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October 2006

Commander's Perspective
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CIVMARS: Mission success depends on people

The civil service mariners who crew and maintain USNS Mercy's Band-Aid boats
The civil service mariners who crew and maintain USNS Mercy's Band-Aid boats gather at the ship's gangway off the coast of Tarakan, Indonesia. Without CIVMARs, Mercy could not have completed its latest humanitarian mission in Southeast Asia. Pictured are. from left to right: (front row) Able Seaman Nathan Wood and Deck Machinist Daniel DeLeon; (second row) Boatswain Tommy Payne, Deck Machinist Jamie Boniog, Able Seaman Dale Witham, Second Engineers Eric Simpson and Bruce Johnson, Third Mate Richard Paramore, Engine Utilities Virgilio Abad, Michael Sarne and Jun Panganiban, Able Seaman Tim Wheelock, Chief Mate Michael Keller, Able Seaman Miner Gabun; (back row) Boatswain's Mate Renato Gonzalez. Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Gregory Badger, photo

Merchant mariners are the lifeblood of Military Sealift Command. We couldn't complete our mission without them. Of the more than 6,900 U.S. Coast Guard-qualified merchant mariners that work for MSC, more than 65 percent of them are U.S. civil service mariners, or CIVMARs. These are the skilled professionals who crew our Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force ships and a few of our Special Mission ships.

Over the past four years, the CIVMAR program has experienced sustained growth, with firm projections for continuing that growth through 2008. But the news wasn't always good.

Back in 2001, recruiting and retention were serious issues that hinged primarily on one problem - overdue relief for mariners at sea. It rapidly became clear to MSC leadership that CIVMAR recruiting and retention had to become a priority if we were to effectively meet the command's current and future needs. Under the direction of my predecessor, Vice Adm. David L. Brewer III, MSC's senior leadership initiated an 18-month investment plan. It quickly boosted our recruiting and provided the CIVMAR support infrastructure that MSC needed to effectively manage a workforce that needed to grow quickly.

The initial focus of the investment plan included overhauling the way we recruited new mariners, hiring experts from the commercial sector to provide better customer support for CIVMARs and improving information technology that affected both operational efficiency and CIVMAR quality of life. We also re-energized the CIVMAR upgrade program to develop and promote entry-level mariners to fill critical positions such as able seaman. The results were a trend toward higher shipboard manning levels and a significant decline in overdue relief during a period of unprecedented operational activity for Operation Iraqi Freedom and the global war on terrorism. The latest statistics show that out of our more than 4,700 CIVMARs, only 13 mariners were overdue relief for more than 19 days and only 21 were overdue for less than 19 days. That's an incredible improvement over the 147 mariners that were overdue for relief in December 2004.

In early 2002, MSC increased its recruiting efforts, using a private marketing consulting firm for advertising support services. With its assistance, we developed and deployed a recruiting strategy that increased awareness of MSC among job seekers throughout the maritime industry while streamlining the recruiting process. The campaign projected a new image, offered a stimulating advertising approach, established a recruiting Web site and a recruiting call center and centralized the application process. And it worked, generating nearly 14,000 prospects that resulted in about 740 quality job applications in fiscal year 2003 alone.

This recruiting strategy and the sustained commitment by what is now the Military Sealift Fleet Support Command personnel department and MSC medical personnel has closed the gap on nearly all critical manning shortages. As of the end of July, 4,732 U.S. civil service mariners worked for MSC. We had 96 percent of the licensed mariners and 102 percent of the unlicensed mariners that we needed to meet our mission.

You've no doubt heard it said that it pays to advertise. During the past five years we've proved this. Our advertising campaign has saved more than a million dollars in recruiting costs in 2003 and 2004. We saved another $325,000 in 2005. We're saving because we're getting better qualified recruits, so we're able to process them faster and hire better crew members who require less training.

Recruiting alone is not responsible for our turnaround in shipboard manning. Our attrition rate is improving through the CIVMAR upgrade program, which encourages our less experienced mariners to get the training and education they need for advanced U.S. Coast Guard endorsements. In fiscal year 2003, 111 of our ordinary seamen received their able seaman Coast Guard endorsement. More than 175 seamen upgraded their licenses in fiscal year 2004. Another 91 upgraded in fiscal year 2005, and more than 50 have already done so in fiscal year 2006.

A parallel initiative involves the Human Resource Management System, a multimillion-dollar investment in the management of the CIVMAR workforce. The system revolves around an integrated database that supports recruiting and staffing, medical processing, shipboard crewing, time and attendance, training and development, individual career management and organizational and resource planning. Essentially, it's a repository of all current CIVMAR-related information that's available on the desktops of our personnel folks at MSFSC to promote timely decision-making and to help expedite routine tasks that affect hiring, medical processing, time and attendance record keeping, CIVMAR training and ship assignment.

Phyllis Spano, the director of human resources and manpower at MSFSC, says developing the management system was a greater challenge than she expected, but she wanted to actually improve our business processes as they affect our CIVMARs, not just make cosmetic fixes. The system is making the management of our CIVMAR workforce easier, more efficient and more effective.

Finally, MSC launched the CIVMAR Support Center in March 2004. The center uses modern call center technology and offers CIVMARs ready access to subject matter experts who can answer questions and support the needs of both our CIVMARs and their families. Some of the areas the experts at the center can help with are security, payroll, training, promotions, worker's compensation, U.S. Coast Guard requirements, wages, employment opportunities and crewing issues.

The CIVMAR Support Center is available by phone from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., EST, Monday through Friday at 1-877-562-7672. You can also contact the CSC by e-mail at civmar@, by fax at 1-757-217-0201 or by regular mail service at CIVMAR SUPPORT CENTER, 6353 Center Drive, Bldg #8, Suite 202, Norfolk, VA 23502. And be sure to check out their Web site at

As I've said before, our people are important to us, and none more so than our CIVMARs, the lifeblood of MSC operations. We have made great strides in recruiting and retaining the best mariners America has to offer. And we will continue to quantify our MSC fleet human resource needs. We'll use proven information technology and human resource operational analysis to best understand our changing workforce requirements and to ensure that we maximize service to our customers, while operating our ships effectively and efficiently.

Keep the faith,

R.D. Reilly Jr. signature

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