If I hear any more pontificating about "quality of life" from our political leadership I will undergo meltdown. For almost 20 years, I have watched my Navy pursue enhancements and incentives designed to keep quality sailors—improved tuition assistance, refrigerators in newly renovated barracks rooms, liberalized liberty attire, and selective reenlistment bonuses, to name a few. In virtually every case, new or regurgitated "quality of life" programs invariably target off-duty time. We seem to be trying to make the professional side of our life more attractive by making improvements to our liberty side of life.
Let me get this straight: It's more important to have a microwave in every room at the barracks than it is to provide high quality tools to work with, temporary duty funding, airlifts that depart on time, and enough people in command to carry out every one of our Navy directives, right?
If we want sailors to stay Navy, we need to make "quality of work" our top priority. Most of our sailors identify themselves with the Navy through their work, not through their liberty. If we want them to continue to identify with us, we must change our focus. Last time I checked, most of my sailors were working 12-hour days at sea and about 9-10 hour days ashore. With 6-8 hours of sleep, our sailors get to spend 4-6 hours each day "off-duty." So quality of life programs aimed at off-duty time are targeting only a fraction of the time our sailors spend getting their hands dirty.
When our petty officers are making the decision to stay in or leave the Navy, are they really concerned about whether the barracks has new wallpaper? Unlikely. Here is what they are more likely to be wondering:
- Why does it take so long to get new work-boots, coveralls, batteries, cleaning supplies (fill in the blank)?
- Do I really want to continue busting my butt cannibalizing parts (and making even more work for myself)?
- Why can't I ever count on a firm airlift arrival time?
- Why am I out here using a manual "speed" handle, while civilian depot workers are using power tools?
- How come there's only one copier that works in the whole building?
- What does that civilian company repay its workers for their travel expenses?
When people in the Navy are deciding whether or not to remain in their present jobs, I seriously doubt that they focus exclusively on the off-hours aspects. What most likely will come to the fore is whether they are satisfied on the job. Let's focus on our core competency—warfighting—and realign and target our Quality of Life programs where our sailors devote more of their time and effort. At work.
Commander Cropper is the executive officer of Strike Fighter Squadron 83 at Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida.