Naval Service Isn't a Remedial Social Program

By Lieutenant Jason Hudson, U.S. Navy

It sounds as if the Navy picked up a good sailor. Although he had legal difficulties in the past, he has become a productive member of the Navy and is doing well. So, why am I making an issue of this case? Because, as a division officer, I spent a great deal of time on the infamous “10%.” (The saying goes that 90% of a leader’s time is spent on the 10% of his or her people who have the most problems.) Regardless of the time I spent, the greater majority of my 10% continue to have problems.

Occasionally, I could take pride in being able to affect a sailor’s life positively. One such sailor never should have been in the Navy. This young fireman apprentice was in trouble constantly. He was caught sleeping in officers’ berthing while on mess duty; he had little respect for authority, a pregnant girlfriend back home, and a buddy staying with him in town who had been arrested for selling drugs. As in the case cited by Dr. Regan, I saw potential in this young man and worked hard to help him. I did not want to send him back out on the streets because, even given all his negative traits, I sensed a spark of genuine sincerity.

By the time I was transferred, Fireman Apprentice Troublemaker had transformed to Machinist’s Mate Third Class Squared Away. He worked hard, became my leading technical expert, and earned his enlisted surface warfare specialty pin as a third-class petty officer. While this story has a happy ending, the overall cost to the Navy of trying to turn around troubled youth is high—especially in terms of leadership time that could be better spent on motivated performers. In my opinion, enlisting a person with civil legal difficulties plays against the odds and almost always invites future problems.

Today, Navy recruiting’s state of health is excellent. Beginning in fiscal year 2003, 52% of its new accessions already are enlisted in the delayed entry program. Qualifying standards for service are rising. We are training a smarter and more versatile force. As ratings merge and ships become more technologically advanced and manned by smaller crews, sailors must learn and perform multiple jobs simultaneously. We need people who can assume extra responsibilities without requiring extra supervision.

Although the Navy provides many opportunities for women, decommissioning of mixed-gender ships has eliminated approximately 1,000 female shipboard billets. Thus, the number of enlistment slots for female applicants is limited. Male and female applicants need certain minimum line scores on the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to be eligible for the jobs available. Dr. Regan sees the female market as an “untapped source for recruits that is being ignored.” But many of the young female applicants cannot achieve the required technical line scores on the ASVAB to fill the female seats available. And of those who do have the required scores, many do not want to enter traditionally male career fields, such as aviation and engineering. Navy recruiters simply cannot “overenlist”—i.e., bring in more people than they have positions to fill.

Many counselors, teachers, parents, and students see the military as a second choice or a back-up plan.  With counselors striving to get their “A” students to college, military service seems to be an option only for those who are seeking a vocation. Not every military applicant, however, is looking for a vocation because he or she has no other options. The Navy is a viable option. Our recruits include people who have been successful in civilian life and have bachelor’s and master’s degrees. This group usually decides the civilian market cannot satisfy all their needs—job security, early responsibility, travel, college opportunities at every level, and a fine retirement program.

Ideally, military service should not be a second choice. Almost 65% of the Navy’s recruits score in the upper half of the ASVAB and 92% have high school degrees.  Many of them start taking college classes while in the Navy. More important, it is far more difficult for applicants with civil charges to enlist. Charges that were waived routinely in the past now require the review and approval of the Commander, Navy Recruiting Command.

My task is to hire the best and most highly qualified individuals in the geographic area assigned to me. It is an honor and privilege to serve our nation. If at all possible, I do not want to send second choices to the fleet so division officers have to spend most of their time trying to save poor performers. I do not want the commanding officer of a ship to complain about a substandard sailor who entered the Navy from my district.

Recruiting for the Navy is just as important—if not more so—than recruiting for a Fortune 500 company. The Navy is not running a social program that gives everyone the right to show up and learn a job, earn college credits, and have the opportunity for a rewarding 20- to 30-year career. Serving in the Navy is a privilege applicants must earn before they are sent to the Recruit Training Command.

Lieutenant Hudson , a surface warfare officer, is the human resources officer of the Navy Recruiting District Nashville, Tennessee.



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