Hundreds of chief petty officers, senior chiefs, and master chiefs are getting orders to deploy with the fleet in what the Fleet Master Chief for Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education calls "more directive steps to improve fleet manning and warfighting readiness."
The announcement comes as Secretary of Defense James Mattis has pushed for increasing military readiness, to the point of delaying ship and aircraft procurement in order to reverse shortfalls in training and maintenance budgets.
According to a Navy Administrative Message, or NAVADMIN, released Monday, newly-promoted chief petty officers are being told to "expect assignment to sea and operational billets as the new norm." This comes as the Navy is trying to address what a Navy Times report described as a shortfall of over 3,000 billets for senior enlisted personnel caused by what a release from Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs described as a strict adherence to "sea-shore flow" and "sea-shore rotation" policies.
"We operate in a dynamic environment and Sailors are our key advantage," the NAVADMIN signed by Vice Adm. Robert P. Burke says. "Assigning Chiefs to our ships, submarines, squadrons, and other key operational and Fleet production units is vital to maintaining that advantage."
USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) pulls away from harbor in Singapore in 2016 (Photo US Navy)
"Assignments for all enlisted supervisors, including those selected for advancement to Chief, will be reviewed and managed to maximize Fleet manning readiness. When detailing Chiefs, sea shore flow and sea shore rotation concerns will continue to be considered, but will be secondary to Fleet manning requirements," the release went on to say.
However, this is not to say that the Navy is going to be pushing its chiefs out to sea all the time in response to the shortage.
"Engaged leadership will consider human factors, the needs of the community and the needs of losing and gaining commands — all weighed against each other — to ensure we make smart decisions that don't break our people or our readiness," Fleet Master Chief Russell Smith wrote in a Navy Times op-ed that explained why the Navy was shifting to a policy that had previously been limited to the submarine force.
Smith said there's a shortage of enlisted leadership deployed aboard ships that have the experience, problem-solving abilities, technical expertise and ability to make things happen that chief petty officers bring to the Navy.
The Navy is trying to encourage chiefs and junior sailors to voluntarily extend sea duty. For chiefs, the NAVADMIN noted that they would have better chances at obtaining "geographic stability, the opportunity to negotiate for choice orders, and Sea Duty Incentive Pay" through what it called "proactive action to manage career progression."
The Navy Times reported that junior sailors who volunteered for extra sea duty for one or two more years could receive exemptions from up-or-out limits, that generally apply to sailors.