Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, who recently passed the first-year milestone of this tenure, has messaged sailors, Marines and civilian workers with a review of the department’s progress toward meeting their needs.
In an Aug. 9 department wide memo, exactly one year after he was sworn in, Del Toro reiterated his priorities and outlined the strides his department has made in eight key areas: sexual harassment and sexual assault; mental health; education; housing; keeping costs down; child care; spouse employment and the Exceptional Family Member Program.
“Over the course of the past year, you have shared with us your challenges, and we have prioritized ways to improve resources in areas of critical importance to our personnel and their families,” Del Toro stated.
“I have had the chance to listen, learn and act,” he wrote.
“As Secretary, I have identified three enduring priorities: strengthen maritime dominance, empower our people, and strengthen our partnerships,” he wrote in the ALNAV message. “The foundation to it all is you — our people — and I would like to tell you about some of the work the Navy-Marine Corps team is doing to serve our Sailors, Marines and Civilians.
Among the strides he highlighted:
♦ Sexual harassment and sexual assault: “We have implemented impactful policy changes, including the creation of an Office of the Special Trial Counsel in the Navy and Marine Corps, improved sexual harassment investigations, and created the ‘Safe-To-Report’ and ‘No Wrong Door’ policies to ensure that victims and survivors are empowered and that they receive the right care.”
♦ Mental health: “Our Navy-Marine Corps team has been working to create, and will continue to advocate for, resources and systems that will give you options to get the care that you need in an accessible way through expanded online counseling services and more mental health resources.”
♦ Education: “We have emphasized the need to prepare our force for the fight ahead by modernizing our naval education institutions and establishing the United States Naval Community College.”
♦ Housing: “We are addressing the challenges of affordability and availability of housing for our Service Members through temporary Basic Allowance for Housing increases and the Temporary Lodging Expense extension.”
♦ Keeping costs down: “The value of shopping at Commissaries provides an average savings of 23.7%, and Exchanges will match lower-priced products from store competitors. This is why we are conscious of keeping shelves stocked in our Commissaries and Exchanges worldwide.”
♦ Child care: “For off-base child care, we continue to collaborate with our colleagues in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to expand the Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood and MCCYN-PLUS programs that align military child care standards to offer more available quality child care options for our families.”
♦ Spouse employment: “This past October, we joined industry partners and celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, which has continued to increase access to portable spouse employment opportunities.
♦ Exceptional Family Member Program: “In order to do all that we can to ease processes and access to information, the Exceptional Family Member Program is making great progress towards enterprise-wide standardization. EFMP is focused on improving support for military families through the development of policies and enhanced communication.”
“While the Department has made great progress in advancing quality of life initiatives, our work is not done,” Del Toro wrote.
Not everyone, however, was thrilled with the focus of the secretary’s memo.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., a Marine Corps veteran who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, released a statement with concerns over Del Toro’s remarks.
“As Secretary Del Toro recaps the past year for our Navy, it is impossible to ignore what is missing from his memo: absolutely anything related to near-term war readiness. While the health and well-being of our sailors and their families is vital, the memo’s single-minded focus on these topics suggests a lack of focus at the highest levels of our Navy on its core constitutional mission: the maritime defense of our nation and its interests,” Gallagher wrote.
But Gallagher went further, denigrating the focus on the needs of personnel, which Del Toro outlined in his ALNAV.
“The time for pet projects and special interests is over,” he wrote.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media