Facing sailor shortage, Navy ups bonuses

U.S. Navy sailors during Fleet Week festivities on May 26, 2012 in New York City. The Navy is offering sailors hundreds of extra dollars a month if they agree to go back out to sea sooner than expected.

Jeremy Hobson: Now to the Marketplace desk of "we have jobs -- we just need people to fill them."

Brought to you this morning by the United States Navy.

The Navy is having trouble filling some of its most critical positions out at sea.

Nikki Motson reports from just outside Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.


Nikki Motson: The Navy Exchange is about a mile inland off the shore of Pearl Harbor’s Eastern Loch. Military men, women and their families stream in and out with bargain items.

Sailor Michael Cooper usually works on afast attack nuclear submarine, but right now he’s sitting in the sun below the palm treesenjoying a hot dog as a couple of fighter jets soar overhead. He says the long months at sea aren’t for everyone.

Michael Cooper: The demands of the job kinda of weed people out throughout the processI mean in my division alone,when I got to my boat, we lost about five or six people before we gained another person. We are just very, very undermanned.

The situation creates a vicious cycle. Certain positions are undermanned causing more stress and rigor for the sailors in those jobs. By the time new recruits get trained, many have returned to shore or leave the Navy completely.

Earnest Widgeon: There’s not enough money to keep me out to sea.

Earnest Widgeon’s been in for 15 years and works as an electrician keeping nuke submarines up and running. He stays on shore duty every chance he can.

Widgeon: It’s tough going away from your family all the time. It’s always hard for anyone that has children to be away from home.

The Navy has always paid sailors at sea more. But they’re taking it to another level to fill open positions quicklyUnder a new incentive program sailors can earn from about $500 to nearly $1,500 a month extra for shipping out early.

Senior Chief Shane Neal has been a Navy mariner for 23 years. He’s the kind of guy the Navy needs more of right now.

Shane Neal: I’ve never gotten a reenlistment bonus or any type of incentive to stay at sea. To find the right people to be out there, they should be doing it because they want to do it, not because they’re getting a big check. I do it because I love it.

Recently the Navy announced about 400 upper-level sailors should expect to be rotated back to sea early to fill vacant positions for the next 12 months.

In Honolulu, I’m Nikki Motson for Marketplace.

About the author

Nikki Motson is a reporter for Hawaii Public Radio and a contributor to Marketplace.

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