Navy official tells submarine base pace of change will slow

Groton — The assistant secretary responsible for the Navy’s personnel policies assured local sailors Wednesday that after a slew of changes, things are going to settle down.

Juan M. Garcia III, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, said during a visit to the Naval Submarine Base that he wanted to “dispel any unnecessary anxiety” and explain the new policies.

The change that has garnered the most attention, Garcia said, is the introduction of Breathalyzer tests on ships and at bases. Garcia said the Navy’s leaders did not want to stop the legal, responsible use of alcohol, but they could not ignore the “undeniable correlation” between alcohol and many of the most pressing personnel problems.

Across the fleet, more than 100 people per month get in trouble for driving under the influence of alcohol, and 13 of the 20 commanding officers relieved of duty last year misused alcohol, he said.

Unlike the random urinalysis tests, results from the Breathalyzer tests will not be used to administratively discharge sailors. Instead, the unit’s commander could intervene and possibly prevent a problem from getting worse, Garcia said.

The Breathalyzers will be installed by the end of the year. The Navy began random testing for synthetic chemical compounds, such as Spice, last month. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced a series of “21st Century Sailor and Marine” initiatives in March to improve the fleet’s readiness.

Garcia also addressed the fact that the Navy is facing record levels of retention and had to convene a board to choose 3,000 sailors to leave the service by September. Some of those sailors were assigned to the submarine base.

There will not be another Enlisted Retention Board this year or next year, Garcia said, and there are no plans to call for one the year after that.

“This is the size Navy we’re going to be for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Garcia said he knew some service members were worried their salaries and benefits would be cut as the Defense Department’s budget shrinks. He told the sailors Wednesday they would not “lose a dollar of pay” and would pay for health care the way they always have, “with sweat and work.”

“You won’t reach into your pocket,” he said.

If there are changes to the retirement system, Garcia said anyone serving now will still be eligible to retire after the traditional 20 years.

Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge, commander of Submarine Group Two, said it was important to get these personnel issues right.

“If we don’t,” he said, “we’re going to fail ultimately as a naval power and as a guarantor of security.”

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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