Navy Canceling Early Discharges and Offering Extensions to Keep More Sailors in Uniform

Sailors aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower take the oath of reenlistment.
Sailors aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) take the oath of reenlistment, March 30, 2020 (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ashley M.C. Estrella)

Just months after the Navy announced a record recruitment bonus, the sea service has made a series of policy changes that are aimed at decreasing the speed at which sailors leave the Navy in a further sign that the branch is struggling with recruitment and retention of service members.

The changes, announced in an administrative message released Tuesday, include moves to let sailors keep serving longer – the ability of sailors to apply for a delay in separation or retirement, and an offer to waive “high-year tenure” requirements – as well as a measure to prevent sailors from leaving the fleet early. The message explained that the goal behind the changes is “to ensure the Navy remains fully manned and operationally ready.”

These changes are being announced in the middle of what Lt. Gen. David Ottignon, the Marine Corps’ officer in charge of manpower, called “arguably the most challenging recruiting year since the inception of the all-volunteer force," in Senate testimony on April 27.

Read Next: Senators Block VA Review of Hospital Closures, Upgrades

The first version of the policy, posted to the Navy’s website, explained that the changes were being made “due to the uncertainty regarding COVID-19 Pandemic vaccination losses and the recruiting environment, where competition for talent is especially tough.”

“This requires retention of the right talent, at a time of uncertainty to ensure sustainment of the force,” the policy added.

However, when reached out to the Navy for further details, a spokeswoman for the branch said that document was “uploaded in error.” A new version was subsequently posted, removing the lines that described difficulty recruiting entirely.

The Navy’s new policy also suggests that the service is considering letting COVID-19 vaccine refusers continue to serve. Aside from the mention of “uncertainty regarding COVID-19 Pandemic vaccination losses,” the original policy also expressly said that COVID-19 vaccination refusers were ineligible for the voluntary extensions of service. That reference – made in two locations on the original memo – was removed.

The Navy is offering sailors who are retiring or separating before March 31, 2023, the chance to delay their exit to as far out as Sept. 30, 2023, the service announced. Sailors who chose to stay will continue to be eligible for the incentive sea duty pay as well as promotions.

Furthemore, the policy explains that enlisted sailors “filling critical operational billets both at sea and shore” who are retiring as a result of reaching “high year tenure” – a limit of how many years of service a sailor can have at various ranks – can ask to stay in the service for up to another year. Aside from providing another year of service, the policy notes that those sailors would be eligible for advancement during that time, thus giving those sailors more chances to promote and avoid the forced, high year tenure separation.

Conversely, the message also announced that, “effective immediately, all enlisted early out programs and new time in grade requirement waivers are hereby [sic] cancelled.”

“Service commitments such as enlistment contracts, service obligations for accepting permanent change of station orders, advancements, bonuses, training, etc., will be fulfilled,” the policy said.

The Navy offered a historically high $25,000 recruiting bonus in April just to encourage recruits to ship off to boot camp before summer.

Lt. Sarah Niles, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s Personnel boss, explained in an email that while the Navy is “confident that we will attain the overall annual retention goals,” the service also recognizes that they are “in a very challenging recruiting environment in competition for the top talent” – hence the bonuses.

According to data provided by Niles, the Navy is close to retaining all the senior sailors for the year the service had targeted, and is over its goal for sailors with less than six years of service.

The rosy numbers offered by the Navy clashes with grim reports from military officials who say that America’s military services have a shrinking pool of possible recruits that is being further limited by the country’s growing issues with obesity or are screened out due to minor criminal infractions, including the use of recreational drugs such as marijuana.

The Navy’s new policy also comes just days after the Army announced it dropped the requirement for its recruits to have a high school degree or GED certificate as long as they shipped to basic training before Oct. 1.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: Military Throwing Cash at Recruiting Crisis as Troops Head for the Exits

Story Continues