Sailors unfazed by end of Navy's 'early out' program

The Enlisted Early Transition Program allowed some service members in noncritical jobs to apply for early release

Tyler Hlavac
Stars and Stripes

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Sailors in Japan seem unfazed by the cancellation of a Navy program that allowed some to leave the service up to two years prior to their scheduled separation date.

The Enlisted Early Transition Program, launched by the Navy in 2014, allowed some servicemembers in noncritical jobs to apply for early release. It was touted as a way of cutting down on involuntary separations.

Two other programs — one through which senior offices could retire early and another that allowed sailors to request early separation because of family or personal hardships — are also being canceled.

Vice Adm. Robert Burke, chief of Naval Personnel, announced the termination of the programs Wednesday, citing the needs of the “growing Navy” as the reason for the changes.

“This requires more people, at a time when we are still working our way back to desired sea duty manning levels, and when the competition for talent is especially keen,” he said in a Navy administrative message. “We will certainly recruit and train many more sailors to help meet these demands, but that will not be enough.”

Sailors at Yokosuka Naval Base told Stars and Stripes Monday they didn’t foresee much grumbling over the program’s demise.

“Early out? I haven’t heard anyone talk about it,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Layden, a boatswain’s mate aboard the USS Barry. “Doesn’t mean much to me because if I was going to get out, I would just get out at the end of my contract. I haven’t heard anyone talk about it. I don’t know anyone who is trying to get out early.”

Chief Petty Officer Christopher Graham, an information systems technician aboard the USS Fitzgerald, said sailors are more concerned about being involuntarily separated than being denied an early exit.

“I have three more years and I retire so it wasn’t an option for me,” said Graham, referring to the early separation program. “I can’t recall anyone I know of using it. I think people come to realize it’s a little rougher when you don’t have the military. There is a lot of protections and services provided.”

The cancellation of the program is one of many steps the Navy has taken to rebalance the force.

Earlier this year, the Navy increased the high-year tenure limits for E-4 through E-6 sailors by two years for each paygrade in another attempt to improve retention. On Thursday, it announced a high-year tenure increase from five to six years for E-3 sailors.

In August, the service announced it would shift more than 1,100 senior enlisted sailors from certain shore billets to fill about 3,000 “gaps” in operations at sea.

Burke said in the message that sailors can expect more policy changes soon.

“It has been decades since the last period of major personnel growth in our Navy,” he said. “You will see many additional policy changes in the coming weeks and months to set us on the right course.”

The Navy has a long-term goal of expanding to about 350,000 sailors to meet President Donald Trump’s 355-ship goal. The service now has 322,000 sailors and 277 commissioned ships.

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