The Pentagon counts roughly 465,000 officers and enlisted sailors on its retired rolls drawing pensions for careers of honorable service; US Navy Medicine and Readiness Training Command Sigonella Command Master Chief Albert Wood is one such retiree. He was honored by US Naval Air Station Sigonella with a retirement ceremony on June 3, 2022. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Josh Coté.
A month ago, Lt. Cmdr. Justin Novak’s cell phone pinged with an update from Big Navy.
“Leaders, congratulations on your retirement, and let me humbly apologize that your DD 214 is not completed for you as yet,” began the message from Cmdr. Brad A. Bauer, the officer in charge of the My Navy Career Center Transactional Service Center in Norfolk, Virginia.
Novak was a graduate of the US Naval Academy’s Class of 2002, part of a group of Marine and Navy officers who received their commissions in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Those who stayed in the service have reached 20 years in uniform, the time when most career officers and enlisted sailors retire.
Bauer warned Novak and other senior sailors that, while his staffers had processed nearly 700 DD-214s over the previous two weeks, they still had 100 more to go, and they were “feverishly working overtime to get your retirement completed, and a DD 214 in your hand.”
The Pentagon counts roughly 465,000 officers and enlisted sailors who are drawing pensions after careers of honorable service, including Lt. Cmdr. Tracy Lewis. She was honored with a retirement ceremony at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, on Thursday, June 30, 2022. US Navy photo by Edward Jones.
In his message, Bauer conceded that many departing sailors had turned in their paperwork months earlier and were probably frustrated, but he pledged his corner of the Navy bureaucracy was being “realigned to get this to you quicker, but it is not quick enough.”
It would take another three weeks for Novak’s paperwork to be finished. And he wasn’t happy about that, to put it mildly.
“The Navy doesn’t give a shit about its people,” the career surface warfare officer in Rhode Island told Coffee or Die Magazine. “It’s only worried about pumping officers through the pipeline.”
During the hectic decades of the Global War on Terror, Novak was pumped through a lot of commands. He served on board the guided-missile cruisers Cape St. George and San Jacinto, plus the guided-missile destroyer Ross, and he did shore duty as an instructor at the Surface Warfare Officers School.
But he soon found himself trying to arrange interviews for post-retirement jobs, and he couldn’t even give prospective employers proof that he was honorably discharged because he didn’t have his DD-214.
US Navy Rear Adm. Stu Satterwhite, the commander of the MyNavy Career Center, addresses a group of command pay and personnel administrators during an April 11, 2022, visit to the C2 Auditorium at Fleet Activities Yokosuka in Japan. US Navy photo by Tetsuya Morita.
US Navy Rear Adm. Stuart C. “Stu” Satterwhite thinks Novak had every right to be a little steamed.
But the commander of the sea service’s MyNavy Career Center in Millington, Tennessee, also told Coffee or Die Magazine his staffers were fixing the backlog glitch so that, by the end of September, it would never happen to another sailor.
“Everyone will separate with a DD 214 in hand as we’ve gone through and caught up things that were not processed correctly,” he pledged.
Speaking on a Friday, July 1, conference call with senior editors from Military Times and Coffee or Die, Satterwhite said Bauer began with “40 folks working this,” but that’s risen to “about 70 right now.” By the end of September, the Norfolk center will have more than 110 personnel experts hammering away at the DD-214 glut.
He’s cutting orders for personnel specialists across the fleet to fly to Norfolk for temporary duty slated to last between 30 and 60 days. He said Norfolk would also keep hiring civilian Department of Defense workers or surge contractors and pay them overtime to go “full-court press to really get after this and make sure we’re doing everything we can to execute.”
US Navy Rear Adm. Stuart C. Satterwhite, the commander of the MyNavy Career Center, addresses a class of Personnel Specialist “A” School students during a command tour of Naval Technical Training Center Meridian in Mississippi on Jan. 25, 2022. US Navy photo by Tom Childress.
Currently, Bauer’s staff is completing roughly 200 “transactions” daily, Satterwhite said.
The daily number of backlogged separation packages ebbs and flows, but the bottleneck is exacerbated by a barrage of paperwork for senior sailors like Novak with decades of service to the Navy. Their lengthy DD-214s take a long time to process.
“If you’re an old person like me, you’ve got 30 years in the Navy, and you’ve got a lot of stuff there,” Satterwhite said. “And so it takes some time to go through and make sure, ‘Hey, are your awards right? Are your duty stations correct?’”
Satterwhite believes the backlogs will ultimately be cleared by an ongoing consolidation process that pools the personnel specialists in Norfolk to complete this complicated back-and-forth with departing senior sailors. But he needs help from the fleet, too.
US Navy Rear Adm. Stu Satterwhite, the commander of the MyNavy Career Center, addresses command pay and personnel administrators in the Dealey Center Theater at Naval Submarine Base New London on April 4, 2022. US Navy photo by Lt. Seth Koenig.
Satterwhite warned that roughly 70% of the corrections to personnel records currently arrive after sailors have gone on terminal leave.
He’s urging sailors and their commands to turn in all separation paperwork at least 60 days before they’re slated to exit active duty so that they can start that process immediately.
That’s not happening now. Satterwhite pointed Coffee or Die to five transactions for separations that popped up on June 30. The sailors left active duty on June 29.
“And so now we were jumping quickly to catch up on that make sure we’re taking care of that sailor,” Satterwhite said.
That’s not his only goal. The rear admiral wants every sailor who leaves the service to get a final paycheck two weeks after departing. That’s two weeks earlier than the Pentagon mandates.
Personnel Specialist 3rd Class Peytan Harris checks in new sailors at the amphibious assault ship USS America’s personnel office on May 23, 2022, in Sasebo, Japan. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew Bakerian.
It’s all part of a larger revolution in Navy human relations designed to modernize the way the service recruits, trains, and retains its personnel. Satterwhite wants to create a system he says is “responsive” to the needs of more than 400,000 sailors and their families, the kind of HR 21st-century workers expect with they join large companies or other government agencies.
For generations of sailors, their last moments on active duty were often spent dealing with Personnel Support Detachments at bases worldwide, sitting across the desks of personnel specialists who made sure everything on DD-214 records was correct before printing them up.
Personnel specialists also maintain pay and other records, reimburse travel and uniform costs, and help sailors and their families cut through the red tape that often entangles complex military bureaucracies. But in 2017, the Navy announced it would begin consolidating personnel specialists at PSDs and customer support detachments into transactions centers and other HR offices dotting the globe.
Seaman Alivia Lynch receives orders following her new rating designation as a personnel specialist during a Navy Personnel Command Fleet Engagement Team event for Professional Apprenticeship Career Tracks sailors at Fleet Activities Sasebo in Japan. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeanette M. Mullinax.
By the end of this September, Satterwhite and other senior leaders hope to finish merging the old PSDs into 13 transaction and regional support centers, two HR service centers, and a travel-processing center in Cleveland, Ohio.
If everything goes according to plan, much of a sailor’s initial paperwork will be started by staffers working in a pair of human resources service centers in Memphis, Tennessee, and Little Creek, Virginia. Operating around the clock every day of the year, these HR centers will hand off work to the transaction centers, each of which specializes in what the Navy calls a “focus area.”
For example, Norfolk spearheads separations, retirements, and the personnel needs of reservists. The service center in Great Lakes, Illinois — the Navy’s enlisted boot camp — tackles the needs of recruits and others entering the sea service for the first time.
San Diego handles personnel gains and losses on the West Coast, and the center in Yokosuka, Japan, does the same for those sailors stationed outside the continental US. And the personnel specialists in Naples, Italy, focus on reenlistments and extensions for sailors across the worldwide fleet.
Personnel Specialist 1st Class Steven L. Tep dons firefighting gear in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson during a July 28, 2020, general quarters drill in Bremerton, Washington. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Foley.
And they’re linked to regional support centers in Bahrain; Guam; Washington, DC; New London, Connecticut; Jacksonville, Florida; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and Everett, Washington.
There will be only a pair of PSDs left at joint bases in Charleston, South Carolina, and San Antonio, Texas.
Satterwhite fears that whittling the PSDs over the past few years triggered a shortage in personnel specialists, but he predicts the temporary duty orders they’ll get to Norfolk to hack through the DD 214 backlog will help the entire fleet.
They’ll rotate back to the fleet after an immersion in processing separation paperwork and will know how to “submit those transactions and get it done faster, and they can help each other out,” Satterwhite said.
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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