Listening to our civil service mariners

RDMLHayesBy Rear Adm. Kevin C. Hayes
Deputy Commander, Military Sealift Command

 

Military Sealift Command is first and foremost a seagoing organization. Our work for the Navy and Department of Defense happens at sea, which means the vast majority of our people serve at sea.

We’re a world away from the days of sailing ships, but a maritime career still comes with unique rewards and challenges. It’s mission-essential work, and it takes dedicated civil service mariner (CIVMAR) crews to operate our ships and make them run. Without CIVMARs, gas, guns and groceries won’t get delivered to keep combatant ships ready for warfighting. Without CIVMARs, joint high-speed vessels won’t provide critical flexibility to combatant commanders. Without CIVMARs, submarine tenders won’t be forward deployed to service the undersea fleet.

CIVMARs literally drive what we do, so CIVMAR needs are an important focus for MSC employees ashore. We deeply care that our mariners at sea have the right tools to get the job done. We also want our mariners to enjoy the best possible quality of life while enabling the Navy’s business.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 16, 2014) USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), left, USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), and USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12) transit the Atlantic Ocean during an ammunition offload. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Karl Anderson/Released)

ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 16, 2014) USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), left, USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), and USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12) transit the Atlantic Ocean during an ammunition offload. (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Karl Anderson/Released)

 

In mid-December, I spent several days aboard USNS William McLean, where I met with the crew and informally discussed issues that matter to them. Several senior members of the MSC team ashore joined me, and we brought back a list of key lessons-learned and action items. We briefed our conclusions to Rear Adm. Shannon, who supports our efforts moving forward.  In late March, I, along with six other members of MSC headquarters staff, paid a visit to MSCPAC, the mariner pool, and six different MSC ships, engaging with mariners throughout the week in San Diego. We had great interaction with mariner teammates and received feedback on where we’re doing things right as well as areas where we can apply more attention.

One big-picture takeaway is communication, and my visit to the McLean as well as MSCPAC represents an ongoing conversation within the MSC team, afloat and ashore. If there are obstacles to the daily business of safely operating ships, we want to know. From time spent with McLean’s crew as well as our West Coast mariners, we talked about the need to keep our crews better informed of policy changes and business metrics developed ashore. We also identified areas to improve how we get the right supplies and technical support shipboard.

An additional set of challenges we face concerns aspects of the technology aboard our ships. One hurdle relates to the electronic charts used for navigation. We recognize that the update process can be cumbersome, and we’re looking for alternatives that balance usability with security needs. Another tech-related area is the so-called white-list, the pre-approved list of websites that CIVMARs can access from a ship. Security of our networks remains a priority, but there are legitimate places that can be opened for both business and personal activities. Fortunately, the solution is relatively painless – CIVMARs can send a request to http://www.msc.navy.mil/survey/blocked.asp and expect a maximum 72-hour turnaround time for an answer.

From a personnel perspective, “leave time” cropped up as an important issue. A career at sea comes with inherent risks, and demands a high level of skill and commitment to duty. On the flip side, any CIVMAR – from ordinary seaman to master – has a right to the personal time he or she has earned. Requirements change quickly and that can sometimes mean putting the mission first, but we can and will make sure that leave earned is leave granted.

Bottom line, MSC isn’t a perfect organization, but we are continually striving to be better. In line with this objective, it’s important that we recognize that a dedication towards organizational improvement is a two-way street. If you see areas where there are opportunities for improvement, I encourage you to raise your concerns or questions up the chain of command. This “two-way street” reference highlights the mutual obligation as well as the interests and benefits for all of us as we strive to make MSC a better organization. This mutual self-interest is principally centered on continuous conversations between MSC headquarters and our CIVMARs who operate forward for the U.S. Navy. MSC senior leadership is committed to establishing and maintaining an organization focused on our mariners’ success, and we look forward to productive dialogue about key areas for improvement.

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