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AUSN Interview with Force Master Chief Ronney Wright

March 2010 Navy

AUSN: Force, it has been a year since we interviewed you last so what are the most important things that you have learned in this year?

FORCE: First, let me start this interview by saying thank you for the opportunity to communicate with the membership of AUSN. I can humbly admit that I know much more about the Navy Reserve today than a year ago. By attending some of the 39 Returning Warrior Workshops in various parts of the country, I’ve gained a greater understanding of the link between the Sailors, their families, and their employers. Each Sailor and family have their own unique challenges, and each play a critical role in the Navy Reserve providing strategic depth and operational capabilities.

We’ve met nearly 60,000 mobilization requirements in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom since 9-11; and some of those requirements were met by Reserve Sailors who volunteered for their second, third, or even fourth tours of duty. This is a humbling and inspiring level of patriotism. Of our mobilized Sailors, most of them do not live near fleet concentration areas where typical Navy Fleet and Family Service Centers (FFSC) are located. Therefore, deployment stress on families within the Navy Reserve can be a challenge. Recognizing this, we continue to work every day to ensure that each of those families is provided access to the resources they need when they have questions or concerns. Preparing our families and employers for deployment is critical. In 2010, we have established a goal of consistently providing notification 180 days prior to mobilization to allow for better planning and to permit sufficient opportunity to ensure “Family Readiness,” like the start of TRICARE benefits. This also means that our Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) and unit leadership must play a key role in providing frequent and timely communication and follow-up with their Sailors, families, and employers.

One other key initiative is a change in how we view the career path of the Sailor. Our vision is “a seamless Navy Total Force, valued for their service to the nation.” Historically, a Sailor’s biography would read that he/she “left the Navy” and joined the Navy Reserve – embarking on a new career. Now, our intent is to retain a Sailor’s experience, knowledge, and skills across a spectrum of service, allowing our best performers the opportunity to continue their service and seamlessly transition from Active Component (AC) to Reserve Component (RC) and back, as their career and family circumstances evolve.

To support this vision, in January 2010, the Navy Total Force Vision for the 21st century was released. This document was developed in collaboration with the Chief of Naval Operations, Chief of Naval Personnel, and the Chief of Navy Reserve. This vision articulates the Navy’s strategy to attract, recruit, develop, assign, and retain a highly-skilled workforce, while reaffirming our commitment to the welfare of our active and reserve Sailors, Navy civilians, and their families.

AUSN: Today, we hear talk of changing lanes vice on-and-off ramps.

FORCE: Exactly. We no longer talk about on-ramps and off-ramps to active duty. VADM Debbink captured it best during his testimony to Congress when he referred to our continuum of service effort: “We are on the same career highway but during that career we may wish to change lanes several times, moving from AC to RC and back.” Simple math tells us that every Sailor cannot or does not desire to stay on Active Duty for a full 20-year career; and, therefore, one advantage to a Navy Reserve is that it provides Sailors an opportunity to change lanes. In so doing, the Navy retains a diverse and productive workforce to meet both our mission and the Sailors’ needs.

AUSN: This interview will appear in our March magazine which celebrates the 95th anniversary of the Navy Reserve. So what are your thoughts as the Navy Reserve reaches this important milestone?

FORCE: Happy 95th Anniversary! We are definitely planning and looking forward to the 95th anniversary celebration. It will highlight our contribution to the Navy Total Force. Having traveled extensively both in the States and OCONUS in the past twelve months, and having witnessed the extraordinary commitment of our Sailors, if there is one word that I could use to express my feelings about 2009, that word would be proud. Last year, 7,400 Sailors were processed through Navy mobilization processing sites (NMPS); and of those, 6,100 were mobilized to support Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Navy Reserve is bulging with talent and the Navy wants to put that talent to use. Many Sailors that I have spoken to have told me that they just want real and meaningful work. Keep the Sailor busy, let them know that they are making a difference, and they are happy. In today’s Navy, the Navy Reserve is more relevant than it has ever been. In 2009, the Chief of Navy Reserve adopted a new Reserve motto – Navy Reserve: Ready Now. Anytime, Anywhere! which is a pledge to our shipmates, our Navy, and our nation. We have kept that promise for 95 years and are proud of our heritage.

AUSN: Thank you. Before we turned the tape recorder on, you and I spoke about the Ombudsman programs and your interaction with those volunteers. That leads us to this next question which are the issues facing the families of our enlisted Reservists today. What can you tell us about those issues and how you are trying to deal with them?

FORCE: Our Navy Reserve families are truly unique. They are scattered geographically across the country, living productive and engaged lives within their communities and civilian careers. These families are monumentally supportive of their Sailor/Family Members whether they put on the uniform once a month, or take two weeks annual training, or do more than that to support a Navy mission. They are fine in that routine and, then, the orders for mobilization arrive. The uncertainty and the emotions then begin to overtake our families. Reservists understand what it means to be mobilization ready, but this may be a completely new challenge for our RC families to understand. There is nothing familiar about this mobilization process.

Educating and communicating with our Reserve families is one of my major concerns. We need to make sure that they understand that they are not alone. Our Command Individual Augmentee Coordinator and ombudsman program continue to grow stronger and support the need for continued education and communication with families and employers . The information is there, but what our families need is someone who understands their situation and can help guide them to the resources they require. Families are a critical part of what it means to be a “Ready Now. Anytime, Anywhere” Sailor, and we will continue improving our communications with each family.

AUSN: In talking about the Ombudsman programs, how do you view the program today as compared to a number of years ago. Are we better at this; do we have more trained ombudsmen than we have had in the past?

FORCE: I am privileged to speak at ombudsman training graduations and to express our sincere appreciation for supporting our Sailors and ensuring that they know how important they are to the Navy Total Force and that they can and will make a positive difference. I feel that we have been doing an outstanding job of educating ombudsman and providing them with the resources available at the state or national levels. We have made a lot of progress; but it still comes down to communication, getting the word out, and making sure everyone knows what benefits and resources are available and what is expected of them.

AUSN: Let’s run with this a bit because those who might have been retired for a while may not have a feel for what is being done. How often does the CNRF have a school for ombudsmen?

FORCE: Each Reserve Component Command (RCC) puts together a schedule. Classes are held at least three times a year in dispersed locations away from all FFSC in Fleet Concentration areas. They put together a class of 12 to 25 volunteers.

AUSN: You know that the Association of the United States Navy would like to be helpful wherever we can. We have always focused on people, so focusing on families as well makes perfect sense. Is there something that AUSN can do for you to help families that are deployed?

FORCE: AUSN membership can help us by continuing to educate Sailors. We can’t assume that Sailors and families know and understand the requirements to be Ready Now. Anytime, Anywhere. Help me reinforce both the requirements and the resources. My FORCE Weekly is a great resource to educate families. AUSN could also get involved with Family Preparedness Days. Each NOSC has at least one per year and they bring all sorts of resources together to help families understand their responsibilities and know what help is available to them. With prior planning, this could be a great opportunity to support the local NOSC, families, and employers.

AUSN: Let’s turn to advancement. Advancement is always on the mind of the Sailor so what is the outlook for advancement for the E6 and below paygrades? How about advancement to E7 and above as well?

FORCE: Outlook for advancement is difficult to predict year-to-year because we are a billet vacancy-based organization. One of our primary focuses concerning advancement opportunity is to maintain business practices that ensure regular advancement opportunities within each rating and pay grade. Sailors expect consistency in advancement opportunity and creating an advancement roller coaster ride isn’t what our Sailors deserve. The statistics over the last three advancement cycles indicate we are meeting this objective with a smooth process without valleys and peaks. The recent adjustment to the Reserve High Year Tenure gates may support a slight increase in advancement opportunity for pay grades E6 and E7. Advancement opportunity for E8/E9 should remain the same. With the current trend of low attrition / high retention rates across the Navy, this may cause advancement opportunities to decrease slightly. Retaining and advancing our best and brightest enlisted Sailors remains an important Total Force goal.

AUSN: You touched on high year tenure. So how has the current policy helped in this advancement process?

FORCE: NAVADMIN 292/09 has helped with advancement opportunity. HYT gates have enhanced upward mobility for SELRES Sailors by keeping marginal performers from stagnating promotion opportunity.

AUSN: We also have a HYT policy for pay grades E5 and below, and perhaps you just touched on that. Is there a compelling reason for a HYT for E5 and below?

FORCE: The Navy’s High Year Tenure policy provides an incentive to advance to the highest level of the Sailor’s ability. Without such an incentive, Sailors could theoretically remain in pay until age 60. We have and continue to work extremely hard at all levels to ensure our Sailors and families have the benefits they deserve, but it’s also important to understand that the Navy will not create an environment of mediocrity. Our force is much smaller and our OPTEMPO is much higher than it has been in a long time. It is important that we retain the best and brightest Sailors to perform the demanding requirements asked of the Navy. Without a program such as HYT that establishes certain gates by pay grade, we would stagnate advancement opportunity for those young Sailors eager to pursue a successful Navy career. We definitely don’t want to limit advancement opportunities for our deserving Sailors.

AUSN: It is our understanding that there will be a continuation board again in this fiscal year. We understand that the VTU will be looked at as well this time. What is behind that since the VTU is not a part of the advancement manpower equation?

FORCE: That’s a great question and I get that one on a routine basis. First, yes, we are moving forward with including SELRES and VTU Senior and Master Chiefs in the FY-10 Continuation Board process. Second, let me clarify that, although a continuation board has an indirect impact on future advancement quotas, that is not the intent of this type of board. The continuation board focuses on performance of an individual Sailor. We have approximately 450 senior enlisted within the VTU continuing their exceptional service to our Navy. Most of these leaders are beyond high year tenure for pay and are retirement eligible, yet they continue to serve and represent the CPO community. That is commitment at its finest and should be commended. However, performance and maintaining standards is not an AC-only responsibility. Most of these Sailors continue to have a direct influence on Sailors, and the quality of their performance or nonperformance does have an impact. For this reason, it’s important that we include SELRES and VTU Chiefs in the continuation process to ensure that we maintain the highest level of professionalism and pass on that expectation to the next generation of leadership.

AUSN: Earlier, we mentioned billets. How does the total number of authorized billets for this year compare with FY-09 and what are you expecting for FY-11?

FORCE: The FY-10 RPN (Reserve Program Navy) Congressional End Strength (CES) is 65,500, a 1,200 controlled reduction from FY-09. This reduction in billets/requirements has been taken into account during the planning and execution phases of the budget cycle and the appropriate manpower policies and accession plans will ensure that we continue to retain and recruit the most qualified Sailors, while ensuring that we provide strategic depth and deliver operational capabilities to the total force. Navy Reserve Force End Strength is expected to stabilize after FY-10.

AUSN: When we met a year ago, you thought that the billet file was stabilized; but the force was working through the In Assignment Processing (IAP) lists to get the right people into those billets. What is your assessment of that process today? Are the IAP numbers really coming down; are we getting those people into billets?

FORCE: We have made a bit of a transition. The CNO has very specific goals for fit which applies to both the AC and the RC. We still monitor the IAP population, but our concentration has shifted away from focusing on IAP as a stand-alone metric to directing our attention to fit. This provides a better picture of our manpower and billet assignments. The RC sees an annual rotation of approximately 20%, including Sailors joining and leaving the force, as well as those moving around the country to accommodate their civilian jobs. During the change to centralized assignments in October 2007, the local NOSC was removed from the assignment decisions. The local influence during billet assignments remains a crucial part of the equation, and the latest effort within Career Management System- Interactive Detailing (CMS-ID) is to empower the local NOSC in moving personnel from an IAP status into fit billets. The local NOSC staff, unit leadership, and individual Sailors are tasked with ensuring that no matter where Sailors live, they contribute to a meaningful Navy mission. A consistently high number of IAP Sailors was the driving factor to directing the use of CMS-ID. Now, each NOSC can use their Reserve Command Career Counselor role in CMS-ID to make applications on a Sailor’s behalf.

AUSN: So, we are now talking about the Career Management System, Interactive Detailing. Our next question is, are those projected rotation dates having the desired effect? Although they are not mandatory rotation dates, are you seeing more voluntary movement because we have created that process?

FORCE: CMS-ID is the primary avenue for an enlisted Sailor to locate and apply for billets. In February of 2009, we saw fewer than 500 applications in CMS-ID; and in November 2009, we had over 3,000 applications. This increase is a result of policy changes and CMS-ID system changes. Although we’re not where we need to be just yet, we have made huge improvements to how we assign enlisted Sailors to billets. We are very close to a solution on the subject of Projected Rotation Dates (PRDs) for Reservists.

The issue with Reserve PRDs is balancing fairness for the individual Sailor and the needs of the Navy (gaining commands and training pipelines). The necessity of using Cross-Assignments, where a Sailor’s monthly drill site is not co-located with his/her mobilization billet, is imperative given our challenging demographics.

This year, we have clarified some of the expectations for both Cross-Assigned Sailors and unit leadership. A primary goal is to provide both the unit and the Sailor with some assignment stability, and then set an expectation that the Sailor will train in support of his/her gaining command. We have made it easier for commands to place local Sailors into their billets and for Cross-Assigned Sailors to find vacant billets at their local NOSC. Clarifying our Cross-Assignment policy was critical prior to defining and implementing PRDs for our RC Sailors.

AUSN: It sounds like overarching all of this is fit. We aren’t putting Sailors in any billet just to have them in a billet.

FORCE: Correct, we are not just filling a billet. If the fleet has a requirement for a specific skill set, we want to ensure that we are providing a Sailor that has the training, credentials and experience to complete the requirement.

AUSN: Turning to deployment issues that you touched upon at the outset, what is the ratio of voluntary mobilizations to involuntary mobilizations?

FORCE: Well, all mobilization orders are issued as involuntary orders and that is part of Title 10, U.S. Code, Section 12302. However, approximately 15-to-20% of our SELRES do volunteer for additional mobilizations within this one-to-five year dwell period for certain missions such as Customs Inspection, Detainee Operations, and NECC (Navy Expeditionary Combat Command) type unit deployments.

AUSN: We understand that the orders are all cut as involuntary orders, but are you not advertising ahead of time to get volunteers for billets so that you don’t have to reach out to people involuntarily?

FORCE: We are definitely asking for volunteers. What we are attempting to do is provide a predictable notification process that is important for the RC. The Navy’s urgent requirements may cause notification of less than ninety days, but the intent is to provide as much notification, i.e., 180 days. Currently, we are averaging about seventy days notification for those who are being involuntarily mobilized.

AUSN: Are you expecting an increase in mobilization requirements as a result of the new emphasis on Afghanistan?

FORCE: That is hard to say. Our requirements today could be different tomorrow. That’s why it is important for us to maintain a Navy Reserve that is “Ready Now. Anytime, Anywhere.”

AUSN: We really appreciate your giving us the time to do this interview today. The March issue focusing on the 95th anniversary of the Navy Reserve is the perfect time to hear from the senior enlisted leader of the force. Is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?

FORCE: Thank you again for this opportunity to discuss items that are near and dear to hard-working leadership and staffs of OCNR and CNRF. Allow us to say thank you and offer our sincere condolences to the families of the service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country and to those who are in the process of healing from the wounds that we can visualize and those that we cannot.

Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has said, “Apart from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, my highest priority as Secretary of Defense is improving the outpatient care and transition experience for troops that have been wounded in combat.” VADM Debbink and I share this same passion to care for the Sailors and support the families. There have been major improvements in the service provided by the Navy’s Medical Hold (MEDHOLD) units. These units provide necessary medical and non-medical case management to the Navy’s wounded, ill, and injured. Current Navy programs such as Operational Stress Control Training, the Psychological Health Outreach Program, and BUMED’s Wounded, Ill, and Injured Warrior Support are designed to align with critical stages of the deployment cycle.

Having recently attended the National Capital Region, Wounded Warrior Hiring and Support Conference hosted by Secretary Garcia and testifying on Capitol Hill, I know that our civilian leadership care about service members and our families.

With all the outstanding programs, benefits and resources that we have in place, Senior Enlisted Leadership must ensure that we are engaged with our Enlisted Shipmates daily/monthly and during Career Development Boards, knowing what is going on with their families and employers as much as possible, so that we can support and refer them to the services/resources that are available [as well as] follow-up. Military Once Source and Navy Safe Harbor, Returning Warrior Workshops, and the Anchor Program are extremely valuable resources and programs that I challenge you to research and support. As I travel and speak with Sailors and ask them about their background, I’m always amazed at the diversity of skills, leadership and education that Sailors have gained and bring to the Navy as they change lanes during their careers. The one aspect that always brings a smile to their faces is when they talk about their families who are supporting their efforts while they serve. This is truly a team that is working together. We must continue to support and educate and follow up with families no matter where they are located. Leadership is in place to support you as a member of the Navy. I ask that you first utilize your chain of command; but if this fails, feel free to contact my office for assistance. Shipmates, thank you for being a member of the Navy Reserve and being Ready Now. Anytime, Anywhere. I look forward to seeing you on the deckplates and Happy 95th Anniversary. You are part of a proud heritage and history so continue to make a positive difference and impact on the Sailors, families, and employers that you meet.

Posted in: March 2010

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