Jacksonville, FL - From healthcare and pay rates to base closure and fleet future- all concerns were on the table during an “all-hands call” at Naval Station Mayport.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike D. Stevens made a swing through the Southeast Tuesday which included stops in Kings Bay, Georgia and Jacksonville. The stops centered around hearing the concerns and questions from the sailors on base while addressing some greater national themes as well.
Several hundred gathered at Naval Station Mayport and dozens took to the microphone. Concerns included the increasing length of deployment, healthcare changes, housing assistance, opportunity for advancement and the new sexual assault prevention program. Some of the questions stemmed from what Stevens calls misconceptions.
“There’s a mix between a little bit of anxiety and just looking for clarification on pay and compensation,” he says.
Specifically, Greenert was questioned on a perceived pay cut. He says the Navy is looking at stemming the rate of growth for pay in coming years, but not at cuts to existing pay rates. He was also questioning on changes to tuition assistance, acknowledging that some of the changes that have taken affect have had an unintended negative effect. He says they are already working on a fix for that.
When questioned on the new sexual assault prevention program, Greenert didn’t have any number to provide but says there have been measurable gains made under the changes. He says the rate of reporting and types of offenses being reported have increased, showing a new focus on awareness and prevention is taking hold.
The bottom line he tried to hammer home of that “people matter”, and that the Navy will do what it can to minimalize the effects that national constraints have on those who serve the country. At the same time, however, he acknowledged that is sometimes unavoidable, like when deployments started getting longer because of sequestration.
That national uncertainty also spurred Greenert to address the greater role of Mayport in the future of the Navy.
“Mayport’s a big part of the Littoral Combat Ship future,” he says.
You first heard Monday on WOKV about the Navy budget lines which invest nearly $37 million in Mayport for training and support for LCS. We confirmed that is the first significant infrastructure investment being made at the base in order to make Mayport the East Coast homeport for LCS.
Greenert says that shows the Navy’s dedication to the base.
“We’re gunna build a facility, so we have every intention of building the ships here,” he says.
While the Public Affairs Office confirms the LCS will be built in Alabama and Wisconsin, the strength of the ships will be here.
He further says that while it’s still unclear if any of the 14 LCS ships destined for Mayport would be affected by a potential cut back in the number of ships the Navy orders, it’s further unclear if that cutback will actually take place. Greenert says the Navy is determined to have 52 ships of a similar size to the LCS, but before they order the final 20 they will be reassessing whether that should be the LCS as-is, with modification, or a new ship altogether. He could not say whether Mayport would play a role in any new class of ship that would be designed.
Greenert also renewed the Navy’s commitment to eventually house a carrier at Mayport, when the funding is available. He says all other classes of ships are strategically disbursed between Norfolk and Mayport, so it makes sense that carriers are as well. But the nearly half-billion dollar budget that would be needed for all the infrastructure around that move is not in the near future.
Finally, he addressed the possibility of Defense Base Closure and Realignment, or BRAC. While closing out the all-hands call, Greenert told the crowd that a BRAC should not affect Mayport. Following the event, I asked him to further speak about whether Mayport can, in fact, feel secure if there were to be a round of closures.
“I can’t say ‘well there will be no BRAC’, but we’re not pushing it here in the Navy,” he says.
He feels that the strategic position of Mayport is important and that he’s comfortable with the positioning of Navy bases as is. He says if the Department of Defense decides to move forward with BRAC, however, that they would comply with those orders and use the system to figure out the best move.