Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Monday, May 05, 2008

How To Make DC Duty Better?

A submariner on duty in the Pentagon writes that the new Director of the Navy Staff recently asked the Pentagon Chief's Mess how to make duty in D.C. better. Excerpts from the talk:
Those of us who have served in the Beltway all know the perceptions, the politics, the cost of living, the long hours and the endless traffic just to name to name a few. What can we do to make DC a better place to serve?
DC is where it all the regulations and rules are written. You have the White House, the Capital, the Pentagon, NR and I could go on and on. Our lives in the fleet are affected on a daily basis by the importance of the decisions made here. If we can make DC a better place to serve, more people from the fleet will want to work there. In a nutshell if we can improve the lives of the sailors who work in DC it will have a “trickle down” affect to the rest of the fleet.
The submariner who wrote in (who just got orders to head back out to sea) was hoping the readers here could provide some answers to this question in the comments. I imagine that comments from those who have served in D.C., and those who have taken less-desirable orders in order to avoid D.C. duty, would be the most helpful. The submariner said he's hoping to actually route our comments up his chain, so here's you're chance to be heard!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The number one thing that the Navy could do to make DC better is offer more money. I'm stationed in NYC right now and although I wanted to be here, the huge BAH and COLA do a lot to cover the high cost of living. I'm PCSing to DC in the summer and will lose about $1000 per month in BAH and COLA. I doubt my expenses will decrease that much.

5/05/2008 7:13 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three comments from an old detailer with 12 years' DC duty:

1. The real problem getting folks to DC is a sturdy taproot where the prospect is now stationed. Real estate and spouses working are what keep folks from pulling up stakes for DC with great eagerness. Ain't no cure except to continually point out that orders are not RSVP.

2. DC duty in itself should be sufficient incentive. Most jobs in DC, especially JO jobs, carry huge opportunity for greater influence and impact than anything outside the Beltway. Want to have some fun and make a real difference in your profession? Go to Washington.

3. Jobs requiring long hours are mostly BS. It ain't sea duty. The reason folks get to the office before 0700 and leave after 1800 is traffic in the DC area, not the job itself. Many DC colleagues made great fuss about their long hours, but failed to note the routine hours spent at the POA, the Army Library, and walking the Concourse during the day.

I always lived in Arlington. My commutes were short, my days were 'reasonable,' and the jobs that took a lot of time were of nature intense. Being an EA or a detailer is a tough job, but that's not a function of zip code.

5/05/2008 7:42 AM

Blogger Free The Nucs said...

I worked the mid shift at NAVIMFAC at Pearl. It was routine to see people on the day shift show up at around 4am to beat the insane traffic on H-1 and to get a parking spot. They'd just sleep in their cars or read the paper until their shift started. It's the same where I work now, except we can shift our hours around so showing up early isn't on our own time.

And it's GREAT to get paid by the hour, folks.

5/05/2008 7:48 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

From XSSN CO, I would love a job in DC, long hours etc, are not an issue IF, IF they are efficient, useful and make a difference.

What I am not willing to do is gamble my kids college fund on the DC housing market as some of my updside down friends have done.

What would make DC better:

Navy PPV housing near a metro stop. If orders came with a mailing address, and abode to live in like when you move somewhere like Guam, then we'd have a deal.

Too many of my peers are "updside down" in their mortgage, and this is not chump change, we're talking 100 k in some cases. Applies to DC , Norfolk, and San Diego.

5/05/2008 10:36 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some sailors actualy like DC. I short toured in Hawaii to go to DC'I was offered the job of a lifetime.

I was deployed 84% of the time. I spent my time home seeing the many sights. When I wasn't home my wife would load the kids(3)into the car and go visiting relative's her's not mine.

After five years I was transfered to Groton stationed at the SSEP. This was a compromise I made with the detailer. He was going to send me to Washington. I told him I wouldn't go. I quickly shotgunned my resume to the usual companies. When the detailer heard about it we worked out a compromise. After six years at Groton I was given a choice of three diifferent duties. I chose Virginia Beach. Not a good choice. I my first year I was away for 44 weeks out of 52. some time I would get home on the weekends.

Would I do it again? yes. I would not to be stationed at the Pentagon. Too many ego's in one place. If you can stay out side of the beltway Suitland is a good pick although most of it is Intel. If want your ticket punched you will want to be stationed inside the beltway. Count on at least one to two hours one way travel to work. In the winter this can double.
I enjoyed DC but I never saw the cherry blossoms, the leaves turn green or the leaves change color and fall off.

Question For The Day. How long is an Hour?

5/05/2008 10:47 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with DC is that it will not get better if the Navy fixes a few minor points. Make parking better, and you will just sent a new standard from which to complain about the other problems. Ditto for traffic. I doubt that the Navy can affort to fix DC altogether. Therefore, the only feasible alternative is to make it more worthwhile to put up with the crap.

(Is there such a thing as arduous shore duty?)


5/05/2008 10:48 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with DC is there are too many people who think the fleet exists to support them and not the other way around. I have avoided tours in DC, but I frequently travel there on TAD. I would refuse orders there and suffer the consequences. Down size the DC establishment and spend more money on operational units.

5/05/2008 10:56 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just my two cents. I never was stationed in DC, but I have heard of the high cost of living and traffic problems. I have also heard of how bad the quarters are for those who choose to be Geo bachelors. If something were done to help them out like giving them decent quarters and perhaps a once per month or per quarter assist in getting back to see their families, then that might make it a bit more attractiive.

5/05/2008 11:08 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three years in DC as a JO here.

Perhaps something's been lost-in-translation regarding the admiral's request, but this would seem to be ready proof that there is such a thing as a dumb question.

Sailors and ships rot in port. Not only is DC is a (lame) port, but, worse, it is one with near-zero Naval facilities, including personnel housing.

Barking at the moon would seem to be more productive than engaging in a wishful-thinking dialogue about making DC duty more attractive.

As the 12-year DC duty ex-detailer said, a DC candidate either: (1) gets that DC is good for their career (when that truly is a truthful statement), or (2) they go with bitching (fine...whatever), or (3) after either digging in their heels or actually punching out, they don't go (vaya con dios).

I very much doubt that there is some huge new loss-rate from #3 above, so I'm again left wondering why in the heck this alleged question is even being brought up in the first place.

What's the beef, really? That people don't *want* to go to DC? What-freaking-ever. This all just seems like an invitation to a sniveling/whining contest for more money, better housing, blah...blah...blah.

I note that the VADM is a DC careerist. DC-native Al Gore also probably sits around wondering why everyone doesn't want to live in DC, too. That doesn't make it a valid question.

Here's a suggestion: People who ask 2am dorm room shoot-the-shit questions like this should be immediately sent on IA duty. Perhaps that cure would help get their conversation-making question abilities to be both real and tight very quickly. And talk about a reason to welcome DC duty...*that* would do the trick!

5/05/2008 5:11 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 3 year JO - Well said!

5/05/2008 6:05 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone has issues....

5/05/2008 8:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does everything have to be in DC? The ships are flowing into the Pacific and the beautiful PacNorWest is filled with sailors that don't want to leave for DC. Why not split out some HQ functions to up here? I wonder why, in the age of terrorist attacks, we would want all of our major command in one location. Use VTC, go regional, and you'll reduce DC traffic in the mix.

5/05/2008 10:37 PM

Blogger Unknown said...


As Anon (5/05/2008 7:13 AM), the ex-detailer anon, and XSSN CO all said, housing is a problem. Yes, Navy guys can get housing in any DoD housing, but the problem is, most of it is pretty bad. Groton wasn't amazing, but it put DC to shame.


Actually, the DoD did (probably still does) offer a great subsidy to those willing to take public tranportation. That's right, they gave you money so that taking the Metro was basically free. It was actually a damn good deal. As the XSSN CO said, "Navy PPV housing near a metro stop," is key - and guess what, there is some. Summerfield is housing for Andrews AFB, just south of FedEx field, and the new metro (West Hyattsville - it WAS going to be called Summerfield stop due to proximity) stop is just across the street. Of course it opened up right after I left. I had to take the bus to Landover station, but it was still worth it.

The Job:

Pretty much any job you get in DC has the potential to be great, as long as you approach it the right way. I loved my job - I could actually see how what I was doing was benefitting the guys at sea. It made an impact. Bitch all you want about politics and ego, but frankly, those are universal whereever you go. But if you knuckle down, you can actually do some good in DC - believe it or not, folks will listen to your experience if you offer it up. My ADM would actually sanity check some things with his shore tour JOs, because we were the ones with the most recent sea time.

The only downside to the job was that there were so few non-flag officers - especially true for my old job, as I worked at NAVSEA. So anything resembling a wardroom was nonexistant. While I wasn't a huge wardroom function type of guy on the boat, I did miss that camraderie. But seriously, that isn't that much of a downside.

Overall, I loved DC, and would do it again.

Although I do have to say, I love the DC JO's idea: "People who ask 2am dorm room shoot-the-shit questions like this should be immediately sent on IA duty."

5/06/2008 3:41 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not yet noted: DC duty is a lot like the civilian world. The moves, the housing, the balance of family and career (self & spouse), the worry about next boss and next job - all are comparable in the real world.

When I was ripped from the start of s SubScol instructor billet for my first DC job as an O-3, it wernt easy. Ditto second time post command: career move to DC or family desires to Rota? DC.

In both cases I followed career ... and never regretted it. Decide what game you're in, Navy or real estate. And don't confuse reasons with handwringing. If the Navy wants you in DC, pack sack and do your job.

One more point: DC has its charms. Beautiful city, fantastic museums and cultural events, great neighborhoods, great shopping. Since Brooklyn closed, Navy has not had another 'port' like it. The right word is French: frisson. DC is a neat place to live and to work. Thou shalt not whine.

5/06/2008 4:10 AM

Blogger Chap said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/06/2008 6:30 AM

Blogger Chap said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/06/2008 6:35 AM

Blogger Chap said...

Oh, and. If you're reading this for DC duty, I highly recommend this book.

5/06/2008 6:37 AM

Blogger Chap said...

Good point about 2AM questions.

I'd agree about the housing near a metro stop. There's a reason the Pentagon was originally built in the boonies. Some of the reluctance is cultural--it's cool to some O-6s to say "I've never been in DC and never will"; DC duty has often been seen as something to get through rather than an opportunity to influence.

Since it's a 2AM question I'm asserting the right to expand the question way beyond where the guy who wants an answer wants to go. I'm giving like that.

I'd actually take that question and point it right back atcha. What really has to be done in D.C.? If you outsource deployed ship maintenance expertise--which we do--why does the power point warrior have to be in the expensive town? Clearly the 10% bogies and "zero based manpower analysis" do not work--how would the Navy work if the Navy assets at the Pentagon disappeared? How about five or ten or twenty years from now? Why do we need more tail with fewer teeth? How could we possibly have had a Navy in the past with smaller shore footprints and none of the whizbang computer stuff and no extended N8 shop hiding as a flag command or two in Norfolk?

Ehh, it's a Gordian knot. Everyone recognizes the problem--too many required billets on shore for two hunnert ships--but nobody can fix it.

Let's try reframing it a different way. Nonprofits don't have that profit to measure, so it only can measure input. Add in five year planning and unlimited hourly manpower (paying by the hour) and what happens is that everybody arrives very early and leaves very late. Is this really essential? How would it change if the building ID check into the Puzzle Palace and CFFC and TYCOM N8 went into a database that charged Navy by the hour per man?

5/06/2008 6:40 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

“People who ask 2am dorm room shoot-the-shit questions like this should be immediately sent on IA duty.”

Hmmm… So far every poster who has agreed with this silly statement has then happily engaged in answering the original question. Do you guys see how idiotic that is?

Statements like this are typical of the careerist BS that prevents anyone’s lot improving.

Someone asks the question - how can we make things better? Officers programmed in to the Navy culture respond by calling the question BS, and anyone who speaks up a whiner. I will grant that how this question is playing out in an internet B-board may not a very big issue. In fact the 3-year JO’s main point, that there might not be much we can actually do to improve working in DC, may be spot on.

However I’m sure some officer or chief would chime in with the same crap about whiny sailors anywhere you asked how we could make things better. Its not that sailors don’t whine, or that any of these suggestions are all that good, but why express immediate hostility toward the question? And why bother answering the question if you think its BS?

Do sailors leave the Nav because they don’t want to go to DC - probably not.

Do sailors leave the Nav because they know that even if some desk bound admiral gets the crazy idea that he is supposed to help out sailors, his efforts will be met with disdain from middle management – absolutely.

5/06/2008 7:48 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bitching sailor is a happy sailor

Don't mess with the man's rice bowl

Too many Chief's and not enough

For Pig boat
Groton is an arm pit. I took my lady down to show her the base. No acess to lower Base, I under stand why.

She was disappointed. The housing looked run down and dirty. Lot of trash stored out in the open.

Another plus for DC, is the food there many top notch restaurants all over the place.

5/06/2008 10:21 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three points...

First: Glad to be of some amusement. I try. The "quote book" likely still hidden somewhere in the wardroom aboard USS Ustafish does contain some similar amusements, if not necessarily family fare.

Second: For the record, I largely enjoyed my time in DC, but mainly as a tourist. Yes, I had a substantial job for an O-3, and yes I remember...quite fondly...some of the good deeds that were thus enabled. But DC is a true metropolis, and the related experiences mentioned by others are profound and make the career stuff pale by comparison.

Oh...and since no one else has mentioned it...there are many, many, many single and attractive women there. If you go to DC and do not enjoy yourself, go no further than the nearest mirror to chew out the guy who's responsible.

Having said all that...DC is a (lame) port from a naval perspective, and does little or nothing for sea skills. In my personal case, for substantially boring reasons, I was held over in DC while the O-4 community was scoured to find my "oh-no-not-DC" (and probably a boomer sailor to boot) replacement. And in my opinion I'm the one that paid for that in terms of waterfront readiness; three years was just too long at that point in my career. So I don't have a lot of compassion for whininess over a DC assignment.

Third: Three cheers to the poster who advocated getting Navy DC functions OUT of DC. Some of that has happened, of course...but a lot more could be accomplished elsewhere. In any case, THIS is the answer to one of the right questions that weren't asked.

5/06/2008 5:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

During my Pers-42 tour I lived at Boling AFB. Housing there wasn't bad, but I had to pay big bucks for private schools for the kids. When they moved us North to Silver Springs for the Annex renovation, the commute became a 3am nightmare. Up there we paid our own parking garage fees. Mostly I had Sundays off. Worst tour of my career.

5/06/2008 7:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

About Navy duty stations in general: One thing I like about this job actually is getting to move around and live in different parts of the country. Charleston was great. Saratoga Springs is cool. I don't know about New London, but I'm looking forward to San Diego or Pearl Harbor. To me, DC sounds like one of the better places for shore duty. I am not looking forward to New London, Norfolk or Kings Bay though. Why couldnt we build our Atlantic Fleet ports in places like Miami, Philly or Boston?

The only concern I would have with DC is being a junior nobody and inserting meaningless phrases like 'synergistic transformation' on every powerpoint slide to impress people. also, not having that wardroom camaraderie, like pig boat mentioned would be a downside.

but what do i know, i'm just an ensign

5/07/2008 10:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real estate thing is a matter of timing. I bought for $375K in 1998. Retired in 2001. Houses in my neighborhood were going for $1M plus until the housing crash. Now I'd be lucky to get $850K. But I'm not planning on moving any time soon. Basically, I'm not smart, just lucky.

5/12/2008 1:24 PM


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