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Now Hear This - The Navy’s Most Important Resource? Its People

By Ensign Chris Pagenkopf, U.S. Navy

It is impossible to determine exactly how many high-quality individuals won’t join the Navy because they never had the opportunities to witness the awe-inspiring precision of a Blue Angels demonstration or interact with personnel at a now-cancelled air show or Fleet Week event. It is similarly impractical to determine the number of students who ultimately won’t pursue a STEM-related college education or career supporting national security because they never had the chance to complete a Starbase STEM curriculum, a DOD program that offers experiential learning at military bases near participating middle and elementary schools. Nonetheless, there should be no doubt that cuts like these have the potential to negatively affect the Navy just as significantly as a comparable financial reduction to a hardware investment program. The Blue Angels 2013 season would have cost $20 million to complete, and the Starbase program costs $24 million per year. The Fiscal Year 2014 DOD weapons acquisitions budget request is $168 billion—nearly 4,000 times the combined budgets of the Blue Angels and Starbase. Programs like these are not unnecessary luxuries; they are investments in the Navy’s future human capital, and relatively cheap ones at that.

To be fair, it has not been all bad news for personnel-focused initiatives within the Navy lately. The successful reintroduction of Naval ROTC units to multiple Ivy League campuses after four decades of absence will bring more of the nation’s best and brightest into leadership positions within the Navy and Marine Corps. Additionally, Navy leadership has taken a strong public position about protecting funding for sailors’ tuition-assistance programs.

However, this year’s budget-reduction experience, overall, has been concerning. Many well-established personnel investment programs were among the first to be targeted for cuts with seemingly little regard for their virtues. As pressure to reduce spending continues in the years ahead, the Navy must ensure it adequately prioritizes investments in personnel alongside its investments in weapons. In the future, as in the last 238 years, it will be the Navy’s people—not its machines—who ultimately determine the difference between victory and defeat.

Ensign Pagenkopf is currently assigned to Training Squadron Two One (VT-21) at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas. He holds a bachelors degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Master of Business Administration from Yale University.


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