The Navy Reserve is Broken

Notes to the New CNO Topic Week

By LT Blake Herzinger, USN

Our Navy Reserve is crying out for attention. However, high retention may lull Navy leaders into thinking the system is working and Sailors are well-cared for, when in reality they are gritting their teeth to make it to 20 years of service. Administrative problems associated with reserve mobilization are critical and plague Sailors until the day they are demobilized and sent home, and sometimes beyond. The USNR’s vision of providing transparent and seamless administrative systems is unrealized, with gaps wide enough to accommodate a Carrier Strike Group and transparency on par with a Papal Conclave.

Reservists are being deployed into billets across the joint force that are not reviewed closely enough to reveal that many are jobs so unimportant that commanders are purposefully gapping them, choosing instead to fill them with “cheap” labor. Sailors arrive to service equipment that isn’t present, analyze intelligence that’s not being collected, and develop target packages for missions not being executed.

When reservists deploy, they are confronted with crippling financial complications, from unpaid travel expenses to salary issues rendering them incapable of paying their bills at home. Sailors are told in their first week of mobilization that they will not be repaid for travel expenses within the Congressionally-mandated timeline for reimbursement, but “not to worry, because the issue is receiving flag-level attention.” Sailors use personal savings and credit cards to settle the Navy’s bills. Some arrive home after nearly a year deployed still waiting on repayment.

Issues including non-payment of housing allowances, incorrect debts being assessed against Sailors, and checks held 100 days past the end of deployment are commonplace. In most cases, the Navy will eventually make its Sailors financially whole, but who will pay Sailors’ bills in the interim? I have yet to encounter the landlord that accepts IOUs, nor the utility company that provides power on the promise of reimbursement, nor the grocer that offers food on credit. Should Sailors tell their landlords not to worry, because the issue is receiving flag-level attention? Members are being plucked from homes and workplaces and placed into a position of financial instability, draining personal savings, and causing insecurity in families. Sailors’ minds are divided between their deployed duties abroad and ensuring their loved ones are not put out into the street at home.

Stand down mobilizations until the processes are in place to pay Sailors what they’ve earned. Conduct a mission analysis for the USNR, and closely vet the list of mobilizations. Assume responsibility for the financial outlay of deploying sailors via centrally billed accounts. Modernize and optimize our pay system using existing commercial platforms that provide simplicity and transparency.

Navy reservists are ready and eager to serve, but what message do they receive when they arrive on deployment and are told the duties they have arrived to execute are unimportant or nonexistent? Administrative problems have administrative solutions, but without attention from above, they will languish and Sailors will suffer the consequences.

Lt. Blake Herzinger is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, deployed to U.S. Fifth Fleet. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent those of his civilian employer, the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. This piece was first published by Cdr. Salamander in a longer format titled “A Breach of Faith: The Navy Must Fix the Way it Pays Mobilizing Reservists.

Featured Image: NORFOLK (Sept. 14, 2019) Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Joshua Halford mans the rail aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Raymond Maddocks/Released)190914-N-IC246-0270

16 thoughts on “The Navy Reserve is Broken”

  1. Try retiring from the Navy Reserve. Turned 60 in January this year. Navy Personnel Command was delayed for months. I finally got my letter for authorization pay July 30th, which comes with page 4, stating that it will take 30 to 45 days to process to receive payment. I called the Defence Finance Accounting Service. They say up to 120 days to process and receive payment. Where is the accountability, pride, honor and commitment? The Navy is UNSAT.

    1. When Clinton started downsizing our military he plugged these gaps with civilians. Once you lost a sailor he lost a possible shore duty billet and you gain a civilian who can only do certain jobs and not work overtime. That’s how Clinton closed naval bases and boasted of new jobs. I love my country and what we stand for. Somehow It’s the NCO’s and below who end up trying to get what they work for. I am sure if one of our admirals didn’t get paid it would get fixed today! Pay our military members the money that’s do to them now. I waited 18 months to get paid when I was advanced from ADC to ADCS in the 90’s. That should never happen. Maybe Congress should wait that long to get paid.

    2. My retirement pay was supposed to start on 1 May 2018. I’m still waiting. I had to initiate a congressional inquiry through my state representative. The response? “We have a high number of congressional inquiries which is taking manpower away from processing retirements.” That just tells me NAVPERS and DFAS are completely screwed up and out of control with absolutely no accountability.

  2. The Navy also claims to hold civilian skills in high regard, when in actuality, they are able to use very few, if any of them. I am a Hospital Corpsman in the reserves and GA Paramedic as well as National Registry with almost 30 years in public safety. I can use very few of my skills, because I am “just” a corpsman as I have been told in the past. So there is the degradation in skills because they aren’t used for a year. I have several examples of where this was a misuse of talent and it created other difficulties.

  3. The reality is that the Navy doesn’t need a single reserve command to go to war. There is not a single ship or squadron that would be prevented from deploying for combat for want of a reserve component. That is not true of the sister services, who have integrated their reserve and guard components into their combat power. Navy reservists are used for nuisance jobs, filling requirements that would otherwise take an active duty sailor away from a combat command. NSW and NECC make better use of their reserve components, but overall, the Navy Reserve is a luxury manpower pool for the active fleet. That being said, there is a lot of talent and experience in the Navy reserve, but with the elimination of most hardware reserve units, that talent is not being used to its strengths. There really is no solution, as there will never be a hardware component of the Navy reserve again. Tough to encourage sailors to “Stay Navy” after they leave active duty when they can’t do the job they are trained for and like doing.

  4. Well said, Shipmate. I recently returned from mobilization and was shocked by many of the hardships you described here by sailors (and me). Not only are the pay and travel systems broken, but many sailors had a difficult time receiving any valuable support from their NOSCs on these issues. Sailors get their GTCC cancelled while waiting more than 4 months to get travel reimbursement for thousands of dollars.

    1. Heck yes it’s broken.. I went RC/AC and there are still several admin issues with my record, it’s going to take a BNRC to even HOPE to get them fixed.. Not to mention my advancement issues with missing two exams, due to being in theater, then never getting my test after that sent to retrograde… I finally picked up, two years, after I should have.. But, HOORAH, SeaBees, adapt and overcome!!

  5. This is reflective of the animosity that the active duty folks have had for years against reserve personnel. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard “the reservist” The reservist is here, give it to the reservist, etc There are many high quality trained personnel in the reserves. Ships should never have to get u/w short handed, yet the system is indeed broken. I was a QM and rarely did I use my rate. There is a push for a 350 ship navy, some of those ships could be reserve manned ships kept on 30 -45 day readiness. Unfortunately, no reform will happen if it is left up to the active duty leadership to make it happen. I am proud of my service and had a great time, but was indeed underutilized.

  6. I mob’d three times no issues. There’s some outliers for sure but its not endemic. Be proactive and keep track of your stuff, double check everything and dont take no for an answer. thank you for my service

  7. I am so sorry to read this. I was a Master Chief in Seattle when Reservists were first activated for Desert Storm. I followed those people who were activated from my unit and discovered that they were not being paid,. i made many phone calls and upset several people including an Admiral or two. One of the activated Reservists called his congressional representative from fhe Gulf. I thought the issue had been resolved but the war ended quickly so it died a quiet death.
    Now amost 29 years later, the problem still exists, magnified by the numbers of people affected. This is criminal!

  8. This does an accurate job of highlighting the difficulties around mobilizations however what about the monthly out of pocket expenses just to travel to drill weekend? All I ever here is “that’s what I had to do my entire career” or “you have to travel if you want a billet”. Basically drilling for free in order to get retirement points or promote!

  9. There are currently 271 admirals in the US Navy. Certainly one of them, or perhaps a team of them, can assume command of the Reserve and straighten this out.
    Or do we just need one Master Chief?

  10. Not getting paid for travel expenses in a timely fashion is really inexcusable.

    All sailors should know about the penalty provision that requires Uncle Sam to pay a penalty and interest if it takes more than 30 days to liquidate a claim. “What’s that?” you say? Take a look at ¶ 041201.C of the DTMO Government Travel Charge Card regulations and Volume 9, Chapter 8, ¶ 0809 of the DoD Financial Management Regulation (FMR): “The government must pay the traveler an amount equal to any late payment charge that the card contractor would have been able to charge had the traveler not paid the bill.” And that’s a statutory requirement (P.L. 105-264 § 2(g)). And it’s not a reimbursement; it’s a penalty.

    All sailors should know that the NOSC and/or PSD are not the final word on compensable travel expenses, and that they can appeal. Take a look at DoD FMR Volume 9, Chapter 8, ¶ 080802.

    Sailors should be filing supplemental claims for late fees and interest and appealing denials of those claims when they’re not getting paid what they should. Because nothing will get done until commanders have to start explaining why their mismanagement is resulting in the Navy having to pay penalties.

    And if the Navy still can’t fix the issue, we need to go back to the old system where the Navy paid expected travel expenses on the front end of the travel.

  11. My husband just returned from deployment in August. We had to absorb the cost of the mobilization from home to the NOSC to Virginia to San Diego. Travel claim wasn’t paid for almost 5 months so we had to pay the GTCC bill to keep it from being turned off. Same issue now on demob, travel claim hasn’t been paid. Over 100 sailors on his mobilization had the same issue. The excuse PSD was going through changes, the planners of these changes failed to plan for the gap they were creating and left sailors with no recourse to get it resolved. There’s been no accountability for the piss poor planning and the impact to sailors. The issues are real and there’s been zero improvement.

  12. I’m sorry to see that not only have the problems not been resolved but they have apparently gotten worse. I routinely paid off my GTCC while awaiting liquidation of travel claims. I was very fortunate that my command before I retired was very good about giving good training and attempting to place sailors in mob billets that actually had some relevance and allowed us to use at least some of the skills that we possessed. It always surprised me that Big Navy always talked about using civilian strengths but very rarely ever did. They really missed the boat, if they ever allowed the reserve side to fulfill its potential they would be shocked what could be accomplished. Red tape is an absolute morale and talent killer.

  13. I joined the Navy Reserves in 2012 at the age of 38 although I’m an E5 I am just 9 credits away from a Masters in Homeland Security. I had one shot at becoming a commissioned officer before being deployed in 2015 and the recruiters could not keep the paperwork together I turned in and constantly kept asking me to resubmit forms because they lost them. I will admit I was able to serve enough time to give my daughter my full GI bill for school and have about $7000 in TA for myself. Now I have been waiting for a travel claim for a year now. I’ve been told several times that my claim has been addressed by high ranking officers with influence however everyone has failed to give a solid reason why it hasn’t been paid. The same goes for my time in rate. I was deployed in 2015/2016 and was not allowed to test. I was sent an email saying that if I scored high enough to have been promoted in the spring on the fall test than I’d be back payed and time in rate adjusted. It is now October 2019 and on paper I was allowed to take the spring test however in the computer my time in rate has not been amended so although I passed the test it wasn’t scored therefore I wasn’t considered for advancement. I just took my second test for 1st class and hope it will be graded however the test changed and I’m sure I did better on the springs exam than on the fall. I did two deployments to Africa back to back and was asked to help out for two years in the states. Now I’m stuck in a job that sometimes goes 7 days a week with a min of 10 hours days working through most of the holidays. I don’t feel like a hero anymore and I’m exhausted.

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