Navy Cuts Short Sailors' Shore Duty Tours to Fill Gaps at Sea

U.S. Navy Sailors aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) man the rails as the ship departs its homeport of San Diego, Jan. 5, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Jake Cannady)
U.S. Navy Sailors aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) man the rails as the ship departs its homeport of San Diego, Jan. 5, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Jake Cannady)

With thousands of critical billets at sea empty, the Navy has begun pulling sailors off shore tours early to meet the need.

On Thursday, the service announced that detailers would be given the authority to transfer enlisted sailors ahead of their projected rotation date in order to fill high-priority sea duty billets in ranks E-4 to E-9. While sailors have previously been able to volunteer to return to sea early, this change allows the Navy to transfer them involuntarily to meet the needs of the service.

For the Navy at sea, there are currently 7,642 fill gaps, in which there is a shortage of a sailor of any ranks in a rating required aboard a unit; and 15,423 fit gaps, in which there is a shortage of a sailor in a specific range of pay grades for a rating within a unit, said Cmdr. Karin Burzynski, a spokeswoman for Navy Personnel Command.

She told Military.com that sailors had already begun to receive notifications that they were being pulled from their current job and sent to sea.

According to a public announcement and a Navy administrative message, sailors may be more likely to be selected to fill an at-sea gap based on a number of factors. Detailers and the Navy will consider the following:

  • Length of time on shore
  • Current paygrade
  • Fleet experience
  • Naval enlisted classifications held
  • Kinds of previous sea duty
  • Remaining obligated service

Sailors are not eligible for an early transfer unless they've completed at least 18 to 23 months of shore duty, and will not be moved from their post until they've finished 24 months, Navy officials said. And impact of a sailor's departure on his or her shore duty command will be taken into account as well, according to the message.

Those exempt from transfer include recruit division commanders, recruiters, those on brig duty, instructors, and special warfare operators, officials said.

If a sailor is transferred to sea, he or she may be required to fill a vacant billet in a pay band, rather than a single pay grade, the message said. The pay bands include apprentice (E-1 to E-4), journeyman (E-5 to E-6), and supervisor (E-7 to E-9), meaning that a sailor may be asked to fill a position above their current paygrade, based on the needs of the service.

Sailors who face adverse effects due to early transfer back to sea must submit a statement within 15 days of notification describing their circumstances.

"While the intent of this policy change is to improve Fleet readiness, every effort will be made to minimize the disruption to the careers and lives of our Sailors and their families," the NAVADMIN, signed by Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke, stated.

This new announcement is the latest in a series of efforts by the Navy to fill critical gaps at sea. Last August, the Navy announced that up to 1,100 chief petty officers might be involuntarily returned to sea to fill vacant billets.

Earlier in 2017, the Navy offered about 6,000 first-term sailors the chance to extend in exchange for continuing to serve at sea.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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