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Enlisted get cut too deep, officers are OK

Dec. 10, 2012 - 08:48AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 10, 2012 - 08:48AM  |  
Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, chief of naval personnel, talks with Navy Times on Dec. 4 in Springfield, Va.
Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, chief of naval personnel, talks with Navy Times on Dec. 4 in Springfield, Va. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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Officers are cut more slack.

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Officers are cut more slack.

That oft-heard adage is true in a manpower sense, when you compare the diverging cases of the officer and enlisted ranks this year: Enlisted have been cut too deep, while officers are a little over but can expect a gentle landing.

The enlisted force is undermanned by at least 3,000 sailors only three months after the service forced out that many, all of whom were midcareer sailors in overmanned ratings, through two enlisted retention boards. And officials now say they're boosting recruits to re-man the fleet and reach their end strength authorization.

Officers, meanwhile, have been spared the ax — their biggest cut came via a 2011 board that forced 124 officers into retirement. By next October, personnel officials plan to reduce the officer corps by roughly 1,500 billets. They say they can glide down to their target of 51,298 officers at the end of fiscal 2013, based on the expected number who leave normally.

That means manpower bosses don't plan to conduct another force retirement board, known as a selective early retirement, or to offer early retirements to officers with 15 years or more of service under the temporary early retirement authority granted by Congress.

"There's no plans to do a SER, and right now there [are] no specific plans to use TERA," said Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, the chief of naval personnel, a Dec. 4 interview.

There's a shortfall in the ranks from O-4 to O-6, while junior officers manning is OK. But even if these were overmanned, officials said they have fewer tools to trim the officer corps.

"From an officer's standpoint, you don't have as many levers available to shape the force, based upon the career nature of the officer community," the personnel chief said. "And so you can use some other tools like TERA to go and target specific areas if you want to address it."

Van Buskirk said the direction that officer end strength takes over the next five years will hinge on demands for cyber warriors and on the fleet's size.

"It's clear there's a demand signal out there in our officer community, and before we shape that downward, we have to be very, very careful," he added.

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