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Thousands eligible for sea duty cash

Aug. 26, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Boatswain's mates are in demand, but only certain paygrades are offering sea duty incentive pay. Petty officers second class can earn $500 per month, and chiefs and senior chiefs can collect $700 per month.
Boatswain's mates are in demand, but only certain paygrades are offering sea duty incentive pay. Petty officers second class can earn $500 per month, and chiefs and senior chiefs can collect $700 per month. (MCC Tommy Lamkin / Navy)
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Sailors move ordnance across the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier Nimitz on June 10 while traveling the Indian Ocean. Aviation ordnanceman is among the top ratings needed at sea. (MCSA Kelly M. Agee / Navy)

Most critical ratings

The following ratings, when you factor all paygrades combined, are considered the most undermanned at sea right now. Not all of these jobs qualify for sea duty incentive pay, however. While they are needed, they are not considered the most critical.
1. Undesignated airman
2. Aviation ordnanceman
3. Aviation boatswain’s mate, aircraft handling
4. Information systems technician
5. Aviation structural mechanic
6. Operations specialist
7. Undesignated seaman
8. Aviation boatswain's mate, launch and recovery equipment
9. Gas turbine system technician, mechanical
10. Culinary specialist
The following ratings are most needed for chiefs and above:
1. Aviation machinist’s mate
2. Aviation electronics technician
3. Electronics technician
4. Logistics specialist
5. Aviation structural mechanic
6. Fire controlman
7. Aviation electrician’s mate
8. Intelligence specialist
9. Information systems technician submarines
10. Boatswain’s mate

The Navy started an all-out offensive about a year ago to close as many as 20,000 enlisted manning gaps at sea, offering extra money and perks.

The Navy started an all-out offensive about a year ago to close as many as 20,000 enlisted manning gaps at sea, offering extra money and perks.

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The Navy started an all-out offensive about a year ago to close as many as 20,000 enlisted manning gaps at sea, offering extra money and perks.

Flash forward to today and the Navy, while making progress, is still several thousand billets shy of its goals. For those willing to go beyond normal rotations and stay afloat, fat bonuses await in many career fields.

But it may be wise to act soon. These perks, worth up to $1,000 per month, aren’t going to last forever. And some who don’t volunteer, will be “voluntold.” So far this year, nearly 200 sailors have been pulled from shore duty to fill critical gaps at sea.

The Navy would prefer to have willing sailors, and in cases where you may not qualify for some money, there are other perks: possibly a high-year tenure waiver to keep a lagging career going, or even to get orders to the home port you’ve been longing for.

“Sailors need to take a serious look at what’s being offered here,” said Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, who spoke with Navy Times on July 29 as he prepared to step down as the chief of naval personnel. “The environment we’re in is very dynamic, and as with other incentives we offer ... they can change quickly and sometimes without much notice.”

Incentive pay

The Navy is offering sea duty incentive pay in 49 ratings, under specific paygrades and/or Navy enlisted classifications. Sailors can earn between $500 and $1,000 for each month they either stay at sea or terminate their shore duty early. [See chart, next page]

As of late July, nearly 700 sailors were collecting SDIP, fulfilling 13,903 additional months of sea duty at a total cost to the Navy of $8.77 million. That’s an average of $630 per sailor, per month, personnel officials point out.

The program started as a pilot for just a few ratings in 2007, but in July 2012, once officials started their push to close sea-duty gaps, they expanded it to 31 ratings and special skills and increased the maximum payout to $1,000 per month.

There are two versions of the pay, both of which are paid in a lump sum:

■ Those extending at sea get SDIP-E and receive the monthly amount designated for their rating, multiplied by the number of months they extend for. Application for the extension and pay must happen at least 10 to 12 months prior to their rotation date. For sailors on sea duty who commit while on deployment in a combat exclusion zone, the entire amount is tax-free.

■ Those leaving shore duty get SDIP-C. They receive the monthly amount, multiplied by the number of months left on their shore duty when they transfer. Applications must be submitted at least three months before you want to leave shore duty.

Present payout levels, and even eligible ratings, can change at a moment’s notice as the critical billets get filled.

And unlike re-up bonuses, there’s no 30-day grace period in effect for payouts once skills leave the list.

The Navy is already accepting and approving requests for fiscal 2014, and though skills and SDIP amounts may change during regular reviews, officials said there are no major changes to the overall SDIP policy or program being considered.

Volunteers needed

In February 2012, officials announced the Voluntary Sea Duty Program, offering certain perks to sailors willing to extend on sea duty or cut their shore duty short and head back to the deploying Navy.

This program was extended through this September, but officials have told Navy Times there are no plans at the moment to cut it off at this time.

It allows two-year extensions without Big Navy approval. Shore-duty sailors can go back to sea and sea-duty sailors can take back-to-back sea tours.

To sweeten the idea, you can request orders to another geographic area, provided critical-fill billets are available there.

The program doesn’t include extra money, but qualifying sailors in SDIP skills can benefit from both programs at the same time.

But there are a few rules to consider as well:

■ Eligible sailors can’t have any individual evaluation trait marks lower than 3.0 over the last three years.

■ Sailors cannot have received nonjudicial punishment in the past two years.

■ Sailors cannot have failed a physical fitness assessment in the last two years or have three fitness failures in the past four years.

Those with initial approval will work with their detailers to pick orders from the available critical billets over two monthly requisition cycles and can pick a preferred home port.

Sailors should begin the process before they enter their detailing window.

If a sailor isn’t happy with the offerings, he can opt out. But once he agrees, he’s stuck.

For those nearing their “stay or go” point for their particular paygrade, officials will consider high-year tenure waivers for those who apply. Over the past year, 1,362 sailors have asked for HYT waivers under this program and a little over half — 698 —have been approved.

The last resorts

The Navy also announced last year a program called Limited Direct Detailing. In short, if critical billets were unfilled and no volunteers came forward, officials reserved the right to force someone off shore duty as a last resort.

If the Navy took that drastic action, however, the rules mandate that the sailor be compensated to the tune of $1,450 per month up to a maximum payout of $22,500. To date, 191 sailors have been sent back to sea this way.

But at risk are the roughly 25,000 sailors, from all ratings, who have at least 24 months on shore duty.

Officials said in July 2012, they expected to pull between 200 and 400 sailors involuntarily under the program, and this program remains in effect.

At least in this scenario your bank account gets a boost. There are other methods that are less appealing, but still remain a tool in the Big Navy toolbox.

This includes “rip and fill” — drawing sailors on sea duty from other ships and bringing them on deploying ones, often with little notice. Or, holding sailors on board past their rotation dates.

Shifting deployments has been a big issue in recent years, Van Buskirk said, requiring the need for last-minute sailor moves.

“When you shift the deployment schedule to the left four or five months, that moves them right out of the window for detailing,” he said. “That puts [fleet personnel officials] into a position of having to do these rip and fills.”

In fiscal 2012, the Navy issued 1,272 of these actions. In April, the halfway point of fiscal 2013, the Navy had already issued 1,012 of these manning actions.

Compare these statistics:

In FY2012, 588 sailors were “cross-decked,” or permanently transferred between ships. Halfway into this fiscal year, the Navy had cross-decked 440 sailors.

In FY2012, 473 sailors were sent on temporary duty to deploying units. Setting a higher pace, there were 262 halfway through this year.

In FY2012, 174 sailors in the middle of a transfer were diverted to someplace they were needed more. By April of this year, there had already been 202 diverted.

In FY2012, only 37 sailors were put on involuntary operational holds, delaying their transfers ashore. As of April, 88 sailors were put on this hold for FY2013.

Last year, Van Buskirk told Navy Times that these moves had become all too common recently. He said they needed to be reduced as they were upsetting the balance of too many sailors’ lives and careers.

Note: Officials say these ratings could shift once the new chief’s are pinned in September. Source: Chief of Naval Personnel

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