 2:00pm
  • News

“Congress hopes the new military pay raise will close the gap between military and civilian pay and boost morale. It also hopes better pay will draw more recruits into the Navy and slow the migration of experienced petty officers and commissioned officers out into the private sector and a booming economy.But will a salary increase be enough?Pay, is only one of the factors that determine a Navy career, said many of the 14 Whidbey Island Naval Air Station sailors polled recently. But other, less tangible aspects of Navy life can often tip the scales when it comes time to stay in. Some, include quality of life issues — the condition of base barracks, Navy housing and child care.Other deciding issues include opportunity for advancement, retirement benefits, manpower shortages and medical benefits.And sometimes, for sailors like Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Sloan, pay isn’t even that much of an issue.“Money isn’t my focus,” Sloan said last Wednesday. “Being able to travel, being able to see different countries, different cultures. I didn’t come in for the money because you know you won’t get rich in the Navy.”TRAVELSloan did get to travel however. The 29-year-old Dallas native has served at six different duty stations — from Pensacola, Fla. to NAS Whidbey — in his eight-year Navy career. Along the way, he’s become an aircraft controller, a skill that could help him land a good-paying job should he ever get out. But Sloan doesn’t plan to get out.Besides the opportunity to travel, he likes the career stability the Navy offers, and the prospect of being able to retire as a relatively young man, with a guaranteed salary of 50 percent of his pay and full benefits.LONG HOURSOn the other hand, having a skill that meshes well with the outside world sometimes nags at Petty Officer 2nd Class John Williams.An avionics electronics tech, Williams knows others who have left the Navy for $17-per-hour starting pay jobs with Boeing.Not a huge jump from his current salary, but Williams knows that unlike the Navy, Boeing pays overtime.“We’re short of people, money and parts,” Williams said of his job in the Navy. “Everyone’s working a lot of overtime, a lot of 12-hour days. And that’s on shore duty.”To makes ends meet, William’s wife works and they live in base housing.“We can’t afford to move into town with the prices there,” he said.Williams doesn’t say definitely get out when his enlistment ends, but “I’ll definitely be thinking about it when it comes time to re-enlist.SEA PAYChief Arnold Skinner is in the Navy for the long haul.And the 14-year Navy veteran says conditions in the Navy are improving.“Advancement is better now and the quality of life has improved 100 percent since I’ve been in,” Skinner said.Since leaving Utah at 18 years-old, “To travel,” Skinner figures he’s visited at least 15 different countries and spent months cruising the world’s oceans. But now with a wife and four kids, the allure of blue-water cruising has dimmed. To make sea time more attractive, Skinner would like to see sea pay go up.“My opinion is that if they want to keep more Navy people in, they have to pay them more to go to sea,” Skinner said. “If you’re not a petty officer, you don’t get sea pay at all. That’s definitely not going to keep people in.”For Mrs. Skinner, an on-call emergency room nurse, deployments are also costly.“When he was gone the last time, our child care went up at least $300 per month,” Bonnie said, adding that her irregular hours made it difficult to even find child care.FAMILY BENEFITSChild care is one of the reasons Petty Officer 1st Class Alma Brooks has made a career of the Navy. The 39-year-old Chicago native is an air traffic controller at NAS Whidbey.She and her husband have three boys, one of whom is autistic.And without Navy benefits, Brooks said, the cost of caring for her child would have been too great.“The Navy is reaching out to help families more,” Brooks said. “I’ve seen a great difference from 10 years ago.”As for the pay raise, Brooks said for her, it won’t make a big difference, maybe $50 more a month.“I’m in 15 (years), they know they’ve got me,” she said.But Brooks also knows the raise isn’t a guarantee for younger enlisted men and women.“The pay raise alone won’t keep people in a good economy,” she said. “We need to keep up with programs to develop junior enlisted’s careers programs.”Petty Officer Blain McVey is one of enlisted people the Navy is targeting with raises. He figures to make maybe $150 more a month.McVey enlisted six years ago at 18-years-old, “to travel.”Ten countries and a couple of ships later, he figures the Navy made good on that promise.Now he has a wife, a daughter, a nice apartment and a career as an air traffic controller, if he choose to stay in. Or the skills to pick up a good-paying civilian job, if he chooses to get out.Like the others, he said the raise will help, but there is more that needs to be done. And like the others, he said that it is more than money that keeps him in the Navy.In fact, despite all the talk of being underpaid and overworked, McVey is considering making the Navy a career. “I’m thinking about it,” McVey said last Wednesday. “I’m taking it one rate at a time.” Besides, he said. “Nobody’s ever happy with their pay.” “

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