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Navy's hiring message angers booted sailors

May. 16, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Do you agree with Rep. Scott Rigell's suggestion that the Navy re-hire ERB'd sailors to fill its manning needs? Send your thoughts to navylet@navytimes.com. Please include your name, rank and/or rating and duty station. Your comments could be published as a letter to the editor.

The Navy’s “We’re hiring” message isn’t sitting well with one group: the sailors booted out eight months ago midway through their careers.

Many of them are up in arms that the service now aims this summer to enlist 3,000 sailors — roughly the same number separated last year by the enlisted retention boards.

“It disgusts me, actually,” said Aviation Electrician’s Mate 1st Class (AW) Mike Wilson, who was forced off active-duty 42 days shy of his 15-year mark, when he would’ve been entitled to an early retirement. He is still in the Reserve.

Wilson, who works installing equipment in hospitals, now must pay the medical bills for complications arising from his 6-year-old son Ethan’s birth defects.

Navy leaders hope to plus up the ranks by 3,000 by October, the majority coming in through the bigger boot camp classes typical during the summer. Some of these sailors may be needed in formerly overmanned rates that saw the ERB, which had not recruited junior sailors in previous years.

“The Navy requires not only a certain number of personnel with specific skills (ratings and [Navy Enlisted Classifications]) but also needs to ensure that experience level is properly balanced,” said Cmdr. Kathy Kesler, spokeswoman for the chief of naval personnel, in an email reply to questions. “As such, every skill needs a constant influx of new personnel as other personnel are promoted or choose not to remain in the Navy.”

Still, one Virginia lawmaker called on the Navy to rehire some of the booted sailors, saying some were good performers who still had the desire to continue serving on active duty.

“By re-enlisting former sailors who were solid performers, the Navy would not have to spend the money and resources needed for basic training,” Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., wrote in a May 9 letter to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert. “Rather, it could focus on getting these sailors into their new rates and producing for the Navy.”

Rigell noted that many of these sailors had been told by their command that they would be safe from the ERB and then were given no explanation later for why they were separated.

Some of these former sailors could be useful. The Navy is now offering incentive pay to 10 ratings hit by the ERB in an effort to boost ship manning. Those include aviation electronics technician, aviation maintenance administrationman, electronics technician, fire controlman, gas turbine systems technician (electrical), machinist’s mate, machinery repairman, operations specialist, personnel specialist and sonar technician. All of these ratings lost sailors in the paygrades the Navy is now trying to coax back to sea. However, some of these pays are NEC-specific, while the breakdown CNP has provided for ERB’d sailors is only by rating and paygrade.

Even so, some former sailors say they’ve been too burned to come back.

Former Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class (AW) James Allphin, another of the 2,946 sailors booted through ERB, said he wouldn’t rejoin active duty: He now enjoys his new cyber security job as a Navy Department civilian.

“After being separated, I didn’t want to go back in,” said Allphin, who had 13 years of naval service and is still in the Reserve. “I had good times in the Navy, but I don’t want to go back to an organization that doesn’t want me.”

Allphin and Wilson are among the 295 ERB’d sailors who’ve joined a civil lawsuit against the Navy. The suit filed nine months ago has provoked filings and counterfilings, with the government seeking a summary motion to throw out the case.

Judge Lynn Bush of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has yet to rule on the government’s motion a few months ago to dismiss the case.

“My hope is to get to an evidentiary hearing so we can offer evidence,” said attorney E.W. Keller, who is representing the sailors. To get there, the judge will first have to decide whether to allow the suit to proceed.

In late April, Keller asked the court to include in the record a recent statement made by the CNO about hiring more sailors.

“I am about 3,000 below where I want to be and we have the valve pretty wide open, so if there is a message here, we are hiring,” Greenert told Navy Times in a March 26 interview.

Keller also asked to include a comment by the chief of naval personnel, Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, about cutting too deep in the recent drawdown.

Van Buskirk confirmed to Navy Times in a Dec. 4 interview that the service did “overshoot” the drawdown.

Keller said the Navy’s force-out board imposed plenty of hardship on his clients and he hopes the case will proceed.

“I know one family that went homeless with several children,” Keller said. “They were kicked out of their apartment, without jobs, in this bad job atmosphere. It was devastating.

“And these are people that, after their next term of service, would probably be 20-year retirees.”

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