The number of sailors serving at sea is the highest it has been in seven years, Vice Adm. John B. Nowell Jr., the Navy’s personnel chief said recently.
“At the start of [fiscal year] ’21, the Navy had 137,500 sailors in 275 operational units. We’ve maintained more than 137,000 sailors at sea since May 2020, despite the challenges of Covid, and that represents 5,000 additional sailors at sea now compared with a low point in 2015,” Nowell told a virtual audience during the Surface Navy Symposium. “To be clear, fleet manning remains my number one imperative. Now is the time to remain vigilant, defend freedom, patrol the seas and project power. That is what surface warriors do.”
Nowell said he expects the trend to continue upward during 2021. The service will continue to offer monetary and non-monetary incentives to sailors willing to stay in sea-duty billets. One such program, the Advance to Position initiative, links permanent advancements to the next pay grade with the willingness to accept hard-to-fill billets.
Efforts also continue, Nowell said, to deliver tougher and more resilient sailors to the fleet straight out of boot camp and the school houses.
“Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, while toughness is the ability to deal with hardship or to cope in different situations,” Nowell said.
Sailors now receive about 11 hours of instruction in resiliency and toughness. Nowell would like to see the service continue to adopt a “holistic approach that emphasizes spiritual, mental and physical strength,” which would in turn foster a “warrior mindset.”
“The SEALs have been doing it for years. We’ve brought it on board and it’s paying dividends,” Nowell said. “The goal is that when called upon, sailors will be prepared to act and perform at the needed level.”
The admiral also wants to continue the practice of identifying areas where sailors need training as they progress through their careers. Some 47 ratings have developed a block-learning curriculum process that begins when sailors are apprentices and continues each year as they move to the fleet.
Nowell also told the audience that he is urging all sailors to take the Covid-19 vaccine when it comes available. To date, vaccination is voluntary throughout the armed services.
“The only way to end this pandemic sooner is to get vaccinated when it’s your turn,” Nowell said.