A Seabee with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 21 prepares to install an air-conditioning unit in Baghdad in 2010. The unit is one of four NMCBs that will be closed up next year as the Navy Reserve cuts its Seabee billets almost in half. (Spc. Victor Ayala / Army)
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WHAT YOU CAN DO
The Reserve is shrinking by 6,000 billets over the next three years. The cuts primarily affect Seabees and support ratings at expeditionary commands. If you’re affected by the downsizing, here’s what you should do:
1. Talk to your chain of command, said Capt. John McCracken, who handles manpower policy for the Navy Reserve. "Especially within the Seabee community, the leadership is fully dedicated to taking care of sailors."
2. Establish an account with the Career Management System Interactive Detailing, if you don’t already have one. Seabees and others whose billets are affected will need to apply there for follow-on assignments.
3. Consider cross-rating. Use the online career management tool FleetRIDE to understand your options and consult with your career counselor. Questions about FleetRIDE can be answered on the Navy Personnel Command hotline: 901-874-2102.
4. Consider returning to active-duty. There are as many as 1,000 billets open to eligible reservists as part of the Enlisted Reserve to Active Component Augmentation Program, rolled out in September. The third and final phase of the program was rolled out Nov. 26, with reservists in nine newly released ratings eligible to join the active ranks.
The program targets reservists who can fill active-duty openings in needed skills and specific year groups. Unlike other stopgap programs, reservists accepted by the program do not remain with the Reserve force; they sign active-duty contracts and compete with promotion alongside active sailors.
Ratings and corresponding year groups from Phase III are listed below. For more information about the program, visit navytimes.com/links/reserve-to-active; for a current list of program vacancies, including those from previous phases, go to navytimes.com/links/reserve-ratings.
Rating Year group(s)
CTI (Arabic, Russian) 2006
CTR 2006, 2007
EN 2003, 2005, 2008
EOD 2008, 2011
IC 2002, 2003, 2004
IS 1997,1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004
MA 2003, 2004, 2005, 2011, 2012
MM (SS) 2004, 2005, 2007
The Navy Reserve is cutting roughly 6,000 billets over the next three years, officials announced Nov. 29, as the force reorganizes as part of the Afghanistan drawdown. The cuts, which center on reserve Seabees, also drove down advancement rates from the latest cycle.
But officials said there is some good news: No reservists will be kicked out due to the downsizing.
"We can right-size with normal attrition, reduced accessions and rating conversions through [the job-matching system] FleetRIDE," said Rear Adm. Eric Young, deputy chief of the Navy Reserve, in an interview. "We're committed to the sailors."
Officials said the downsizing is due to reduced demand for Seabees and expeditionary sailors as the Pentagon winds down its last remaining land war.
Reserve officials plan to shutter four construction battalions and one construction regiment by October, with two more battalions slated to close the following year.
The cutbacks eliminate 4,700 Seabee billets, or roughly 45 percent of the reserve Seabee positions. Officials emphasize they intend to honor all sailors' contracts and say they won't force anyone out, officer or enlisted, via cutting boards like last year's enlisted retention boards, which kicked out more than 2,900 active-duty sailors.
"We are retaining every sailor that's affected by these cuts," said Capt. John McCracken, who oversees manpower policy for the Navy Reserve. "Every sailor is being afforded an opportunity to continue to serve. And we are not releasing anyone from duty based on these reductions."
The billet cuts will also affect these non-Seabee support rates: aviation ordnanceman, boatswain's mate, culinary specialist, electrician's mate, gunner's mate, logistics specialist and master-at-arms.
Most of the cuts will fall to the enlisted. Officer billets will fall by 180, officials said.
Fall petty officer advancements sank to the lowest rate in six years — a direct result of a smaller billet pool. The E-4 advancement rate was 38 percent, a drop of 12 percentage points. E-5 was 11 percent, slipping one point. And E-6 was 8 percent, slipping 3 percentage points.
The downsizing deadlocked Seabee ratings. For example, of the 292 sailors up for builder first class, only one made it, according to figures released by the Navy Reserve. Similarly, only one construction electrician made first class out of 171 peers.
Even non-Seabee advancements slowed. Only three of 240 sailors made BM2. And large ratings, such as LS2, hospital corpsman second class and machinist's mate first class all had advancement rates below 10 percent.
These are the Seabee units slated to be stood down:
• In fiscal year 2013: Naval Mobile Construction Battalions 15, 21, 23 and 24, and 3rd Naval Construction Regiment.
• In fiscal year 2014: Naval Mobile Construction Battalions 26 and 28.
All reserve Seabees will need to reapply for billets, regardless of whether their billet was cut, officials said. That will give everyone an equal opportunity. As the units are reorganized, the new billets will be assigned through the online Career Management System Interactive Detailing, known as CMS-ID. Those not initially given a job will be given an In Assignment Processing status and allowed to apply for vacancies.
"What we're going to do is vacate all Seabee billets — not just the billets that are being disestablished — and sailors will go in via CMS-ID to apply for billets," McCracken explained. "Those billets will be assigned based on our current and existing assignment policies, and that is to give everyone a fair opportunity to receive a billet."
Seabee reservists who lack a Seabee billet will be assigned to a local Navy operational support center.
In keeping with the Seabees' extraordinary contributions over the past decade to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said, the rating conversions will be voluntary. Sailors can manage this through the Fleet Rating Identification Engine, or FleetRIDE.
While cutting billets now, officials still expect the Reserve to add 3,000 billets from 2015 to 2018 as part of the defense strategy, which emphasizes expeditionary forces and the Pacific theater. They aren't ready to say what rates will be boosted.
"Right now, those missions have not been set," McCracken said. "And there [are] a number of different mission areas that are being explored, but both the active-component and the reserve-component manning for those mission areas isn't established."
One option is for reservists to go back on active duty. The fleet has as many as 10,000 open jobs for sea duty, and community managers are seeking reservists to fill them for specific ratings, NECs and year groups.
"They've advertised well over a thousand opportunities for selected reservists to come back on active duty as an active-component sailor," McCracken said. "We fully encourage all sailors to participate in the continuum of service."