Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk said no changes to fitness standards are in the works despite longer deployments, adding that the 24-hour fitness centers on some ships allow sailors to stay in shape. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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From uniform changes to new PT rules and shifts in manning, the chief of naval personnel's decisions have a big impact on the deck plates.
Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, the CNP since October 2011, visited Navy Times' offices in Springfield, Va., on Dec. 4 to sit down with reporters and field a wide range of questions. Sailors can expect some changes, but Van Buskirk said other policies will hold firm.
Here are some highlights from the hour-long interview, edited for space and clarity:
Q. We're hearing that there is a push from the master chief petty officer of the Navy to streamline the wear rules for Navy uniforms. And we've also heard that there's talk about ball caps being authorized with [the Navy working uniform]. Where are these efforts?
A. I think [MCPON (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens] was focusing on us learning to ensure we know how to wear the uniforms we currently have — wear them correctly — and whether we have the guidance out there to ensure our people can smartly wear their uniforms. So that's the focus that we're working with MCPON on.
There is no proposal right now before the uniform board to evaluate bringing ball caps back as a part of the manner of wear associated with any uniforms. That would come up through the fleet, I would expect, if we have that request to take a look at.
Q. In terms of the ball caps, those are a very popular item. People really like to show a lot of unit pride with them. What are the concerns when that does trickle up to the uniform board through the fleet?
A. That will come from the fleet, with the pros and cons associated with whether it has merit. I think that's best left to the fleet to sort out because they're going to know better about the representation that they want to have through ball caps, if that is an issue that they bring up, and where it makes sense.
Q. What is the Navy Uniform Board outlook for the year and the big issues you'll be tackling?
A. We've had surveys out for the women in terms of their uniforms and the fitting. We've had a chance to go out and we've made some — I think — very, very positive changes that have been very well received in the women's uniforms. So we'll get some more survey data back from the women, and that will be part of what informs the uniform board here in the near future.
Secondly, we've put out a wear test for cold-weather parkas, a jacket that actually goes below the torso for men and women. So we'll be evaluating that this year to see how that looks using off-the-shelf [products].
Q. Can you give us some feedback or some changes that are coming out as a result of the women's uniform initiative?
A. The blouse has been very positive in there, the way the blouse fits, the looks of the blouse. That blouse hangs below the Eisenhower jacket, and so there are concerns that we created a uniform that now can look unkempt as it goes below the Eisenhower jacket, which is a waist-hugging jacket.
So that has been some of the feedback — to take a look at whether we can modify the Eisenhower jacket or look for another alternative as we go forward. We've been testing an insert for the jackets for women who are pregnant. So a jacket can, with a simple insert, be expanded so you're not faced with having an ill-fitting coat.
Q. Are you considering any incentives to make sure that physical training is something sailors do?
A. I have no changes before me, and I'm not recommending any changes in the near future to change the [Physical Fitness Assessment/Physical Readiness Test] program. Looking at what our current program is achieving for our force in terms of fitness and in terms of how our force looks, I see no reason right now to change the program.
Q. Do you have any physical fitness concerns with the longer deployments and sailors being stuck at sea for longer periods of time, and working longer hours?
A. Just because you're at sea longer doesn't mean your working hours are longer in there. I mean at sea, you can get into a very good routine. You can just go down, particularly in our larger ships, to some of the fitness centers that are on board. The beauty of them is they're open 24 hours a day. So, I mean, in some instances on board a ship, and dependent on the facilities, you have a greater opportunity to fit it within your schedule.
Q. A NAVADMIN that came out recently said the Navy was not keeping up with its ITEMPO data. [Editor's note: The Individual Personnel TEMPO program tracks and reports deployment days on individuals who are away from their homeport or assigned unit.] Do you have a reliable system in place?
A. It's hard because you have to do it for each individual. So you can do the multiplication of that — by just how many people are involved — and then it's for each event that's associated with ITEMPO. So one person can have many events associated when they're away from their ship throughout a period of time that you're reporting in. So it's hundreds of thousands of events in there that have to be accounted for. So by the nature of it, it's an accounting exercise. We were doing pretty well in it when we put the rule change in place. The process atrophied over the last several years.
Q. Is it a first step toward paying sailors for high ITEMPO?
A. Not necessarily. ITEMPO was put in place back in 2001, right before 9/11. If you look at where we were in 2001 in terms of incentive pays that we have out there, it was totally different than where we are now. We incentivize our sailors differently through a whole range of incentive pays, sea pays, assignment pays. So we're looking to factor that in to see how we would want to put in place an ITEMPO pay scheme for just the time that you're away. You don't want to double- incentivize somebody for something that you're already doing. The key thing is to get the accountability, so you can see what it tells you about how your people are being deployed, how you're deploying them on temporary duty assignments.