CNO says Navy numbers in 'gentle decline'
Navy leader Adm. Michael Mullen fields questions from sailors
The uniformed head of the Navy says that over the past four years, the Navy has been "on a gentle decline" as it aims to reach the level of about 320,000 sailors three years from now.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chief of naval operations, yesterday said he is "very comfortable" with the progress that the Navy, now with 347,000 sailors, has made since the 1991 Desert Storm campaign, when the downsizing began.
While the Marine Corps and the Army believe they need 92,000 more troops to maintain the current wartime tempo in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mullen told reporters that the Navy has been trimming its forces by about 10,000 sailors a year for the past four years. "It's been a gentle decline, and well managed," he said.
Mullen, who has headed the Navy since July 2005, is in the islands to attend the change-of-command ceremonies this morning when Adm. Gary Roughead turns over the Pacific Fleet to Adm. Robert Willard at Pearl Harbor.
The four-star Navy chief spent nearly 90 minutes yesterday morning at Pearl Harbor's Sharkey Theater, fielding questions from nearly 400 sailors at an "all hands call," as is the custom whenever Mullen is visiting. Using a wireless microphone, Mullen walked up and down the aisles of the theater, telling the sailors to give him their e-mail addresses and he would get back to them if he did not have the answers. Most of the questions dealt with pocketbook and grass-roots issues such as benefits, educational requirements, housing, pay and child care.
On questions like giving GI Bill educational benefits to dependents, Mullen said that was not possible under current laws.
Several years ago, Mullen said, only 30 percent of the sailors in the Navy were pulling sea duty.
That ratio will change with half of the Navy's sailors always at sea, Mullen said in responding to a question on downsizing.
"We're not going to be a smaller Navy," but a different Navy, added Mullen, a 1968 Naval Academy graduate.
Mullen said the Navy will continue to support its "individual augmentee" program, under which more than 13,000 sailors have been called on to work outside their traditional jobs to help the Army and Marine Corps. About 7,000 are assigned to the Middle East.
Last week, a Pacific Fleet spokesman said 517 of its sailors were participating in the program in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In his opening remarks, Mullen, a Vietnam War veteran, told Pearl Harbor sailors: "I honestly believe this is the most dangerous time in my life.
"The enemy now is basically evil and fundamentally hates everything we are -- the democratic principles for which we stand ... This war is going to go on for a long time. It's a generational war."