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Survey: SWOs off to rough start

Many O-1s, O-2s say they're unhappy, but outlook improves as rank increases

Jan. 7, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Young surface warfare officers listed conning the ship as one of the most satisfying things about their jobs. Here, Ensign Ian Schnur serves as conning officer aboard the destroyer McCampbell in the Pacific Ocean in 2012.
Young surface warfare officers listed conning the ship as one of the most satisfying things about their jobs. Here, Ensign Ian Schnur serves as conning officer aboard the destroyer McCampbell in the Pacific Ocean in 2012. (MCSN (SW) Declan Barnes/Navy)
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Ensigns and lieutenants junior grade in the surface fleet are more likely to see themselves leaving the active-duty Navy after their current tour than spending a career as a surface warfare officer, according to a just-completed survey.

They’re less likely to see themselves as future commanding officers at sea when compared with the lieutenants and lieutenant commanders who took the same survey, less likely to see their work as valuable to the Navy and less likely to be satisfied with their perceived value to their command.

“As has been the case for years, the more junior you are, the less you seem to enjoy being a SWO,” Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, commander of Naval Surface Forces, said in a Thursday blog post announcing the survey results.

About a third of all junior SWOs — 2,300 people in paygrades O-1 to O-4 — completed the online survey, which asked 46 short-answer questions and included spaces for longer comments. It’s the sixth such poll since 1999, but the first since 2008.

The Navy declined to release the raw survey data. The Navy’s 20-page results packet, released Thursday, does not include exact figures for all questions asked, and the scoring system used by the survey can cloud analysis.

For example, SWOs were asked whether they planned to “leave the active-duty Navy upon completion of my present obligation or at the end of current tour of duty” and given a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “definitely will” and 1 being “definitely will not.” O-1s, O-2s and women of all ranks surveyed averaged well above a 2.5 on that question, but it’s unclear whether the negative respondents were a handful of “definitely will nots” or a larger number of those leaning toward getting out.

Still, the results give a window into how SWOs see their careers unfolding — and why some might not be in uniform for the duration:

■ More than half of married officers surveyed said their decision to leave was strongly influenced by family strain and/or separation.

■ More than half of the women set to leave after their current tour said that decision was strongly influenced by their desire to “start a family or grow a family.”

■ More than 40 percent of all who said they were leaving replied that “workload during pre-deployment periods” was a strong reason for their impending departure.

“An initiative that is underway now [will] find ways to reduce the time-consuming, burdensome and often unnecessary administration that you face,” Copeman said in his blog post.

The list of reasons officers want to stay Navy didn’t change much from the 2008 survey, with job security and benefits leading the way. However, “Pride in the Navy” fell off the list in 2013.

Reasons for leaving included the usual suspects of family strain and heavy workload, but the 2013 list added “micromanagement” and a “zero-defects mentality,” among others.

More from the poll, which was launched in March:

Morale minefield

According to junior SWOs surveyed, the morale of the surface fleet ended up on the wrong side of the 1-to-5 scale, scoring just below a 2.5. However, when asked whether they were pleased with their most recent sea duty assignment, the results came in above 3.0.

Reasons for low morale cited by officers in survey comments included a lack of common qualification standards and “inconsistency in SWO boards,” according to the Navy.

Sticking together

When asked who they relied upon most for career advice, more than half of respondents chose their peers. Survey-takers could select more than one option, but their fellow officers outpaced the rest of the choices.

COs, executive officers, “mentors” and department heads ranked highest among the other options, with social media ranking lowest.

One possible surprise — detailers ranked near the bottom, below spouses. This “reinforces a need for detailers to reach out to leaders at the waterfront and [in fleet concentration areas],” according to the results report.

Bad news for e-Mentor

The survey says the Navy’s official SWO e-Mentor Program, which launched in 2009 and relaunched in March 2013, hasn’t caught on. Only 26 percent of survey-takers had heard of the program, and less than 12 percent would recommend it to others.

So, where do junior SWOs get their information? Facebook was the leading source of the eight outlets listed, followed by the Navy Personnel Command website, the message board SailorBob, Twitter and the Navy-themed policy blog CDR Salamander. SWO e-Mentor, MySpace and FourSquare were far behind.

More of the same

Some issues haven’t changed over time — junior officers in the 2013 and 2008 surveys showed dissatisfaction with their work hours and what the survey calls an “inability to plan family/personal life.” And both surveys showed they were happy with the “mental challenges” their jobs offered and the variety of tasks included in their daily responsibilities.

Among the new issues for 2013: Junior officers listed “leadership challenge” as a positive aspect of their jobs, as well as the chance to conn a ship. They also ranked “lack of time to qualify” and “in-port watches” on the negative side.

Feeling wanted

More than half of the officers surveyed said they believed their work was valuable, and about 61 percent said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their personal contributions to the command.

Less than 29 percent of sailors said they felt underappreciated, and more officers in higher paygrades felt their work was important to the fleet and that their commands valued them.

Frat perception isn't reality

When junior sailors were asked whether female junior SWOs were more likely to fraternize with their sailors, responses were mixed. But when they were asked whether the perception of such activity was higher in those circumstances, responses weren’t — most supported the statement, with female survey-takers overwhelmingly agreeing with it.

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