SHORTAGE OF MIDGRADE OFFICERS EMERGES IN NAVY'S SPECIAL FORCES

December 5, 2005

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Responding to a need for more special operations troops to fight the war on terror, the Navy recently added more SEAL billets, mostly midgrade officer positions, but many of those spots remain vacant.

The upshot of adding new billets has been a manning shortage at the lieutenant commander level, according to an internal Navy memo, dated Nov. 14.

As of October, Naval Special Warfare Command had only 91 SEAL lieutenant commanders instead of the authorized level of 143, the memo indicates. In other words, only 63.6 percent of the manning requirement was filled.

At the commander level, SEAL manning was slightly below authorized levels. There were 80 commanders for 88 billets, meaning 90.9 percent of the manning requirement was met.

To address this problem in the long-term, the Navy has increased officer accessions in both fiscal years 2005 and 2006. The current level is 72 accessions, up from 61 in FY-04, according to the memo.

In the short-term, the primary financial retention incentive for midgrade officers in naval special warfare is officer continuation pay, which offers 1130 SEAL officers with between 6 to 14 years of service bonuses of up to $15,000 per year, according to the memo.

The Navy is studying proposals to improve retention to 76 percent to meet new mission requirements implemented in FY-06. SEALs are in high demand for U.S. military operations around the world.

"Navy SEALs are often put at the forefront of some of the most critical missions being executed today," said Cmdr. Jeff Bender, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command.

The memo was prepared by the manpower division in the office of the chief of naval operations in advance of a Nov. 28 high-level meeting between the leaders of the Navy and U.S. Special Operations Command. In addition to the SEAL officer manning shortage, the memo discusses SOCOM's incentive bonus program and retention rates for SEALs and special warfare combatant crewman (SWCC).

The SOCOM incentive bonus uses existing DOD incentive programs to retain SEALs and SWCCs as they become retirement eligible and at the peak of their value to the armed services.

The memo lists four specific measures that have been implemented since February. One step is special duty assignment pay of $375 a month for all SEALs (with enlisted pay grades between E-4 to E-9).

Another step is a critical skills retention bonus in varying amounts ($8,000 for one year through $150,000 for six years of service) for SEAL and SWCC senior enlisted (E-6 to E-9) and warrant officers. The memo notes 116 operators obligated an average 4.27 years for an average operator bonus of $67,000.

The third step listed is assignment incentive pay of $750 per month for senior enlisted SEALs and SEAL warrant officers with over 25 years of service. The memo indicates 56 of 66 candidates accepted this (an 85 percent take rate).

The fourth step listed is a selective re-enlistment bonus of $60,000 for SEALs in zones A (zero to six years of service), B (six to 10 years of service), and C (11 to 14 years of service). The memo notes 255 sailors re-enlisted for $6.2 million.

The memo also summarizes SEAL and SWCC retention rates for FY-05.

SEAL officer retention was 62 percent. Retention declined slightly from 67 percent over the last two years. The memo notes that historically the Navy's special warfare community has enjoyed among the highest retention rates in the sea service.

Enlisted SEAL retention rates historically trend above Navy averages with zone A at 79 percent, zone B at 79 percent, zone C at 68 percent, zone D (14 to 19 years of service) at 90 percent and zone E (20 years of service or more) at 53 percent. The SOCOM bonus has "significantly raised re-enlistment" in zones A and E, the memo notes.

Enlisted SWCC retention rates are above Navy averages with zone A at 59 percent, zone B at 63 percent, zone C at 93 percent, zone D at 97 percent and zone E at 60 percent.

Prior to 9/11, the retention rate for retirement eligible SEALs was 33 percent, said Bender. Today that rate is nearly 60 percent, he said. The increase is due to initiatives such as bonuses for first-term SEALs and substantial bonuses for senior enlisted SEALs, he said.

By FY-08, Naval Special Warfare Command will see an increase of nearly 400 SEALs, said Bender. "The only way to do that is by increasing the number of eligible recruits and filling the school house to sustain and grow the community," he said. -- Christopher J. Castelli

Correction: A Dec. 5 article about a shortage of SEAL officers incorrectly said officer continuation pay is available to 1,130 officers. The number 1130 is a special warfare designation, not a reference to quantity.