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Navy Secretary Addresses Maritime Forces During All-hands Call

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2014 – In a worldwide all-hands call today, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus addressed sailors and Marines’ concerns about the state of both maritime forces.

From a Defense Media Activity studio at Fort Meade, Md., Mabus fielded questions on the Ukraine situation, budgets and force structure, as well as many others, through a variety of platforms including social media, video teleconferencing, Skype and phone calls from locations around the world.

The secretary’s first question came via VTC from Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team Company Europe, where he was asked about the potential impact of a greater U.S. naval presence on the situation in Ukraine.

“What we do is we give options,” Mabus said. “We give the national leadership options. We sent an extra ship into the Black Sea, we’ve got additional Marines in Bulgaria and Romania as part of the Black Sea rotational force, and we’re doing work with our allies in the Baltic in and around Europe.

“Our job, as I said before, is to be not just in the right place at the right time,” he said, “but the right place all the time so that our national leadership has those options so they can make a decision as to what our response is.”

From Twitter, Mabus was asked about the Navy and Marine Corps’ strategic policy affecting future Defense Department budget proposals.

“No. 1, we were under sequester for about a year, and it was just a dumb, dumb way to cut,” he said. “Everybody expects, as we come out of two wars, that we’re going to spend less on defense.”

Noting Congress provided some stability for 2014 and 2015 budget planning, the secretary said that “it’s up in the air” beyond that, with sequestration slated to resume in 2016.

“But we’re working very hard to make sure that we don’t cut in this mindless way, just using this meat-ax approach,” he added. “Now, we’re going to take some risks in some areas. But what we’re going to focus on are things like building ships to make sure that we can maintain that presence.”

Further addressing the budget, the secretary said “we’re trying to keep faith with sailors and Marines.”

“Now the Marines are coming down in numbers,” Mabus said. “The Marines went up from 175,000 to 202,000 during the surge in Iraq. We’re coming back down -- right now the number for the Marines that we’re drawing back down to is 182,000. As long as we’re given enough time, we can keep faith with the Marines and their families in terms of how we get to that [182,000].”

Additionally, Mabus said, the use of continuing resolutions when Congress doesn’t pass a budget hurts the force. In his nearly five years as Navy secretary, he added, not a single budget has been delivered on time.

“If you’ve got a continuing resolution going you can’t put a ship in a shipyard, because that’s called a ‘new start,’” he explained.

“[Under a continuing resolution], you can’t spend any more money on a program than you spent the year before, regardless of the need,” Mabus said. “So, we’ve got to fix those two things: continuing resolutions and sequester.”

A question from Camp Pendleton, Calif., asked about the impact of a recently signed enhanced defense cooperation agreement with the Philippines on deployments, locations and operational tempo.

“We don’t know yet … what that means in terms of rotation, what that means in terms of who goes there, but we’re going to keep over 22,000 Marines west of the International Dateline,” Mabus said. While he doesn’t see the operational tempo decreasing in the Pacific, or around the world, the secretary said, Navy leadership seeks to provide some certainty for sailors, Marines and their families -- trying to make sure troops know when they will deploy and when they’ll be going home. But the world gets a vote, he added, noting that sometimes a crisis arises and plans need to be scrapped.

But through measures such as the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, which Mabus said lays out training, maintenance and deployments, sailors and Marines will have a certain level of certainty for themselves and their families.

A pre-recorded question came from the USS Bataan regarding the advantages and disadvantages of eight-month deployments and stabilization of the deployment cycle in the future.

“We’re trying to regularize deployments,” Mabus said. “And we’re trying to make sure we reward people who spend a lot of time at sea. We’ve increased career sea pay, so if you are at sea for three years cumulative, you’re going to see a 25-percent increase in sea pay.”

Mabus said those at sea three years in a row will get a sea pay premium doubling from $100 to $200 a month. “If you’re [an] E-5 to E-9, and you’ve spent eight years in your career, then any time you’re assigned to a ship, you’re going to get a combination of those two,” he said.

The secretary also said a different allowance is being considered if deployments exceed a “certain length.”

“If they go much over six months, we’re looking at extra pay for sailors and Marines that are at sea for that long,” he said. “That is a really, really long time to be at sea.”

He noted that in his Navy service more than 40 years ago, six months was “pretty standard” and “not a short amount of time.”

Another question, coming via Skype from Afghanistan, asked if some of the innovative equipment used on deployments would become standard issue stateside for Marines.

“I think the short answer to your question is yes,” Mabus said. “We’re going to make sure that you keep all the things that you have in theater that you’ll need to do your job. But your job may be different going forward, so that equipment may be a little different.”

Along with Marine Corps leadership, Mabus said, his job is to make sure Marines have whatever tools they need to do the tasks that America asks of them.

(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)


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