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The Challenge

We are in a war for personnel. So says Vice Admiral Ryan, the Chief of Naval Personnel. Admiral Clark, the new Chief of Naval Operations, places Personnel as the top challenge he will face during his tenure. This challenge includes recruiting, training and retaining the high quality Sailors the Navy needs to man its ships, aircraft and submarines. Here, in the Submarine Force, our challenge is to retain the Sailors we receive on our deckplates.

How is the Submarine Force doing in this regard? As far as the enlisted Sailor goes, we can claim a fair record of success. We certainly benefit from Navy wide initiatives. The increases in Selective Reenlistment Bonuses, the expansion and increase in Special Duty pays, Pay Table Reform and improvements in housing allowances all put more money in our Sailors’ pockets and make the retention challenge manageable. But, we have also worked to help ourselves as well, focusing on Sailor quality of service. Intense efforts on the part of our Type Commanders, working with Naval Reactors, have allowed almost all submarines to achieve 5 section duty rotation fore and aft. This may not seem much of an achievement to surface Sailors for whom 8 section duty is considered spartan, but for our lean submarine crews, for whom 3 section duty was the norm not more than 2 years ago, this represents a tremendous improvement. Watchstander liberty policies, Rope Yam days (half day workdays allowing Sailors to conduct personal errands during normal working hours), aggressive leave management and improvements in daily work planning by our Chiefs’ Quarters are also making better use of Sailor time and energy and allowing Sailors to spend more and better time with their friends and families while in port, improving what Vice Admiral Giambastiani liked to call “inport tempo” during his tenure as COMSUBLANT. In addition, again with the leadership, support and encouragement of our Type Commanders, particularly Rear Admiral Konetzni, Vice Admiral Giambastiani and Vice Admiral Grossenbacher, the Submarine Force has aggressively attacked the causes of attrition among first term Sailors. The numbers speak for themselves:

  • Retention is up, well above sustainment rates, throughout the Submarine Force;
  • Attrition among first term Sailors has dramatically dropped, and is now half that of the Navy at large.

In all of these areas, while challenges still exist and the importance of deckplate leadership remains paramount, the Submarine Force appears to have cracked the code on retaining Sailors.

The same cannot be said for retaining our invaluable junior officers. The nominal sustainment retention rate is 38 percent, measured at the seven year point, and is a simple mathematical derivation from the number of junior officers we need to retain to serve as Department Heads (the nominal submarine has eight junior officers and three 1120 Department Heads). The Submarine Force has not met this goal in several years. In 1999, the retention rate was 31 percent; in 2000 it was 32 percent; in 2001 it looks to be about 31 percent. Using traditional measures, submarine personnel managers have worked hard to increase Nuclear Officer Incentive Pay, which has increased from$15,000 in 1998 to $19,000 in 2000. This has stopped the hemorrhaging, but it has not yet resulted in the desired increases in retention the Submarine Force needs to maintain personnel stability over the long term.

Why are submarine junior officers leaving at unacceptably high rates? What can we do to attack this problem? I argue that a three pronged approach is required Specifically:

  • Compensation, in all of its forms, must continue to be competitive
  • Technology insertion must come to the aid of overworked junior officers
  • Submarine senior officers should be encouraged to mentor junior officers.

Today’s Junior Officer

Today’s junior officer has a life experience and a set of career expectations considerably different than those in command today. Before I continue, I want to be clear about one key point. This is not an essay about the shortcomings of the youth of today. Such jeremiads are as old as the tales of Aesop and, in my opinion, just as fabled. My entering argument is that today’s junior officer is just as patriotic, just as dedicated and just as committed to excellence as any officer that has served in our Navy. But their differing life experiences must be attended to if we are to succeed in retaining these bright, enthusiastic and enterprising young officers in our Submarine Force. The experiences and expectations of their leaders will be poor guides to analyzing the forces pulling our junior officers from our wardrooms and into corporate boardrooms.

A Generation of Plenty. Our nation has been blessed with 8 years of unprecedented growth. Over a slightly longer term, the United States has enjoyed at least 16 years of prosperity in the last two decades. Today’s junior officer comes from a generation that has known little but upward mobility and tremendous economic opportunity. As a result, they have excellent opportunities outside the Navy at cutting edge, fun and interesting firms. And they know this. An engineer-qualified submarine lieutenant, drawing sea pay, submarine pay and nuclear officer incentive pay, can, right now, get a job in a high tech firm which will pay him as much or more in take home pay than he gets from the Navy. This was emphatically not the case when I was a lieutenant. Nor is this fact likely to change, despite the best intentions of our nation’s leaders or even a slight hiccup in our economic march forward.

A career is not a job, and vice versa. Combined with tremendous opportunities outside the Navy is a mindset among young professionals of all stripes about what constitutes a career. The traditional ideal of working for one concern throughout a career and being rewarded for diligence, loyalty and experience is obsolete. First of all, few companies view their employees in such a paternal fashion-the Navy is ever more unique in this regard. More importantly, today’s professional regards his set of skills as his career-and feels neither fear nor compunction about changing companies as frequently as he changes cars. In fact, in today’s working environment, many companies value such versatility in their employees and many professionals are amply rewarded, in terms of signing bonuses, increased equity stakes and higher salaries, when they switch employers.

The portable compensation package. Finally, professionals today expect many key elements of their compensation package to be either portable or easily switched. Retirement plans are frequently in the form of 401k plans, which move easily from one employer to another. Stock options are vested much more quickly than a Navy 20 year retirement. Comprehensive medical and dental plans are taken for granted. And, in the most desirable labor markets, employers use their imagination to provide day care, transportation assistance, tuition assistance and even more esoteric fringe benefits (casual dress codes, in house health spas, even staff massage therapists) to attract and retain their employees.

So the typical junior officer, whose college was paid for by the Navy and who has finished his initial sea tour, may naturally feel that he has completed the first phase of his career and looks elsewhere to maximize his compensation, to enhance his set of professional skills and improve his enjoyment of life, at work and at home. As leaders, we need to understand this point of view and figure out how we can continue to compete for their services.

Maintaining.the Navy’s Market Share of Talent

So how do we retain this new breed of junior officer? Let me propose three areas of emphasis.

Competitive Compensation

This is perhaps the easiest or at least the most familiar element in my retention triad. And it fits in well with Navy wide pay and compensation initiatives. Here are specific points to address:

  • Nuclear officer incentive pay needs to keep pace, in some sense, with compensation trends in high technology labor markets. While we may never win a bidding war for talent on money alone, we need at least to make a credible bid.
  • Submarine pay should be indexed to inflation. It has remained fixed for 12 years and is losing its buying power.
  • Junior officers should get sea pay as soon as they qualify in their warfare specialty. Why should they wait for 3 years? I’ve never been able to answer this question. Pay them for their expertise at sea when they demonstrate it.
  • Navy medical and dental plans must continue to improve their service to the Sailor and his family. In the past, these benefits were clear selling points to an officer, particularly one with a growing family. Today, they are, as often as not, a source of frustration. If they are viewed as simply another kind of HMO, they will lose their retention appeal altogether.
  • Retirement reform is a requirement. In particular, the rapid adoption of an attractive Thrift Saving Program can be a key selling point. Right now, with retirement vested only at the 20 year point, many junior officers feel considerable financial pressure to leave early in a Navy career to maximize their retirement options later on. A Thrift Savings Program can allay that pressure and provide an immediate retirement plan to every officer from the day he takes the oath of office as an Ensign.
  • More and better graduate education opportunities. Continuing education is viewed as an absolute requirement for today’s professional. We need to make room in the submarine officer career path for the master’s degree, and we need to find ways to pay for it. The days of expecting a significant percentage of submarine officers to get their degree on their own time should end.

Technology to the Rescue

For years, the Submarine Force was at the cutting edge not only of Navy technology but world technology. The advent of the information age has changed all that. Any submariner who has tried to understand and employ the Submarine Force Mission Program Library (SFMPL) or make SNAP work for them will understand this. Computer networks on submarines are merely adequate; Internet and SIPRnet connectivity is next to nonexistent; administrative and technical burdens are not sufficiently ameliorated by the productivity possibilities of information technology. Furthermore, many of the time and labor saving initiatives which have paid such dividends in improving Sailor quality of service have left junior officers with little relief in their workload, particularly their administrative workload. As a result, they’re working as hard as ever with dysfunctional information technology. This must change throughout the ship. Here are some ideas:

  • Work to automate as many reporting requirements as possible. Good progress has been made here in the supply world (Focused Logistics Training) and in the engineering field (Automated Quarterly Data Report, Automated Diesel Trend Analysis)-more can be done.
  • More fully implement information technology in the propulsion plant. Classification issues prevent a full discussion here, but let me outline some thoughts. First of all, I’m most emphatically not talking about automating reactor or propulsion plant controls. We have the most reliable and safest reactor plants in the world due to appropriately conservative design and operating principles and highly trained operators. My ideas surround propulsion plant administration such as:
    • Automated, digital material history records
    • Use of automated 3M scheduling programs for reactor plant preventive maintenance
    • Use of PDAs (personal digital assistant) for logtaking, with the data displayed graphically to allow for easier trend analysis by watch officers
    • Implementation of CVN proven computerized tagout database programs for generating maintenance tagouts
  • Improving submarine connectivity while in port must immediately improve. The rest of the Navy is moving to web based information dissemination systems that leave submarines in a black hole. As examples:
    • The Submarine School has opened a SIPRnet web site to promulgate training material to the Force. I literally have no way of accessing this information aboard my ship, so this site is labor lost as far as I’m concerned.
    • Most communications with the Bureau of Personnel are most easily effected through email or web

      sites. My junior officers have to go home to access these sites or communicate via email with their detailer.

    • Many Navy regulations or instructions are best accessed over the web; again my junior officers have no means of easily getting this data while at work.

These initiatives can capture the productivity improvements driving our economic growth in the private sector; they can reduce junior officer workloads and they can reposition the Submarine Force again as a technologically advanced, challenging profession.

The Importance of Leadership

The final point which drives junior officer retention is the deckplate leadership they encounter on their first submarine-in particular, their first chief, their first department head and their first commanding officer.

  • The Chief. An untapped retention resource. We don’t usually think of chiefs as officer retention assets. But they are, especially today where the chiefs have a key role in the daily running of a submarine. They can teach the division officer how to lead and manage his troops and, in the process, find ways for the division officer to add value to the ship. This is key in today’s Submarine Force, where the growing influence of the Chiefs’ Quaners can lead division officers to feel that they’re superfluous, except as watchstanders. In fact they’re not -a good division officer can greatly aid his division in work planning, in running interference with the chain of command and outside agencies and in using his native intelligence to improve the chiefs plan. But the chief is best placed to teach his division officer how to do this and we should be explicit about this responsibility
  • The Department Head. Really, this section should be titled The Engineer for he is almost always the first department head for whom a junior officer works. His leadership style, his ability to spend time mentoring a junior officer and his enjoyment of his job all powerfully influence his division officers. While some junior officers look ahead to their ability to command a submarine someday, all junior officers look at their engineer and ask themselves:
    • Can I do his job?
    • Do I want to do his job?

Most can answer “yes” to the first question; many answer “no” to the second. What do we do to help the engineer in his junior officer retention role? In most cases, almost nothing. We load him up with repair work, expect him to manage a large department’s personnel and material challenges, as well as train, mentor and retain impressionable junior officers. He needs more help now-he needs a nuclear, submarine-designated limited duty officer assistant. Such an officer in a submarine wardroom would bring instant relief to an engineer. He could take on many of the engineer’s refit planning, Quality Assurance and material management issues based on his years of submarine maintenance experience. He could easily qualify fore and aft, adding a watchstander to the wardroom duty section rotation. He could add scability to the engineering division officer rotation. He could also be an invaluable mentor to the 1120 junior officers by providing them with ideas and suggestions on how to cackle their challenges from an independent and objective perspective, informed by years of submarine experience. This would be a great boon to a submarine engineer and a terrific opportunity for any limited duty officer, who could take his deckplate submarine repair experience and put it to good use on tenders, intermediate maintenance facilities and naval shipyards.

  • The Commanding Officer. Clearly, the command climate and leadership techniques employed by a commanding officer influence all aspects of his command, including junior officer perception of a Navy career. A CO who enjoys his job, who spends time training his junior officers and who demonstrates his concern in their career development and opportunities will obviously positively influence his junior officers. Furthermore, he must also strive to find unique and rewarding ways for his junior officers to add value and contribute to the command, without having to rely on their chiefs’ technical expertise or having to vet everything through their department head. Here are some ideas -they are by no means an exhaustive list or even the best ideas, but they give some concrete examples of my point:
    • Use junior officers for landings and underways. Driving the ship as OOD in these situations are great boosts for their professional confidence, as well as great fun. But they have to actually drive-not act as the CO parrot.
    • JO shootouts. Shooting torpedoes in attack centers as an approach officer can be great fun, as well as the best way to demonstrate how much any CO must depend on his junior officers as members of the Fire Control Tracking Party.
    • Imaginative use of collateral duties. Many collateral duties are tedious nuisances. But imaginative use of them can give junior officers a chance to own their own program, make hard decisions and contribute to the ship in a unique way. Some of these jobs could include Ship’s Drill Coordinator, Intelligence Officer for submarines engaged in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions or Ship’s Coordinator for special events like INSURV inspections, post-availability Sea Trials or PCO operations. Again, my examples may not be the best, but clearly giving junior officers a unique and imponant task at which they can excel is a great way to convince them that submarining is a career worth pursuing


The Submarine Force’s success in retaining great Sailors has not yet extended to junior officers-we have yet to fully crack the code in officer retention. I maintain there is no single silver bullet. Rather, it’s the entire package we present to the junior officer-from competitive compensation through improved working conditions through finding ways to share the sheer fun of driving a submarine-that will determine them to make submarining a career. As a Force, we need to explore ways to tackle all of these problems, include novel (some may say heretical) ways of organizing our wardrooms and operating our submarines. Increased resources will clearly be necessary. But it’s a challenge that we can meet. As nukes, we’re renowned for cold, clear analysis, identification of root causes and assignment of appropriate corrective action. Let’s put those skills to use as we seek to man the Submarine Force entering its second century of contribution to the Navy and the nation.


USS BOSTON {CA-69/CAG-1/SSN 703) July 20-22,
2001 in Andover, MA. Contact: Arthur L. Hebert,
P.O. Box 816, Amherst, NH 03031-0816; (603) 672-

22-26, 2001, Drury Inn & Suites Convention Center,
St. Louis, MO 63102. Contact: Edward W. Stone,
Secretary, 308 Merritt Avenue, Syracuse, NY 13207-
2713; (315) 469-3825; e-mail:

24, 2001, Imperial Palace Hotel/Casino, Las Vegas,
NV. Contact: Greg Reel, 2900 NE Park Lane,
Kansas City, MO 64118-5928; (816) 454-7991 ; email:

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