The organizer of the U.S. Navy's largest annual defense conference did not invite any enlisted leaders to speak in a year that again saw a low number of enlisted sailors in attendance.
The Navy League's annual Sea Air Space conference and exhibition took place this week in National Harbor, Md. In years past, the Navy League had invited the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps to speak.
Navy leaders said the service was disappointed the Navy League did not extend an invitation this year or feature content specifically incorporating enlisted members' perspectives and issues.
"In years past, senior enlisted folks have spoken at the event. Not only is there not anything for enlisted members this year, but there is nothing about the community or the people side of what is going on," a Navy official told Military.com.
The show is billed as an event dedicated to professional development for members of the Navy, senior service leaders and their industry partners. The Navy League declined to comment on the lack of enlisted leaders at the show, but the organization issued a statement to Navy Times.
"This is the first year in several that the MCPON, MCPOCG and SGTMAJ, or any senior enlisted, are not on the schedule to speak," Kevin Traver, a staff vice president at the Navy League, told the Navy times in a written response. "And the reasons vary, scheduling conflicts, travel, etc., although they were involved in discussions leading up to the show."
The Navy is made up of approximately 320,000 active-duty members and more than 100,000 reservists; roughly two-thirds of them are enlisted members of the fleet, service officials said.
Sea Air Space is not alone in seeing sparse attendance from enlisted members. It's rare to see many enlistees attend the Army or Air Force's defense conferences hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army and Air Force Association.
There has been some speculation that the Navy League may have left out enlisted personnel in order to sell more booth space to defense industry exhibitors at the symposium.
One enlisted member who attended this year's Sea Air Space exhibition was surprised that senior enlisted members of the Navy and Marine Corps were not involved in the presentations.
"It was surprising that you have so many flag-level officers, but you don't have very many senior enlisted members. It seems to me that they should be invited. They are the guys who are the most capable of knowing how to field technologies," said Avionic Electrical Technician First Class Richard Walsh.
While saying he did not think the Navy League's move on this issue was intentional, Walsh added that initiatives to include enlisted members of the Navy would have been consistent with the current messages coming from the Navy leadership.
"There's a lot of deck plate innovation that is spreading across the enterprise. There is a shift in focus from being simply top down to being more embracing of the deck plate mid-level and junior managers. That echoes the message discussed by Secretary Mabus," Walsh added.
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com.