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Fire Watch: We Ask the Navy’s Personnel Leaders Your Questions About Pay, Billets and Beards

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Last week, my colleague Konstantin Toropin and I spoke to the Chief of Navy Personnel, Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman, and his senior enlisted counterpart Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell. They are the senior leaders who run the Navy’s personnel, manpower and training operations across the fleet.

We had asked sailors to let us know what questions they thought the two should have to answer, receiving suggestions through email, Reddit and elsewhere. It was a chance for them to put the senior leaders on the spot about pay issues, housing and, of course, beards.

For this episode, we’re sharing that full conversation, only lightly edited for time.

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  • Drew F. Lawrence and Konstantin Toropin interview Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman and his senior enlisted counterpart Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell.

     

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Transcript:

SPEAKERS

Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell, Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman, Drew F. Lawrence, Konstantin Toropin

 

Drew F. Lawrence

Last week my colleague Constantine tore open and I spoke to the Chief of Navy personnel Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman, and his senior enlisted counterpart Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell. They are the senior leaders who run the Navy’s personnel, manpower and training operations across the fleet. We asked sailors to let us know what questions they thought the two should have to answer, receiving suggestions through email, Reddit and elsewhere. It was a chance for them to put senior leaders on the spot about pay issues, housing, and of course beards. Constantine and I asked other questions to following up on stories military.com has reported including problems The Navy has faced getting sailors their separation orders, also known as DD two fourteens on time, and in a big shift by the service when it closed down smaller personnel support detachments or PSDs, which were spread across the globe and consolidated their paperwork responsibilities to a single centralized command. For this episode, we’re sharing that full conversation only lightly edited for time. And for military.com. My name is Drew Lawrence, it is May 5, in this as Firewatch. So you can follow along as you become familiar with everyone’s voices, Constantine asked the first question and then Vice Admiral Cheeseman answers, you’ll hear me ask some questions and then Fleet Master Chief Terrell chimes in to answer as well.

 

Konstantin Toropin

First question. Recruiting is a little bit of a struggle for everybody, not just the Navy this is Pentagon wide. But on the flip side, it seems like the Navy’s retention numbers are good. You know you’re keeping the sailors you want to keep at the numbers you want to keep them. What are you doing to incentivize sailors to stay in the Navy?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

First, thanks for coming this morning. I appreciate it. Any chance to engage with you and the fleet in general via any means is pretty important to me so thanks again for coming. Retention. You’re exactly right sailors are responding to the incentives we’re putting in place. And we find incentivizing sailors to do the things we need to do through specific targeted bonuses as opposed to broad base selective reenlistment bonuses are better. That said, you know, more sailors are eligible for SRB now than ever before. So we’re pulling all the policy levers we can to meet those retention goals. But where sailors are really responding or the detailing marketplace assignment policy we’ve been putting in place as a pilot program. To date, we have eight ratings in there now eight sea intensive ratings. And this is where sailors can volunteer for an additional three years of sea duty after their initial four, so seven years of sea duty in total. With that, for appropriate qualified folks that comes with a promotion that will come with some some stipend money. And then off they go. Some sailors already E-5s and are taking this because they get geographic stability out of it. And that’s their incentive. So really finding the targeted incentive that meets sailors goals are what we’re aiming to strive for. By the end of the year, we hope to be up to 14 ratings for this detailed marketplace assignment policy. But we’re getting really good feedback and we’re gonna continue to see how it works out.

 

Konstantin Toropin

And is that — like very, very 30,000 feet — is that part of the push to get away from sort of the traditional detailing of…

 

 

It is. We want to go straight to — well not straight — but we want to get get to where it’s billet-based advancement for the entire Navy. Right now — and Fleet chime in anytime you want — but you know, right now we take exams in March and September, we advanced the force fleet wide, every gets advanced at the same time that creates misalignments in the fleet. So a future goal like end state: picture advancement exams on demand, a sailor feels like they’re ready for E-5, they take the exam, they pass the exam, they’ve reached the final multiple score that they need to to be eligible for advancement, they enter the marketplace, they take a billet, they get to that billet and they get paid for it or they get promoted when they get there. That’s the future. It’s working that way for a small amount of ratings now, you know, not all but you know, that’s where we’re getting to and you know, in three or four years, that’s where we want to be. A big part of this is from the top level down as the output of this year’s Master Chief promotion board, where the results of that board that will come out this month is not promotion to Master Chief. The result is a quota to be promoted to Master Chief, and then those senior chiefs that are found best and fully qualified for Master Chief will have two years to enter the market, select the Master Chief billet and then once they get 30 days prior to execution, they get frocks and then once they get into that job, they start getting paid, as opposed to when Fleet did this back in the day you get promoted, you get selected. And then you know 30 days later you rip to fill and off you go. So now it’s a conversation between the sailors, family and the Navy on when best to do that. And regardless of the sailor, E-1 to O-10 they want to be involved in the detailing process, they want and they want to feel valued. And we think this is a good communication stepped between the sailor, the family and the Navy overall.

 

Konstantin Toropin

Am I hearing you right, that you’re saying that in three to four years time we’re there?

 

 

That is our goal. Right. Absolutely. That is absolutely the goal, you know, up to E-4 and now we’ve already gotten rid of the advancements exam for E-4 that will eventually be permanent time based advancements how we think it’d be, we’re doing this for a small amount of ratings at the E-5 we want to get to the E-6 level for a couple of ratings by the end of the year. And then we’re going to work at top down master chiefs this year, senior chiefs next year with appropriate lessons learned to make sure we can scale it. The hard nut to crack will be at the E-7 level, I feel pretty strongly we have to maintain the Chiefs initiation, big part of our culture, big part of our heritage. So how does that work with billet-based advancement, working through all that? So it is a set three year linear plan? We’re going to learn lessons, I don’t want to hurt any sailors. I don’t wanna hurt the Navy, we’re going to learn and adjust on the fly. But you know, three to five years. I really hope so.

 

Konstantin Toropin

And what are I mean, the the flip side is, and I’m, you know, I hear the my boss in the back of my mind going, that all sounds great. What are some of the hurdles that you’re anticipating?

 

 

So I want to make sure so, you know, hurdles, right? Specifically, I want to make sure, you know, all sailors can be advantaged by this. So we know, you know, right now with seven years of sea duty, the folks that are initially taking those, we’re tracking those folks. And that in a negative way, of course, but we’re marking okay, you know, is seven years at sea duty too much? How are they performing? Are they excelling? Are they not excelling? Any medical issues popping up? How’s it affecting our women population? You know, there’s, there’s a family planning aspect from from men and women sailors in our Navy, is this negatively affecting women in our Navy or not? So we’re looking at all those things over time. So I don’t want to – I want to move deliberately. But I don’t want to rush where we inadvertently hurt somebody because weren’t thinking about something, anything to add on that Fleet?

 

Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman

You mentioned blind spots, sort of what we’re checking for, you know, we also have to make sure that as we’re laser focused on filling, sea duty bills with this, there are 16 ratings that are sea intensive, others that are not so we got to make sure that we do not break shoreside production while we’re so focused on sea duty, and that’s part of the mix with what billets get advertise in those things. You started off with recruiting and retention questions, we can’t take risk on recruiting you know, if we’re, if we need to bring people in the Navy to maintain wholeness for our Navy, we can’t take risks there. So when you talk about balancing out and checking our blind spots to make sure we know what are we paying attention to? Overall it’s gotta be that balance between ses duty at all costs, yes, but production matters you got to be able to produce a sailor. You have to be to bring them in, you have to be able to train them you have to make sure they’re able to do their job. If we break that then we don’t have sailors to give to the fleet to begin with.

 

Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell

There’s a couple of things that I was going to hit on. One, I think that’s great that we are recognizing our blind spot, and that we’re taking small bites out to make sure that we’re meeting that goal, we’re meeting the intent to make sure that we take care of sailors and their families. I agree on billet base advancement without a doubt. When I made Senior Chief and Master Chief, my family stayed where they were at. And then I left and went on deployment. And then when I got back then we worked about, you know, moving from, at that point, the East Coast to the West Coast. And then also to your question on on retention. It’s, it’s an interesting and this just my, my personal opinion on this. But when sailors when we come in the Navy, you know, we have our own priorities, whether it’s education, or benefits, whatever that case may be. But I truly believe that toward the end of our first tour, then it becomes about service and serving and camaraderie. And I think that’s a piece on the back end, when we talk about retention that unseen. It’s about, you know, working alongside someone that we probably never thought that we’d work along. I mean, he’s from New Jersey, I’m from Oklahoma, who would have thought. Penn State grad, Oklahoma, so it’s, you know, those things are pretty cool when you have those discussions. It just resonates in that camaraderie. You just hit it off.

 

Konstantin Toropin

Last question and then we’re gonna let Drew get one in the the elephant in the room gentleman. Beards. When can when can everybody have the long beard that that master chief will sort of look at it and just get heart palpitations over.

 

Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman

So you want to start this and then you want to answer just like we do on the road? You start?

 

Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell

For me, beards are are not even probably within the top 15 of my priority list. It’s it’s, you know as far as taking care of sailors and families. There’s other things, in my opinion, that really need to get after before we get to beards. Growing up, I had a PFD=B problem, and I made the choice to shave. I mean, there’s, you know, we have rules and regulations for sailors and medical that will take care of those across the board. I’ll say that it’s definitely not within the top 10.

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

This is where I usually chime in. Right. So all that being said, there’s about about 12-13% of our force has a beard now for a variety of reasons. PFB, religious accommodation. So with that SecNav has commissioned a study on beards. He’s been working through that. He’ll get a report sometime this summer. And then when that lands on his desk, I’m sure I will hear about it soon after…and then we’ll see where we go from that. So but yeah, so somebody is looking at it with a different lens. And we’ve looked at it in the past. But I won’t get ahead of sec. Now that report will come and I’ll

 

Konstantin Toropin

What I’m hearing from that is I can start asking about it this summer.

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

Okay, yeah, there you go. And I’ll start answering it this summer.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

You know, one of the things that we get a lot of feedback on just across the board, not only with the Navy, but across the Pentagon troops are a reckoning with, you know, low basic housing and food allowances that frankly may not be keeping up with with the current economy. Some troops, including soldiers are sailors, you know, are having to apply for food stamps, for example, to feed their families. And I’m just wondering, what does this problem look like from from your perspective, right, and what’s the fix?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

Alright, so a couple of things there, just statistically, I’m aware there’s a recent DoD survey that showed about 25% of service members reported food insecurity. That same survey said that 85% of service members felt they’re adequately compensated. So there’s a little bit of a mismatch in data, That said, right, our sailors should be should be compensated such that they do not ever have to qualify for another government program. I feel pretty strongly about that. I know Fleet does too. The quadrennial review of military compensation — have to slow down when I say that the QRMC — is ongoing. So we are a supporter of that effort, they’ll report out in 24, they’re well aware of these things, and they’re taking a look at it. From a from a food insecurity standpoint, from from a, you know, basic housing standpoint, you know, needing more money to survive standpoint, we have put a lot of effort into education of our force with this. Starting in boot camp in January of ’22, I’m sorry, January ’22, we added two extra weeks of boot camp, sort of some life skills training that includes financial counseling, financial security counseling. Each unit in our Navy has a financial security specialist. And the fleet and family support centers on the waterfront have appropriate counselors as well to help with budgeting and connecting resources if a sailor needs that. But we want to get on the front end of this: educateing sailors on the compensation they get, what it’s intended to provide, and make sure they’re making appropriate budget decisions, while at the same time not ignoring ignoring the fact that we have real issues that we’re trying to address appropriately.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

Outside of the financial education part, let’s say, you know, they get to the fleet, you have a junior sailor who’s dealing with these problems, what would you tell them? How would you recommend to them to address this with their their leadership?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

I think they have engage their leadership, if they have any, even financial security, whatever, in whatever issue of sailor feels like they have: clear and concise communication to leadership is the way to go. It cannot, you know, if it’s an issue for a sailor, they got to make sure their chain of command understands the issue. So it can be an issue for the chain of command. I’ve been, you know, pretty clear with 34 years in the Navy, you know, as a leader, you know, you can only make something important to the leader if you tell them, right. So if you’re if you’re ever suffering silence, for lack of a better term, we can’t wait, you know, but that requires trust, right. So from a leadership perspective, we got to make sure that we’re responding appropriately. So we’ve spent a lot of time as well educating our leaders on various resources, whether you know, from financial counseling, to housing to those kinds of things. So it’s a two way street, the sailor’s got to talk — has to — but then our chiefs mess our division officers, our department heads, our command triads, we have to be engaged. And we have to follow up and constant communication up and down I think is the key to all of this.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

And I know at the beginning we talked a little bit about the statistics for this right. Is there anything that’s happening at your level or higher that is being done to help…

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

Well the basic needs allowance was enacted. Right, so the Navy at the MyNavy career center, we did a review of every sale that we have in the Navy to see from our standpoint, who we thought would, who we who we thought would be eligible for this basic needs allowance. So it turns out a very small number, but we are proactive, we went to all the sales that you may qualify for it. And now you have to do the calculations because we don’t know your total spouse’s income, your total family income, you have to, you have to do it. But we’ve received tremendous feedback from the Fleet about “Hey, thanks for reaching out, we weren’t really sure about all this kind of thing.” So that level, certainly, but then overseas, there’s COLA, you know, workings going on, you know, working BAH problems, being be more responsive to the economy with BAH, same thing with BAS. But that, you know, we were working constantly with our DOD partners, because much of this is a DOD effort. It’s not just the Navy, we’re tied to the hip with those folks in trying to be more responsive, these things,

 

Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell

I go back to the trust piece, I can’t stress that enough, what CNP talked about in regards to not only the young sailor, but, you know, to the chiefs and division officers to make sure that we have that conversation. And it really, you know, we call them smoke pit conversations, kneecap to kneecap conversation, but it builds that trust, you know, it reduces a guard that we’re open to have those, those conversations and it’s tough. The average, you know, 17 to 24 year old out in the local economy versus the average 17 to 24 year old in the military, there’s, there’s a difference, you know, that 17 to 24 year old might be married, might have one child, but in this case, they still might be going to college,. I say when we grew up, you know, we were forced to fill out — it was a long time ago — we were forced to fill out a request chit, you know, and request to get married. And it was for the reason to have those conversations in regards to, “Hey, these are the extra pays that you’re going to get, the budget, this is what you need to look out for.” So it’s just getting back to those conversations, and swallowing our pride and, and trust in each other.

 

Konstantin Toropin

One of the themes that sometimes we hear from service members, you know, on the flip side of that, you know, come talk to, you know, the the leadership will say, come talk to your chain of command. And, you know, we hear from the sailor a while I well, I did and they told me to go pound sand or, you know, that was not a productive conversation. You know, Admiral, you’re, you know, I was talking with your staff, you’re famously on Facebook, you famously engage on social media, but you’re not alone. You know, the MICPON recently, just did a Reddit Ask Me Anything, you know. And so I guess, you know, since you guys are since we have you here, you know, for that sailor who maybe tried to have that conversation, and it didn’t work very well. What do you suggest? Do you say, you know, do you go on my navy HR and say Admiral Cheeseman, please notice me, I’m having this problem, or, you know, what’s the, what’s the solution there?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

I don’t know if it’s from “Hey, I talked to my DIVO. And I didn’t get I didn’t get a satisfying answer” straight to me. There’s other levels in that chain of command, right. So but I’m totally open for any sailor that feels like they’ve exhausted every opportunity for doing that kind of stuff. I don’t have a problem with it, I answer that kind of stuff all the time. If anything, we look into it, we educate the sailor on the issue. Many times they found out the answer they got, while not satisfying was the answer. So that’s all part of the education process for a sailor. I view my job much the same as MIPCON views his, right I mean, we get we get the honor to take care of every other sailor in the Navy. And I feel pretty strongly about that. So if sailors want to shoot me a note, if they want to, you know, post things on Facebook, we responded perfectly, may not may not be me specifically, we are a team of people who we farm that stuff out too. And it gets results. It absolutely does. So yeah, it’s just sort of where we are. Yeah. So I’m totally open to all that kind of thing. I really am.

 

Konstantin Toropin

Pivoting a littlebit. Or maybe maybe coming back to the conversation that we were sort of having about, you know, sailors at sea. Yeah, and sea billets and sea duty. You know, as the adage goes, you know, ships and sailors belong at sea, and but at the same time, you know, sailors may not always want to be at sea for a variety of reasons. And, and what have you. Obviously, you know, you mentioned earlier in the podcast that the Navy is incentivizing sailors to take sea billets by, you know, sort of coupling with promotions. I mean, is there is there anything, you know, do you feel like that is solving the problem, or, you know, is there more work to be done to fill the sea billets that the Navy has?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

It’s solving the problem but on a limited scope. I can’t solve the problem totally through just billet based advancement. We opened earlier — the first question he asked me is that recruiting retention, we focus on retention. But as long as we have a recruiting shortfall, it’ll exacerbate the gaps at see problem that we have. About 50% of all of our at sea billets are apprentice billets. The only way to make apprentices is to bring them in the Navy or not then promoted to journeyman and we’re not going to do that, obviously, we have journeyman billets we have to fill as well. So the gaps at see issue will not change in the short term at all. The billet based advancement focus will eliminate some of the 15,000 ish gaps, we have now over a three to five year period that have closed maybe 3000 of them. The rest of his programmatic, we need to continue to do a better job for filling out the budget or leadership is well aware of that and they’re endorsing that. And we’re working through it. Lots of work to do there. But it’s a 20 to 30 year problem from a budget perspective. But from a detailing perspective, it’ll fill the policy induced gaps that we induce based on seashore flow, as sea shore flow evaporates and goes away, we’ll get into those policy induced gaps. Absolutely.

 

Konstantin Toropin

Well, and so it’s like, you know, and I hear what you’re saying, in terms of, you know, you could you as Chief of Naval personnel can only do so much from, you know, pulling the levers that you have perspective. And, you know, to your point that part of this is a recruiting issue. I mean, can you speak a little bit about, you know, what that relationship looks like with Recruiting Command? Because obviously, that’s not your cup of tea but…

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

But they work for me. They do. So they work for Naval Education Training Command, and the Recruiting Command works for them. They’re in my mission function tasks. Absolutely. So what does it look like, we anticipate being about 6000 short this year, 6000 recruits short. That’s what a budget estimate submission is for ’24. And we’re, we’re trending in that direction. That is a lot better than our initial projections of about 13,000 short. So our recruiting force is doing a very good job, we have helped them by pulling levers, you know, we’ve raised the age, maximum age to 41, we’ve increased the number of GED folks we can have in the Navy, we’ve increased the number of CAT-4 sailors that we have in the Navy, and not to get too technical about it on the CAT-4 thing. But, you know, I would like to be clear for the audience and everybody else, we are not lowering our standards. We are, we are increasing the pool of eligibles given the authorities we already had, those authorities are on the books and I’m using them to bring them in. With the increase in the CAT-4s where we’re making our money here is the line scores required for those ratings, those standards remain. And we have data that shows that as a single biggest indicator of success in our Navy, is does the sailor have the appropriate line score for that rating. So that’s what we’re focusing on what matters most. And that’s where it is. Real small numbers, you know, you know, we did the pilot in 2022 with CAT-4s, we were bringing in CAT-4s already, before we increase the number, their attrition rates are the same as CAT-3 and other sailors. So there’s no increased risk right now or monitoring this closely to make sure there’s no unintended risk that we didn’t, didn’t didn’t anticipate.

 

Konstantin Toropin

And just for our for my edification, because my ASVAB score looms very distant in my memory at this point, but, you know, I my understanding correctly, that basically what you’re saying is, you know, let’s say you want to bring somebody in as a Corpsman, their their top line of AFQT score maybe doesn’t doesn’t meet the mark. But those individuals breakout subjects. They’re they’re so fine we don’t care so much that maybe you’re not mechanically inclined, but you’re inclined in all the right ways.

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

Absolutely. 10 sections of the ASVAB. But even in those sections, like you said, depending on how you aggregate data, the line scores as specific rating exactly what you talked about, they have to meet that standard.

 

Konstantin Toropin

And you’re and you’re saying that there’s historical data to sort of say that, you know, people should not look at the headline to sort of say, “oh, you know, we’re letting we’re letting everybody everybody in their mother in.”

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

The line score is what matters most. And that’s what we’re focusing on right now. And this will allow us over time…this will allow us over time to get a better fit. So as we bring in more Category Fours, and their focus…the quotas for those ratings in that band…Now, we don’t have to take a category two or category three sailor and put them in a rating and the category four level that they may be overqualified for, for lack of a better term, that we can focus recruiting on the things that they have the talent for at that at that higher band. We’re months into this, but as we surmise that, you know, you know, just for quota purposes, we don’t have to, you know, force folks in those rate….or offer those ratings not forced, but offer those ratings, where we continue to offer them appropriately in the cat one, two or three area.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

And just you know, as you’re talking to a general audience, not only not only sailors Yeah. When we’re talking about the Armed Forces Qualifications Test, the AFQT, that is a generalized test prior to taking the job specific test or the rate specific test that you’re talking about, correct?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

It’s all part of it. It’s one big test. And then you derive data from the test. There’s 10 sections in the ASVAB.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

And is that still, in terms of the category four? Can you explain what that is?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

Category four, from a statistical standpoint are folks that folks a score of between a 10th and the 30th percentile of that range.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

And so in accepting more category four is that still in a pilot program now, or is that?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

We’re still technically in a pilot program, because we’re in the, in the first part of the run, where the measured data we’re allowed up to 20% of our full mission in the category four range, right now we’re hovering around 16-17%, we’ll be at 20 by the end of the year, just based on quota and distribution of those ratings. And then we’ll just track data, you know, we have to track their, you know, their their success through bootcamp, you know, their attrition, their attrition to A-School, how they’re assimilating to the fleet. So this would be a broader, you know, couple year effort as folks get out there. And we’re tracking how well they’re doing. But you know, we call it a pilot, because it’s early on in it and it is technically a pilot program, because we’re in the authorities. But I can see this continuing, given where the economy is now. The economy changes, and we get more them we’ll throttle back and forth. But I don’t see us ever going away from category fours writ large.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

And just to bring it to kind of the 30,000 foot view of this is, you know, this, this pilot program, also fits into recruiting, right, and also the kind of this slinky effect that you talk about with issues like sea billeting, can you explain a little bit about the you know, kind of broaden it a little bit and talk about the the 30,000 foot view about how this pilot program fits into the broader scope of recruiting and retention?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

Sure. I mean, it comes down to beating hearts, right. So getting getting future sailors into the Navy. If we maintained the 4% cap on category fours, I would have about 3500 less sailors next year, 4000 less sailors, whatever the exact number ends up being statistically, right? If I can’t bring them in, alright, so that is a direct result that that will directly result in gaps at sea. Because, you know, I got to get you to boot camp, to get you out of boot camp to get to a school for your rating to get into the fleet just increases the numbers. These are these are folks that want to join the Navy, and I’m all in on making sure that we create a navy that every American can see themselves in, every American can see a better version of themselves in and I’m happy to have these these these fantastic sailors, absolutely.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

The Navy got rid of, and I’m pivoting here a little bit, but the Navy got rid of many individual offices that were responsible for resolving paperwork issues at each base, whether it be you know, separation orders or —

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

You’re talking about personnel support detachments–

 

Drew F. Lawrence

Personnel support, PSDs … and combine them into two central offices. And as we’re, you know, gathering answers and talking to the fleet, many sailors describe the switch as either confusing or frustrating or difficult that they can’t, you know, walk into a physical office and get their issues resolved. Do you think getting rid of those offices was the right call and why?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

So I do think changing our system was the right call. And why is because I think we understand the scope or our problems now because of the change we made to the system. Because we’re transparent, because the way that transaction support centers are organized, they become a center of excellence for any specific transaction. And now the Navy’s you know, has an audit requirement. You know, we totally we surely understand the DoD standards, having those transactions centralized in one one place, allows for efficiencies allows for bouncing of work among among places, and allows us to, you know, totally understand the scope of the issues, I am certain if we had PSD concepts that we would not know that we would not have known and virtually real time last year, the scope of the travel claim problems and the scope of the DD 214 problem, because we were, you know, aggregating that, you know, going through that change at the time was when we realized, Oh, my we have this problem. So we were allowed to, you know, we were able to, you know, generate the resources needed to get those backlogs down in those specific areas, to really take a hard look at all pain personnel transactions to clearly understand the standards to clearly understand what we’re resource to which was not these, you know, aspirational standards that we have talked about, so we sort of rein that back in to make sure we understand what we’re targeting. I’m happy to say today there’s a travel claim backlog is gone. The DD214 backlog is gone. Are the DD214 folks in Norfolk or where Looking on July retirement DD214 is right now, in the middle of April, that’s goodness, I am certain we’ll get surprised by DD214 or travel claim entries that show up, you know, in short in, you know, without the proper time to get them done for that individual sailor and made, there may be a backlog from the submission side, we’ll execute it quickly, all good. But for all the other pain, personal transactions, we are inside DoD standards worldwide, right? I am not minimizing any specific issue of sailors has a long term issue that we haven’t resolved, we still have to get at that. But statistically, our averages are good. But we know we have work to do from the communication standpoint. And from you know, the heart, we’re inside standards because 90% of what we do is routine and standard and, and fairly uncomplicated. It’s those 10% of the complicated things that we need to get better at,

 

Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell

You know, change is difficult. And it’s it’s always easy for those that don’t have to do. And, you know, this has been a team effort, not only from MMCC, but also from the fleet to get after this. So this, this last year has been a journey. CNP came in, took the ball continued to provide focus for all of us to continue moving in the right direction. So I just want to make sure that I hit on that it’s you know, as we continue to evolve, it will confident that the efficiencies that will gain for the Navy and the entire fleet, there’s definitely goodness in it.

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

Before we started, you mentioned I just got back from Japan some recent Fleet engagement, what we found out there while not everything is perfect. The waterfront there from you know seagoing units to the staffs have embraced this new model, you know, we wanted to CPPA model, right where the commands must be, you know, the input side of this thing really matters because not all resident in my organization anymore. Everyone that waterfront knows the leadership’s name there, that leadership has been out and about talking to every command, they’ve got locally generated products that we as a corporation have and learn from and try to scale. I won’t say everything out there is perfect, but the relationship on that waterfront is a model for how it should work. Because everybody knows everybody, everyone understands the mission out there, and everybody knows we must unburden the sailor and unburden the commands to make sure they can solely focus on the mission. And that’s what they’re doing in Japan.

 

Konstantin Toropin

So I guess, you know, it sounds to me, like, you know, because reading the comments and the feedback from from, I think, you know, functionally older sailors who remember the PSD model, you know, I think there’s often kind of this nostalgia for, you know, and I’m looking at you as your chief, you know, I can get my chief to go down stand on somebody’s desk, and, you know, get what I need. And now that that’s gone, I missed that ability. But it sounds like Admiral what you’re saying is in Japan, you know, you’ve built those relationships enough that that option is still there.

 

Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell

I would say that that option is still there for something that is elevated up to the command masterchief. So, you know, amongst the senior enlisted, there’s a number now command. So that that’s still there, it’s not face to face, but its definitley a command master chief picking up the phone or email.

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

Your point about going to the PSD and standing on somebody’s desk. I want to make sure we don’t ever have to give the point where we got to stand on somebody’s desk to get work done. Right. No, I totally get it. But your point is incredibly valid. But people forget, there’s a reason we went away from PSDs is because people were were very unhappy with their performance. And statistically, about half of all transactions generated by a PSD had to be reworked up chain. So there’s a reason we went to the Center of Excellence concept. I am certain we’re better. I am working very hard to produce tangible data that I can share with folks to do that. Because my word saying we’re inside DoD transaction timeline is not it’s not good enough. I need to prove it to my Navy and to my sailors and to the broader world. And we’re working to do that.

 

Konstantin Toropin

Well, and, you know, in, in fairness to you two, it sounds like and correct me if I’m wrong, but a lot of what folks miss about PSDs is you know, the, you know, one on one interaction, you know, what have you is still there. It’s just it looks a little bit different. And maybe there’s a little bit of a relearning process in the fleet for that.

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

I think so. I think that’s fair. We went when we went to this model. At the same time, we decided that all transactions come from a centralized CPPA for each command that gets into MySystem. At the same time, we hollowed out training for CPPAs. We took people savings based on technology that would come that didn’t show up on time. So we’re putting that back in. We are we are making sure that my organization is supporting the fleet side on this and the fleet side of supporting my organization, it must be together, it’s not my job solely, it’s not their job solely, we need to do this together take care of sailors period.

 

Konstantin Toropin

Okay. And that was going to actually that was going to be sort of my last question on this. And it sounds like you kind of hinted at it in that there’s a there is a knowledge base training component to this.

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

The sprint that we did with Fleet Forces Command and others last year, because of the travel pay, and DD 214 issues was very enlightening here from a training perspective. We knew that we had hollowed out the training, but it was to the point where we never developed qualification cards for the CPPAs. So now there’s a minimum standard: level one a level two level three qual basis qualifications, it gets to determine what each individual command can do on their own and what needs proper oversight above. So from that perspective, it was it was very, very good at the leadership everywhere knows exactly what’s expected of the CPPA, there’s a qualification process that the transaction support center, and the regional support center runs to make sure we get those folks qualified. And then just that baseline understanding of who does what and when and how it gets done are pretty important. So the qual piece is very, very big out of this.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

So I know we talked a little bit about social media sure getting this podcast, but I know that you’re active on Facebook, specifically.

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

Been a little bit. Yeah, absolutely. Sure.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

You know, those communities, they serve as central, you know, community grounds for gripes and commiseration and scuttlebutt often, which for you, I’m assuming is a good way to to get information to help fix problems, for example. But also, I’m wondering if you have thought about or worried that it may be seen, as, you know, kind of an all seeing eye in some of these communities, or at least, you know, viewed as maybe infringing on the informal nature of these forums. Do you have you thought about that?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

I am worried about it. I don’t want folks. And this is part of the reason why I haven’t not been on Facebook in a couple of months specific. I still look, but I don’t, I’m not responding. I don’t want to, I don’t want people to be deterred, from posting. My interactions solely or, you know, generally, really, to educate folks on what’s going on. Happy to root out problems when we need to fix it, and to make sure that we’re learning from it, because every time we get something back from a sailor, we look into it, and yeah, we’ll resolve that sailors issue or at least get them communication back that, hey, it was resolved, or hey, you know, make sure you go talk to this person or that person. And we end up learning from it. But yeah, I am. I understand there’s a balance. I understand that. Now, some people may not post because they’re worried about, you know, Cheeseman chiming in. But I’ve tried to make sure that my stuff is not negative. And I’m additive, if that makes sense. I work hard, and she’ll tell me if I you know, you know, walk up to the line and, and maybe you just step back a little bit, I’ve tried not to deter anybody. I just wanna have a conversation. I’ve we’ve been even going to the DMs. Hey, you know, cell phone you okay with chat and chat with. I’ve called people have called caught a couple people that went over, you know, were disrespectful to others in the chat and just say, you know, dial down the language a little bit, but, but I’m good on having a dialogue. I mean, I’m serious about my job, taking care of sailors trying to help out. I value the engagement. And I hope I’m not detracting from the conversation overall.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

And this is for both of you. Do you have any concerns generally about social media and its use within Fleet?

 

Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell

I would say no, in regards to social media. I will also add on that toward the end of summer, fall of last year, the PAO team went out to the fleet and said, “Hey, how do you want to receive information from us,” and vastly which I’m doing backflips is from the chain of command and headquarters. So social media doesn’t mean too much to me, as long as the products that they’re putting out the fact sheets that are getting put out, along with the NAVADMIN has been a huge win in getting that information down. And to me, there’s nothing better than face to face contact in front of the chief, the LPO, the DIVO talking to their sailors because it just brings goodness. So you know, in regards social media, no issues there. I would I would add on that. I too send DMs but you know what’s kind of disappointing is you have some people that are no longer than military that just troll and drop grenades to fuel the fire. So that piece is disappointing is always going to happen. So we just roll with it. But to me the I think the key point is the face to face contact, communications at quarters, through the fact sheets and face to face with sailors

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

Similar. My only concern was social media. It has its place, it is not the authoritative source for anything. I mean, that’s the bottom line. Right? So I’m happy with the interactions, I’m happy to do that. But overall, it’s it’s added to the effort it is not the effort, if that makes sense.

 

Konstantin Toropin

I think there’s a from from the sailor perspective, and, you know, as somebody who talks to junior sailors, oftentimes who have problems, I think, you know, I often get the, “hey, this is a problem, but don’t use my name. Don’t use my command. But like, also, also, this is a problem. But like, right, but be cool, you know.”

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

I get the same.

 

Konstantin Toropin

But, you know, I guess you know, the spirit of the question is, you know, Admiral Cheeseman, the three star the three star can be Cheeseman, but the E-5 can’t exactly be, you know, I’m BM2 so and so from USS Never Sail…

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

I would say that’s, at least from my perspective, I think they can. I’ve responded very favorably we had a, we had FC2 on one of the posts in February, who was very clearly “Hey, it would be very helpful to all of us. If you did X, Y, and Z.” And I came in, I’m like, why don’t we do that? It was like an epiphany to me. Now, yes, we should be doing that we should be publishing these things, we should tell the Fleet, we should be more proactive. So if we can validate who they are, I’m all in on that kind of so at least from my perspective, in my world, absolutely. I think there’s value added and hearing from somebody on the deck plates, how they see it. And if anything, it will help us on what we need to do from a senior leader perspective, talking to their leadership, maybe it’s a communication gap between us and the leaders. Maybe it’s a communication gap, and what we’re doing writ large for everybody else in your world included, if I can, if I can be more proactive on things we’re doing, specifically with a pay stuff, you know, it’ll generate a lot less questions. If I’m pushing data out, then just sitting back waiting to hear about Oh, my God, it’s all jacked up. Yeah. If I’m sending out, Hey, we’re with inside standards, here’s our pluses. Here’s our minuses. Here’s the oldest transaction, here’s where we’re seeing pain that’ll have more targeted questions and make it better, as opposed to why you guys all messed up. Right? I mean, just candidly, right? So that’s what we’re learning. So somebody sailors who want to engage us, I’m all in on Hey, II five, you know, give us what you got? person. So I view it. I think my leadership does, too.

 

Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell

I agree. I mean, just received a message on Facebook, to me from an MA1 you know, how do we get after healthy eating habits and suicides, and still reaching out to him. So that stuff happens, I think, based on, you know, one of the things that CNP said in 2023, “hey, we’re gonna get out and about and have those conversations.” So I think that’s reducing what I talked about earlier, that barrier that, hey, now they feel that they can reach out, I’m confident, they feel like they can reach out to us. It’s good.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

The Parental leave policy. You know, that was a really big policy that was implemented this year. And I personally haven’t heard any issues within the Navy doesn’t mean that they’re not happening. I don’t know, Konstantine, if you have, but in other branches, you know, there’s this friction, right, between implementing the parental leave policy, and then also, you know, completing whatever tasks needs to happen. And often, oftentimes, what we’re seeing is the parental leave policy may be taking a backseat. Okay. If it were to be happening, or, you know, there are sailors out there that are trying to have this implemented, what would you tell them? And what would you tell their leadership who are kind of struggling to manage the the mission in the policy?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

I think we have to understand, right, so one is the law, right, we must file it. Full support that we offer, we also have to recognize there’s a readiness cost here, there’s a big readiness cost, and I forget the exact number, but it’s an excess of, you know, over 4000 man years per year of focus, not on the job, and that’s fine. It’s for all the right reasons. It’s a lot. There’s enough leeway in the probably the wrong term, but there’s enough flexibility in the execution of that, you know, we have up to a year to do it. So we really need to have communication between the sailor and the chain of command on, you know, the impact, hey, this is where I want to take my call weeks, you know, got it. I’m primarily talking about the non birth parent at this point. This is one I want to take my 12 weeks. Okay, if you’re a one on one, you know, particular type sailor, we’re doing an exercise I need you to, hey, can we do it left of that? Can we do it right of that. This is where it comes down to the communication again, but I would reinforce and as we, as we’ve done it at conferences with leadership in the Navy It’s the law. We’re in 100% supportive this, but it’s got to be a conversation to make sure we’re balancing the mission with the sailor as well. And then differently,

 

Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell

I would say, me personally, I think there’s goodness that it, it also helps sailors plan out their career and plan out the personal side, I think this is broad strokes. And so this is maybe not good. In the past, that might not have been the case. But I think moving forward, it really, let me just choose me as a junior enlisted I wasn’t thinking about that. You know, as I became more senior, you know, my duty stations, I started thinking about that when I got married. And when we were going to have children. It didn’t work out good. I went IA for like nine months. So that wasn’t, that was not good. But it helps us plan out, helps sailors plan out their career, which is a good thing.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

Is there anything that you want to leave us on for this episode?

 

Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman

We’re working hard for sailors. That’s what we do every day. Whenever we get our total force together, we talk about all the time that it’s an absolute honor to have the jobs that we have. I take it really seriously, I know Fleet does too. My entire leadership does. You know, my sailors are working in my navy HR enterprise, our regular sailors on shore duty and they know that the changes that they’re making the work they’re doing to support sailors at sea will someday you know, affect them and sea too. We take it seriously and we’re getting after it.

 

Drew F. Lawrence

Thank you so much for listening to this special episode of Fire Watch. Thank you to our Navy guests. Thanks also to Navy reporter Konstantin Toropin. Credit to executive producers Zachary Fryer-Biggs and Amy Bushatz. If you liked this episode and want to let us know, give us a rating – wherever you get your podcasts. And as always, thanks for listening.

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