Feedback: What MSC thinks

The following blog is written by Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon, commander, Military Sealift Command. Ship and site visits allow Shannon, and other MSC senior leaders, to get a realistic sense of what’s important to MSC’s mariners, Sailors and Navy civilians. A lot of good ideas come from the deck-plate level; the admiral looks at what’s on the minds of our Navy’s MSC people.

Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon, commander, MSC (left) visited several Navy ships operated by MSC during a June trip to the Pacific Northwest. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Scott Diamond)

Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon, commander, MSC (left) visited ships and personnel during a June trip to the Pacific Northwest. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Scott Diamond)

Three months at the helm have allowed me to visit more than 20 ships and the shore staff in San Diego and in Norfolk. As I’ve said before, feedback is the breakfast of champions, so here’s what I’m having for breakfast these days.

Much of the feedback I’m getting is positive – increased training opportunities, challenging work, good shipboard food and pride in ship and mission. That’s especially good for the maritime academy cadets who are sailing with us this summer. They are engaged, getting meaningful and productive assignments, and being coached and mentored. In the not-too-distant future, they’ll be our replacements as chief engineers and masters.

It’s also apparent that our MSC energy conservation culture is taking hold and growing. Many of our civilian mariners and Sailors have pointed out that we need to scrutinize every resupply mission to the fleet to make sure we’re using our capabilities and ship capacities as efficiently as possible. We should provide feedback to our customers when their requests require us to do things that don’t make sense. Let there be no doubt – we need to meet customer requirements – but we also need to do it as cost-effectively as possible. We need to ask if our customer can accept a slightly higher level of risk that allows MSC to use a more fuel-efficient speed, or delay delivery slightly so we can combine loads for other customers.

I am amazed and gratified by the good ideas from our waterfront folks. Our mariners and Sailors are very resourceful! Please keep the feedback coming. Use your chain of command. Feedback gives headquarters people regular doses of reality and keeps us from being isolated.

I observed my first Ship Material Assessment and Readiness Testing (SMART) aboard USNS Richard E. Byrd and was truly impressed by the professionalism and knowledge of our mariners and the pride they have in their ship. The same holds for the reduced operating status crews aboard the six large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off (LMSR) ships I’ve visited. These 10-person crews have an enormous responsibility to keep the massive ships ready to answer the bell.

Shoreside, I’m impressed by how quickly the staff moves on new assignments, gathering information, sorting and sifting options and making good decisions. I could not be more proud of our lean and agile force around the globe. Even though we’re only one deep in some billets and deal with much larger staffs in the Pentagon, we move fast and efficiently. We just need to keep our focus (and always check with our amazing and talented team of lawyers to make sure we don’t violate the law).

By far, the biggest area of concern, afloat and ashore, is furloughs. Many of you who gave up six paid working days tell me that you’re okay now, but seriously concerned about what will happen in fiscal year 2014. We don’t know at this point, but reduced future defense spending is almost certain. Remember that our Civilian Employee Assistance Program (CEAP) offers professional, confidential counseling and consultation that can help you deal with the stress you may be facing. Our CEAP is free of charge for you and your dependent family members. Contact 1-800-869-0276 for assistance.

Meanwhile, here’s the basic message on furloughs – due to furloughs, some work must be deferred. That requires prioritization, but NOT compromise on quality. We have to work even smarter than we already are.

We need to plan farther ahead and think outside of our areas of responsibility to other organizations and groups that may have an impact on us. Every command is handling furloughs differently. We need to communicate ahead of time with our customers and our suppliers. For instance, if our ship is due to hit port on a Friday, we need to know if tug and pilot services are available then. Can we get shore power? Are line handlers going to be on the dock? What about forklift operators? It’s no longer “business as usual.” We’ve all got to think farther ahead about furlough impacts and consequences.

Wherever I go, I find our product and brand remain strong with all our customers. We need to maintain that by always being mindful of our core businesses. Yes, we are our Navy’s command of choice in many growth areas: Joint High-Speed Vessels, Mobile Landing Platforms, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, hybrid crewing, etc. Yet, while change is inevitable in our business, we’ll likely always be feeding and fueling the fleet and delivering massive amounts of cargo for DOD.

I know the MSC team can do it! Always have – always will.

Thanks for your service,

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