DoD Personnel Reporter’s Notebook

“DoD Personnel Notebook” is a biweekly feature focused on news about the military and civilian personnel and workforce issues, as gathered by Federal News Radio DoD Reporter Scott Maucione.

Submit your ideas, suggestions and news tips to Scott via email.

Sign up for our Reporter’s Notebook email alert.

Military response to Hurricane Harvey could reach Katrina proportions

As Houston continues to deal with record rainfall, the military is working on local, state and federal levels to meet needs that it thinks will reach Hurricane Katrina levels.

The Defense Department is bracing for a long haul in continuing to provide emergency services to Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey.

“Our response to this hurricane has been different than anything we’ve experienced before and we expect it to be much longer in terms of a response phase in what we would normally see during a hurricane just due to the nature of the storm,” said Maj. Gen. James Witham, domestic operations and force development director for the National Guard.

At the height of Hurricane Katrina there were 50,000 National Guard troops deployed and 20,000 active duty.

Witham said he anticipates the situation will be similar for Houston.

The state of Texas has already called up its full National Guard force of 12,000 troops. The state has 19,000 total troops, but 7,000 are either just coming off of a deployment or are currently deployed in other areas.

Witham said another 4,000 guardsmen will be joining the effort in the next 24 hours. Those troops are participating in ground and air rescue missions, shelter operations, route clearance, water purification, logistics movement and recovery after response.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) requested a military police battalion and Air National Guard security forces to assist local, state and federal law enforcement, especially in the big metropolitan area around Houston.

The National Guard has another 20,000 to 30,000 troops prepared to go into Texas to add to the numbers or to relieve troops who have been in the field. Those extra units include engineers and an extra rotary wing.

“Just like our first responders get tired and burn out, guardsmen will also get tired and burn out as we do this. So this has to be a phased approach, and Texas is planning for that phased approach, not only with their organic National Guard forces, but National Guard forces that could be brought in from surrounding states through emergency assistance compacts,” Witham said.

Ten other states are already lending their assistance to the effort. California sent 90 Air National Guardsmen, Connecticut sent a C-130 Hercules with eight airmen and New York sent more than 100 airmen a C-130, 3 HH-60 Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopters and two C-17 transport jets.

The National Guard has used 500 ground vehicles in its effort. About 200 of those are high profile water vehicles, which can move in 2 or 3 feet of water. The Guard has 200 more high profile vehicles prepared if needed and can get additional vehicles from neighboring states.

The Guard is using 30 helicopters for search and rescue and medivac purpose. Abbott requested another 24 helicopters that are en route to Texas today. Witham said the number of helicopters could grow to 100.

As of Aug. 29, Witham said there have been about 3,500 rescues. Around 300 have been from the air. There have also been about 300 animal rescues.

Witham said the numbers are very fluid considering the number of rescues happening each day.

Witham said there was no estimate for the cost of the personnel being used at this point.

Federal response

The federal government has mostly supplied equipment to the Hurricane Harvey effort.

U.S. Northern Command has 1,000 active duty troops in the area mostly working on air search and rescue.

There are also 400 active duty troops in Louisiana in preparation for heavy storms there.

“Being ready and in place is as important as any training that we do, and our engagements at parish level are absolutely critical,” said Army Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, Louisiana’s adjutant general. “In anticipation of the storm’s track, we continue pre-positioning equipment and vehicles in potentially affected areas, as well as responding to the immediate needs of today.”

The Louisiana Guard has eight helicopters on the ready for search and rescue missions.

The federal government appointed Brig. Gen. Pat Hamilton as the dual-status commander in Texas. He is in charge of National Guard troops as well as any federal troops in the area.

As far as equipment goes, 39 helicopters and seven planes are being used by the Coast Guard at bases in Houston and New Orleans. The Navy is preparing its amphibious assault ship, the USS Keasrage, and landing ship USS Oak Hill.

The Navy also had some trouble with its plans as Harvey barreled toward the city. Seventy-one of the Navy’s T-45 trainer jets were left in hangars at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas. The planes were not ready to fly off base to another area.

Kingsville holds 99 trainer jets, 28 were evacuated.

Scott Maucione: Alabama Air Force base to begin utilizing IoT and smart city technologies

Listen to Scott Maucione on Federal Drive with Tom Temin

Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama is teaming with AT&T to use internet of things and smart city technologies to make the base run more smoothly. Federal News Radio’s Scott Maucione spoke with AT&T Air Force Client Executive Vice President Rocky Thurston and Maxwell’s 42nd Mission Support Group Commander Col. Don Lewis on Federal Drive with Tom Temin about the updates.

$40,000 DoD VSIP pay may be here to stay

Congress wants to solidify an increase in early retirement pay for Defense Department civilians.

Last year, Congress approved a pilot program that increased Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay (VSIP) for DoD civilian workers to $40,000 for one year.

The House Armed Services Committee now wants to extend that incentive to 2021 in the 2018 defense authorization bill. Committee aides said the goal is to give DoD more options to control the size of its workforce.

Before Congress created the pilot program last year, VSIP had remained stagnant since 1993 at $25,000.


Navy, Congress put money on pilot shortage

The Navy announced its yearly sweetener for pilots to stay in the service this week, at the same time lawmakers are using their power to try to retain Air Force pilots longer.

Navy pilots can receive up to $150,000 over five years for reenlisting depending on what squadron they fly in.

Reenlistment bonuses bottom out at $75,000, stated a memo released by the Naval Chief of Personnel.

The bonuses are only offered to pilots whose enlistment will expire in fiscal 2018. All contract extensions will be for five years and intent for reenlistment must be received by the end of August 2018.


Personnel tweaks change squadron officer training, may help medically separated airmen

The Air Force is making a series of personnel tweaks to better leadership within its ranks and to benefit medically separated airmen.

The service announced last week it redesigned its Air University Squadron Officer School program to “better align with the needs of the Air Force.”

The new course starts at the end of July, and will expand from five weeks to six and a half weeks. Air Force captains are required to take the course and about 4,200 go through it annually. The classes will decrease from seven to six a year, but each class will hold 700 students instead of 600.

The redesign is part of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein’s goal to revitalize squadrons, which he announced last fall.


Senate considering cuts to military housing allowance for second year in a row

The Senate Armed Services Committee is eyeing military basic housing  allowance again as a means to save money.

The committee’s 2018 defense authorization bill includes a provision that would cut BAH for dual military couples to the “without dependents rate” even if they have kids. The provision is not in the House version of the bill.

If the Senate passes the bill, it will have to be reconciled with the House version.

Each uniformed service member is entitled to BAH from the military to help pay for the costs of housing in the private sector. If the service member has a dependent he or she receives a higher BAH. (more…)

DoD reconsidering two inclusive recruiting programs

The Defense Department is rethinking two Obama era policies aimed at recruiting and retaining top talent in the military services.

Defense Secretary James Mattis is delaying the DoD plan to allow the recruitment of transgender individuals in the military.

The policy does not affect transgender people currently serving in the military.

The Washington Post also reports the department is considering canceling a program that expedites the path to citizenship for immigrants with much needed medical and language skills willing to join the military.


A room full of Republicans just addressed climate change, here’s why

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) did something this week that many Democrats in Congress have been unable to do.

He got Republicans to act on climate change.

With an amendment to the House 2018 defense authorization bill, Langevin got his Republican and Democratic colleagues to address the national security implications of rising sea levels, desertification and other nasty effects global warming.

The amendment, which made it into the final version of the bill, explicitly states that climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States. (more…)

$700 billion Senate NDAA has fewer troops than House, focuses on cyber war

The Senate Armed Services Committee is empowering a new position in the Pentagon, stressing cyber warfare and taking a more conservative approach to force growth in its 2018 defense authorization bill.

The committee released details on its bill after spending the week behind closed doors marking up the legislation.

The bill authorizes a total of $700 billion for the Defense Department and related agencies. About $640 billion of that is in base budget spending, the other $62 billion is authorized for overseas contingency operations, a wartime account for operations overseas.

Like the House Armed Services Committee bill, the Senate version focuses on rebuilding the military’s readiness by paying for items on the military services’ wish lists. (more…)

5 personnel issues affecting military families in the House NDAA

The House Armed Services Committee finished its marathon of a markup on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last night and with it came a handful of personnel issues.

Clocking in at just over 14 hours, the committee debated everything from sexual assault to basic allowance for housing.

Federal News Radio curated a list of the most important takeaways from the weighty bill and last night’s debates that went along with it. (more…)