View Print Version

August 2007

Commander's Perspective
A  A  A  

MSC civil service mariners - A state of the union

I have discussed MSC's vital mission inside and outside of the military many times, and when I do, I refer to our civil service mariners as MSC's "strategic center of gravity" - a strength vital to success. I also remember my time in Damage Control Assistant School, when I learned the effect of a ship's load and center of gravity in keeping a ship balanced and able to perform its mission.

We employ upwards of 4,950 CIVMARs, which is the largest single group of MSC employees. Our commercial mariners come in second at 2,121. We are definitely a sea-going command, and the largest single employer of U.S. merchant mariners.

Given that, I want to address the "state of the union" for CIVMARs - what we're doing to attract, hire, support and retain our stalwart mariners who go down to the sea for MSC.

We anticipate needing approximately 800 new CIVMARs in 2008. Part of that will be to fill positions left vacant by attrition: retirement, resignation, removal, transfer, etc. But our attrition rates have been at or slightly under 10 percent for the past three years. Our CIVMAR force remains stable with low turnover. For the career-minded mariner, that's a good sign. For MSC it's a good deal, because we like to keep our experienced mariners.

When we stood up Military Sealift Fleet Support Command almost two years ago, one of the metrics that we developed tracked our "fit and fill" for CIVMAR personnel readiness. Our manpower people track these two critical areas, which are very closely related.

The "fit" means that people are assigned to the right billets with the right training and qualifications. We've got a good fix on 30 ships out of the more than 40 for which MSFSC is responsible. So far, the "fit" for each of those ships is above 90 percent. We expect to find the same results on the remaining ships, but the goal is to achieve 100 percent "fit."

If any ship falls below 90 percent, they are designated as a "hot ship" and immediate corrective action is taken.

"Fill" is the number of mariners aboard. The goal is to maintain as close to 100 percent as possible. If any ship falls below 95 percent, it, too, falls into the "hot ship" category and is the focus of immediate corrective action.

In the past year, only a handful of ships have fallen into the hot ship category, each as the result of medical or disciplinary losses.

Speaking of disciplinary losses, I was just looking at the statistics on CIVMAR removals over the past couple of years. We've been averaging about 110 per year, and a very small percentage of those are drug related. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that MSC doesn't tolerate drug use or abuse. Period.

We've been experiencing an equal number of alcohol-related offenses in the past couple of years. Alcohol-related incidents result in disciplinary/adverse actions. Mixing alcohol and sea duty is never a good idea. Even alcohol use ashore can be dicey. Be careful. Use good judgment. Be safe.

And safety includes being fit. In talking with our medical folks, I find that we're experiencing more than 350 repatriations every year for medical reasons. We're running a study on it now to see if we can find out more specifically what's going on, but the primary reason seems to be musculoskeletal issues. All the more reason to practice good safety habits (use correct lifting techniques, wear a back brace when appropriate, be careful moving about the ship, etc.) and take good care of yourself, both in the diet and fitness department.

I've also been looking at our promotion statistics for CIVMARs. In fiscal year 2006, we promoted almost 700 mariners. This year, we were up to almost 550 by the end of June with three months to go in the fiscal year. That's in line to finish above 700 again, which is almost 15 percent of the total CIVMAR force earning a promotion in any given year. As you can see, our people strive for achievement, and that's good!

Our budgeted end strength for CIVMARs will continue to rise to more than 5,300 by 2010. After taking care of attrition, the remainder (and larger part) of the new hires will be for new ships that will be coming into our fleet.

The biggest addition will be the new Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo/ammunition ships. We have three and will eventually get up to 11.

We're also taking over operation of the Navy's Safeguard-class rescue/salvage ships. We've already got three, with the last one arriving later this year.

Both of the Navy's submarine tenders (USS Emory S. Land and USS Frank Cable) will also transfer to MSC and be operated by hybrid crews of CIVMARs and Sailors commanded by a Navy captain.

So, we know that we're going to need more CIVMARs, but what are we doing to keep the ones we already have? To begin, let's talk about a quality of life issue - on-time relief.

Nearly a year ago, in October 2006, we were running with about 60 CIVMARs overdue for relief. Nineteen of those were more than 15 days overdue. Over the past 10 months we've been working hard to lower those figures, and it's working. As of May 2007, there were only 34 CIVMARs whose reliefs were overdue. Of those, only 11 were more than 15 days overdue (these figures don't include leave granted and managed at the ship-board level). Overall, we've gotten better with on-time relief, and the trend is in the right direction. But I won't be happy until the figures are even lower.

Now for some challenges, as there are still issues we need to work. The disparity in wage scales for unlicensed CIVMARs on the East Coast and the West Coast is one of those issues.

The differences in the two wage scales arose due to different unions and pay scales prevailing in the private sector on the two coasts. Our mariners' wages are set by the Department of Defense Wage Setting Authority. We have long made it known that we would like a single pay scale for all unlicensed personnel. However, DOD continues to collect data and run trend analyses, comparing CIVMAR rates with the prevailing rates in the private sector on both coasts. So far, they haven't reached a decision on establishing a single rate. We continue to gather private sector wage survey data yearly and submit it to DOD. We hope DOD will eventually approve a standard wage for all mariners.

Another issue is Internet access for CIVMARs. Back in the April edition of Sealift, I talked about why we had to pull the Internet-access plug on one of our ships. That problem has not gone away. In fact, according to a recent Navy message, it's getting worse.

As of May 31, our ships were noncompliant, with more than 100 individual information assurance vulnerability alerts. As a result, MSC ships presented an unacceptable risk to the Navy.

That's why MSFSC's information technology people are refining testing and distribution processes, evaluating patch distribution, converting Windows NT networks to Windows 2003 and deploying Windows server upgrades.

MSFSC is measuring our ships' security postures, defining the rules for limiting a ship's Web access while maintaining an acceptable security posture, engineering remote administration solutions, working on satellite protocol upgrades and investigating webmail alternatives.

We all move behind Navy-managed firewalls at the end of August. Access to commercially based webmail service will not be allowed, in accordance with DOD Information Security Guidelines. All other Navy ships are also denied access to webmail at this time, and there are no plans to restore access due to the ever-growing security threat posed by deliberate and malicious activity on the World Wide Web.

Current MSC policy provides CIVMARs access to a ".mil" e-mail account, and this service will continue to be provided to all hands, so you won't necessarily need those webmail accounts to communicate with family and friends. CIVMARs who do not have their ".mil" accounts need to get them before the end of the month.

I know that sounds potentially grim, but unfortunately the cyber threat is real. However, the rest of the Navy has been in compliance with these cyber-security requirements, and they are coping. So can we. I'm committed to providing the same level of access to our CIVMARs that military members afloat have throughout the Navy, but security has to come first. We've even checked with commercial companies to see what type of e-mail service and Internet access is available to their ships' crews. The answer? Little to none.

Another challenge is settling into new facilities in the Tidewater area around Norfolk for the "pool," those mariners awaiting assignment, training, etc. I know that they recently moved to a new facility and are settling in nicely. In the meantime, we continue to look at other ways for CIVMARs to deal with administrative issues from other locations, and in arranging for more assignments at home. Nothing's decided yet, but we are exploring possibilities.

We would definitely like to make major improvements in the evaluation process. That has prompted a review of the process with the intent to make it more user friendly, more automated and better able to support the assignment process and employee recognition.

Our CIVMARs are the backbone of our operations - our strategic center of gravity. Their expertise and capabilities are what drive our success as the DOD's ocean transporters. And that's why we'll need still more CIVMARs in the next couple of years as the MSC fleet grows. The question is: Where will we find those new CIVMARs?

As many of you know, our recruiting Web site can be found at,, and we have establish an MSC recruiting presence at trade shows, job fairs and other venues. We currently use these traditional recruiting efforts to focus on specific target markets such as commercial mariners, departing military members and maritime program schools, academies and colleges. We're going to continue those efforts, strengthening our relationships with the maritime training schools and expanding our visibility at the maritime academies.

We'll also be reaching out to some nontraditional areas, aiming toward events and outreach activities that will produce the greatest number of candidates who are immediately employable, already having U.S. Coast Guard papers and sea time. We'll use strong advertising in media that have proven results in reaching current mariners. And we'll reach out to parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes areas, increasing communications with vocational school programs there, as well as the rest of the country.

If you've got an idea on how to help us seek out and hire the highly qualified mariners we need, please pass your suggestions to the MSC CIVMAR support center at (877) JOBSMSC or Have any thoughts or suggestions on any of the issues or initiatives discussed in this article? Send them in! We need to protect and improve our strategic center of gravity - our CIVMARs. They deliver. So should we.

Keep the faith,

R.D. Reilly Jr. signature

Robert D. Reilly Jr.
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy
Commander, Military Sealift Command