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Navy Working To Keep Sailors In The Service As Fleet Expands

Sailors attached to Coastal Riverine Squadron Group One participate in a mass...

Credit: Defense of Department

Above: Sailors attached to Coastal Riverine Squadron Group One participate in a mass re-enlistment, May 1,2016.

With plans on the table to increase the number of ships, the Navy is looking for new ways to keep sailors in the service, even giving them a chance to leave for a year and come back.

In recent years the Navy has been downsizing. The Trump administration eventually wants the Navy to grow from 290 to 355 ships, and toward that end, the administration has increased the number of ships in the latest budget. The Navy is now putting the brakes on retirement incentives. Instead, it is looking for creative ways to keep people from leaving.

“I can tell you right now, with the type of growth we have, it’s almost hard to have enough retention," said Capt. Vince Segars, Navy director of Military Community Management. “We’re basically keeping every sailor who wants to stay in.”

To meet its target, the Navy has to add almost 11,400 sailors to hit its end-strength goal for fiscal year 2019, according to the U.S. Naval Institute News. The goals only go up from there, according to Segars.

“Right now, our retention goals are pretty high. Probably higher, the chief of naval personnel would say, than we can attain, but we’re going to try to do the best we can,” Segars said.

Flush with cash from the latest federal budget, the Navy just released a new round of re-enlistment bonuses for fighter pilots, helicopter pilots and mechanics.

RELATED: Navy’s ‘Golden Ticket’ Gives Career Sailors A Chance To Test Civilian Life

“You never know what’s going to be that tipping point to make someone stay in the Navy,” Segars said. “It could be money. It could be a program. It could be as simple as getting the orders they want.”

Or maybe it’s the chance to test-drive civilian life for a year. Beginning in April, the Navy will issue "golden tickets." Sailors who qualify can leave and come back after a year and resume their service where they left off. The idea was first tried by the Coast Guard. The Navy hopes to entice those sailors and officers who may have second thoughts about leaving or who find civilian life isn’t everything they thought it would be, Segars said.

“In so many cases, and I have a lot of friends, some people regret that decision,” Segars said.

Ready To Leave

Still, it is hard to turn someone around, once they’re ready to leave.

Magaly Marion is a logistics specialist first class in San Diego. She is taking a class called Reboot with other women who are about to leave the Navy. In July, Marion will have 20 years of service in the military. At that time, she can retire with full benefits. That’s exactly what she plans to do.

“Nothing they could say to me would make me stay,” Marion said. “I’ve been grateful for the 20 years they have permitted me to serve in the Navy, and I think that’s long enough for me.”

Her command has already asked her to stay another two years.

“It’s very humbling they want you and they try at any cost, like 'Stay, stay,' but sometimes family needs come first,” she said.

Her husband is a bomb technician. When their deployments overlapped, the couple saw each other for only three weeks in 2016. They have four children. The youngest is 6 and the oldest is 16.

“Since my husband and I are both military, it’s just time for one of us to be here now that the kids are older,” she said.

Series Of Ideas

The golden ticket is part of a series of ideas released under an initiative called Sailor 2025. It includes dozens of programs to make Navy life easier. The Navy tries to stagger deployments for married couples, though the needs of the Navy come first. A separate program allows sailors to take longer breaks in their active duty service, which might help with college or family obligations. Taking a break does extend the time it takes for sailors to reach retirement.

Madeline Rullan joined the Navy when she was 27 years old. She comes from a military family. Her own family obligations delayed her entry into the military. Four years later, she’s ready for the next chapter in her life. She's practicing her interviewing skills and preparing her resume. Could the Navy talk her into staying?

“Ah, maybe they could, but I already have decided that I am going to move forward. That is the life for me,” she said.

Along with the pride of serving the country, traveling the globe is one of the Navy’s biggest selling points. But many sailors say that eventually, the unpredictability of long deployments makes it difficult to continue. And finding a job doesn’t seem like quite as big a concern.

“I think I’m more excited than concerned because I know there are a lot of companies out there that are looking for veterans with really good, strong leadership,” Rullan said.

The Navy knows it’s competing in a tight job market. It's not the only employer hiring. So the Navy is hoping that at least a few more of its best-performing sailors will give it one more look before leaving for good.

The Navy is canceling retirement incentives, replacing those programs with new programs to retain sailors and officers ahead of an expansion in the number of ships.

This story is part of our American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration on in-depth military coverage with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

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