"Retention Deep Dives" -- A Short-Lived Initiative
The New London Day has an interesting article in today's edition on a new initiative to find out why some boats are having low retention rates. Those of us familiar with the Submarine Force know this effort is doomed to failure, but for those unfamiliar with the inner workings of submarines, we'll discuss it here. Excerpts from the article:
The Navy is sending a team of experts to Groton next week to determine why one of the submarines has trouble retaining personnel.All of us have seen this type of initiative come and go. Some deskbound senior guys who will never go back to sea sit around shooting the sh** and come up with a bright idea. It doesn't matter what the idea is -- the common thread is that it demonstrates said desk jockey's loss of contact with the reality of boat life. (The same dynamic is at work when a boat gets in trouble for something they did operationally, and the investigating team convinces themselves that all the ancillary issues they discover are limited to only problem boats.)
Force Master Chief Jeff Garrison said on Wednesday that five people, including reserve captains, a command master chief from outside the Groton area and a career counselor will visit one of the subs at the Naval Submarine Base for two days.
Their goal is to figure out the root cause of the ship's poor retention, high attrition and low morale, and provide the commanding officer with ideas on how to improve the situation, Garrison said...
...The Groton submarine will be the first ship to take part in the program. Garrison would not say which submarine was selected.
“We'll send that same team to another boat with a high retention rate and high morale so we can better understand those best practices and share them with the rest of the fleet,” he said. “Then we'll determine if we're going to continue with these deep dives, but I'm sure we're going to have success with it.”
So why do some boats have better retention than others? In some cases, it is because of a better command climate -- everyone is happier, so potential re-enlistees are more likely to want to stay in the organization that makes them happy. In my experience, though, that's pretty rare. Submarine Force retention rates, especially for first termers, is skewed by the re-enlistment of baby nukes who get a lot of money to reenlist for basically two extra years right after they get to the boat -- it counts in the numerator of the retention rate without having a chance of being a loss. A boat with "low" retention might just be in a cycle where they aren't getting many baby nukes.
The idea that crew interviews with a couple of reserve Captains will uncover some "truth" is completely ridiculous on the face of it. They'll go in looking for people with bad attitudes to ask them why their boat is so messed up, and guess what -- they'll find malcontents. What they'll forget is that every boat has malcontents, and even on the best boats they'll find guys willing to explain why their boat is crappy. (Don't get me wrong -- I like malcontents in general; I'm just mentioning them in this context because the investigators won't be looking for them on the "good" boat.)
Another problem with investigating retention rates is a dynamic that shows up sometimes in boats with really, really bad command climates. I served on USS Topeka (SSN 754) up until 1993 under "He Who Must Not Be Named" -- and Topeka had great retention rates, particularly among officers. You know why? Because re-enlisting for orders was often a Sailor's only quick way off the boat. For my cohort of JOs, 7 of 8 signed on for the Nuke Bonus (the fleet average back then was about 38%); not doing so meant you spent the rest of your obligation on the boat. It was a no brainer. (Me? I was a dig-it, and would have signed up anyway. I figured that, having made it through "Fast Eddie", I'd never run into anything worse, and I was right.)
Still, I'm sure it'll be interesting as Submariners on the Groton waterfront look to see which boat the "Retention Deep Dive" team is heading to -- and hoping it'll be their boat if they think it'll make everyone be nicer to them. A bitching Sailor is a happy Sailor, and there's nothing a bitching Sailor likes more than someone to bitch to.