Officer retention within the surface warfare community is gradually increasing, and the service is eyeing several new initiatives to continue that trend, according to Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander of Naval Surface Forces.
Surface warfare officers have historically departed their community at higher rates than the submarine and aviation communities, a Government Accountability Office report from 2021 found.
Even so, retention among SWOs remains at approximately 34% to 35% among officers with three to eight years of service — up from a 30% percent retention rate roughly 20 years ago.
“Our retention numbers remain about the same as last year. If you look at the overall trend, it remains up,” Kitchener told reporters Jan. 5 ahead of the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference.
Retention bonuses offered to SWOs temporarily increased retention, Kitchener said. The Navy’s lieutenant commander bonus, for example, offers eligible SWOs a $46,000 incentive to remain in the service for an additional three years. But despite these offers, retention in recent years has stagnated.
As a result, Kitchener said, the Navy is eyeing several initiatives to boost retention in the SWO community, including more self-selectivity, leadership development, and a culture of mentoring and coaching.
“We’ve been thinking about how do we put into place more self-selectivity at our sessions for SWO candidates,” Kitchener said. “The other communities have their test they do and some other things, so we’re exploring some options on that, the idea being okay, this person, this is what a SWO does. This is what we think the capabilities are that you have to have in the mindset. And so you’re bringing people in that are really wedded to doing it.”
For 2023, Kitchener’s goal is to reach a 35% or 36% retention rate among SWOs, although he acknowledged that the long-term impact of COVID-19 and the resulting lengthy deployments may lead to a decrease in SWO retention in the next couple of years.
Meanwhile, the Navy is implementing a series of changes to improve recruitment and retention amid challenges across all the services to meet accession goals.
The service surpassed its retention goals in fiscal 2021 and met its active duty enlisted recruitment goals in fiscal 2022. However, it failed to meet recruitment target numbers for active duty and Reserve officers, as well as Reserve enlisted personnel.
Recent initiatives specifically aimed at improving retention include suspending enlisted high-year tenure for two years, allowing sailors who surpassed their high-year tenure threshold to remain in the service.
“We’ve got to continue to be efficient,” Del Toro told Defense News while on travel Dec. 8. “We’ve got to continue to provide incentives for our sailors to want to serve at sea, for example, motivate them. Not just from a financial perspective, but from a mission perspective and reward them in terms of promotions and things of that nature.”