Armed Forces News

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The Navy is roughly half the size, with fewer than half as many ships, as it was when Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith joined in 1988. Yet the operations tempo remains at least as high today as it was then, if not higher, he told a House panel during a May 13 hearing on Capitol Hill.

“In an increasingly complex maritime security environment with far less predictability than 33 years ago, we are maintaining the same deployment operational tempo of about 92 ships deployed away from port on any given day,” Smith told the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies.

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While sailors are working harder than ever before, Smith said, they struggle with a host of issues. The pandemic has required them working in close quarters. Mental health, child care and retention are “perennial challenges.” Families at home struggle with job security, housing, credentialing, and access to health care.

Smith emphasized his concern about mental-health issues, noting that sailors often have to wait for 30 days or more for appointments. The issue has affected him personally, he added.
“I myself have found the same when seeking an appointment. We still find ourselves unable to meet the demands on our system in a timely fashion,” Smith told the panel.

The Navy has the largest shortfall in childcare spaces – 9,000 – of all the armed services, he said. Covid-related forced closures and increasing prices are two of the issue’s driving forces.

“There is a waitlist of about 3,000 families who are seeking support for Fee Assistance from subsidies such as Child Care Aware in high-cost fleet concentration areas,” Smith said. “An E-5 with a child under the age of five spends about 11 percent of their annual income on child care at our CDCs [child development centers].”

Those who cannot get into military child-care facilities could spend as much as 38 percent of their annual income on child care, he said.

Smith also emphasized the Navy’s dedication to ensure that diversity of the force is encouraged and protected, and sexual assault and harassment are mitigated.

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