Richard Kitchens


POSTED: Friday, September 04, 2009

Naval Station Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base share a fence line, but each has a distinct culture and history that military officials are being careful to preserve as support staff are eventually consolidated into the new Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Military officials are mounting an all-out push to educate affected civilians and military personnel as the merger is phased in over the next year. High on the list is reassuring several thousand employees that they won't lose their jobs.

“;There is no RIF (reduction in force), there's no layoffs, there's nothing like that,”; said Navy Capt. Richard Kitchens, the Pearl Harbor commander who will lead the joint base. “;Nobody's going to be told to hit the road.”;

Kitchens, 48, grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., graduated from Clemson University in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and received his naval commission through the Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate program the next year. He later earned a master's degree in National Security and Strategic Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

His career includes duty on several submarines, including the USS Wyoming, which he commanded from 2002 until 2004; it was honored as the nation's top ballistic missile submarine during his command.

Kitchens assumed his current post as commanding officer of Naval Station Pearl Harbor in June 2008, after nearly four years on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.

He said he was happy to return to Hawaii, having served at the Pacific Command a decade ago. His wife, Deborah, is pursuing her bachelor's degree and is an active volunteer. Their son, the youngest of four children in their blended family, is a senior at Radford High School.

QUESTION: It's been reported that there would be no immediate layoffs, and the consolidated workforce would be shaped primarily through attrition. So at what point do you expect to see the cost savings?

ANSWER: We don't have an expectation on exactly when we'll see cost savings. We know they will come. It's apparent when you look to the future that there will be cost savings ... but I don't want to force a timeline ...

...Q: How is it apparent?

A: It's obvious that when you join two separate organizations where there is a lot of duplication of effort ... that there will be opportunities to realize efficiencies based on economies of scale. (Each base now maintains similar support services, such as plumbing, electrical work, food service, recreation, lodging, community and morale programs, police, fire, chapel, youth activities, transportation, finance, public affairs and housing management).

Q: How will any future job losses be handled? How many jobs do you expect to eventually cull?

A: I do not have a prediction on the number of jobs ... How they will be handled is that as personnel leave positions of their own free will ... we will have had the opportunity to observe and decide whether to fill that job or not.

Q: What is the potential impact on military operations? Will both branches (Air Force and Navy) have all the support they need?

A: Absolutely. ... The No. 1 guiding tenet is that there be no negative impact on mission or operational performance. We are absolutely committed to that and will not let any negative impact occur to the Navy and Air Force as a result of joint basing.

Q: Are there any concerns about merging the service cultures of the Air Force and Navy?

A: We are very aware of ... and I think we each have a very healthy respect ... for each other's service culture ... We believe we can join the bases and raise the level of service, provide efficiencies and support ... I think one of the things that is really somewhat unique is the amount of history that we have here that further reinforces each of our identities ... and we are not going to do anything that undermines the historical nature of either of these installations.

Q: What about the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard? Will any jobs be lost there?

A: The Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is a tenant command of Naval Station Pearl Harbor ... They will still be a tenant command, just with a different landlord if you will (the joint base) ... Neither the mission nor the workforce (of the shipyard) will be changed by the joining of the bases.

Q: How is the base merger process going? What are the major concerns?

A: We have been engaged since 2005 in this process so literally for several years now the Air Force and Navy have worked very closely together ... Certainly personnel and manpower concerns are a very significant issue. Whenever jobs are potentially affected, it causes anxiety in folks until they understand what the future holds. We are not going to RIF anybody ... There's about 1,100 Air Force civilians that will become Navy civilians, in terms of their employer. Every one of those folks has questions about leave, tenure, seniority, medical benefits, who's my boss going to be, am I going to change buildings ... And we have a communications plan to absolutely educate folks to those answers ... On the 27th of October we will hold an open house at the Hickam Air Force Base Officers' Club and the whole purpose is to try to have as much information available ... We're trying to do as much education as possible.