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Talking with Sailors

Conversation with FLTCM April Beldo

Fleet Master Chief for Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education

Editor's note: FLTCM April Beldo recently returned from a trip to San Diego where she had a chance to visit with Sailors and their families. Navy Public Affairs Support Element - West had a chance to sit down with her and talk about her trip and her thoughts about the direction of today's Navy.

Q- As a fleet master chief, you have been able to visit with Sailors all over the world. What are your impressions thus far of the Sailors in our Navy?

A- Well I will share with you throughout our travels I am continually amazed at the caliber of Sailors that are coming into the Navy today. The fact that they made a decision to serve their country on a volunteer basis, their experiences, their knowledge, their ability to be flexible, it's amazing. So I'm excited about the future of our Navy and those Sailors that are coming in. They are outstanding.

Q- As you've been around the fleet talking to these Sailors, I'm sure you've talked about the "Keep What You've Earned" campaign. Why did you feel the need to start that campaign?

A- Well I think we as a Navy thought that this is a positive way to get Sailors to understand that they've worked hard. Only approximately 25 percent of our youth between the ages of 17 and 24 are even eligible to join the United States Navy, so those Sailors that have made that decision to be a part of this organization, they've worked hard, they've completed boot camp, they've gone through their "A" schools and completed those successfully. Now they are working out in the fleet, they've been advanced during those times. We want them to know that we want you to keep what you've earned and one irrational decision could cause you to lose some of those things. ... We want you to make some responsible decisions. ... We want you to know that you've worked hard for everything that you have. That third class petty officer, that chief petty officer, they've worked hard and we don't want them to make a decision that's going to allow them to lose some of those things that they've worked so hard to achieve. So I think that the positive "Keep What You've Earned" campaign is going to really reach them, and they are not going to see the old fleet master chief saying "Don't do this." I'm more saying, "Shipmate, I want you to have an enjoyable career, and I want you to keep what you've earned."

The "Keep What You've Earned" campaign is a way for us as a Navy to positively share with our Sailors that an irrational decision on their part could cause them to lose some of their achievements that they have worked so hard for while they've been in the Navy. So keeping what you've earned, I think that hits the nail on the head.

Q- In addition to the "Keep What You've Earned" campaign, what are you passionate about making happen while you are a fleet master chief? Do you have any short-term goals for yourself or for the fleet?

A- One of my biggest concerns now that I am the fleet master chief is the strategic communications piece. My responsibility is to receive information from our leadership and to pass it on to the most junior Sailor. My other responsibility is to speak to those junior Sailors, hear what they have to say, and take that up to the top leadership. So I think one of my goals is going to be to make sure I keep the lines of communication open, and I've always felt if you share expectations with Sailors they will always, always go out there and do what you ask them to do.

Q- What are the major concerns you are hearing right now from Sailors in the fleet?

A- Well as we travel around, they are concerned about maybe some of the tuition assistance, they are concerned about where is their retirement going to be. It's really funny to hear a first-term Sailor asking "With the budget constraints that we're going through, how does that affect my retirement?" or "How is that going to affect my advancement? " So I'm hearing that they're just concerned about the uncertainties based on where we are as an organization right now. What I'm also hearing is that they appreciate the fact that they're made aware of what's going on. Again, that ties back into the open lines of communication - making sure that we tell what we know, and when we don't know something, saying "I don't have an answer for you right now, but we'll get back to you and let your leadership know." I think at all levels, from the chiefs' mess to the LPOs and of course to the commanding officer, sharing the information with your Sailors as you know it in a timely basis keeps them motivated and keeps them on track and then they are able to focus on their job.

Q- What Navy-wide changes would you like to see while you are a fleet master chief?

A- Well I will tell you what, it's been two months since I have been the fleet master chief and I'm still in a learning phase too. I don't know of anything right now that I can share "We need to change this." I think we do a good job of staying on top of things we know. W e might need to tweak a little bit, but if you asked me if there was something out there that we need to just stop and start something else, right now I would have to tell you, "no."

Q- What would you say to a first-term Sailor contemplating pros and cons of reenlistment and making the Navy a career?

A- One of the great things about the Navy is we have a lot of opportunity, and we have a lot of options for our Sailors, and although they might not have had the opportunity to experience them their first term, I will share with them that if they would stay in there for a little bit longer, we can open up some doors that they might never have been able to have the opportunity to walk through. There's a lot of training - initial training, there's "A" school when they first come in, there's a lot of work for our first-term Sailors to do and getting acclimated to being a Sailor. Once that's under their belt, now you're in your rate and if you like your rate you can expand. There are ... different avenues for them to take. So I would tell them we are a great organization, we're concerned about your families, we're concerned about you, and we will, as leadership, do whatever we can to make your time in the Navy as successful as possible. That's what I would share with them.

Q- Can you share your thoughts about the recent enhancements to PTS and enlisted career management that were announced by the CNP?

A- Based on the feedback that we received from our Sailors, the team at CNP has taken some time to make some enhancements to the way a Sailor navigates through their career. Not only is it about just reenlisting, but it's about reenlisting, being able to convert, being able to manage their careers earlier so they will have more choices. We've brought in the reserve component to align with the active duty component. This updated way of managing our Sailors' careers is something we are very excited about, and we think our Sailors are going to be excited about it because they now have more control of what they want to do. They can see what's available to them, so they have more options now. I'm excited about it, we're all excited about it, and Sailors being able to navigate through their continuing service is going to be a great thing.

Q- Today's all-hands call had a great turnout from San Diego-area Sailors. When you do these all-hands, what sentiment do you try to leave Sailors with?

A- The number one reason why the chief of naval personnel comes out and talks to our Sailors is first of all to get their feedback and then to make sure they know what's going on, and what we are doing as a Navy to support them in their careers. What I want Sailors to know is that we care for them. We care about their families. We are concerned about while they are on the deck plates doing the work that we ask them to do, that if there's something that we could do better that we are hearing it straight from them. That's the biggest thing - that they know they do have a voice, and we do take their comments and concerns back to D.C. and we see where we can make some changes if we can and if it's necessary.

Q- How do you feel about the direction to the Navy is heading?

A- Well I will share that I am excited because I would probably like to stay another 10 years, but it's probably not going to happen. But to be out there and see our Sailors and know the leadership that they are bringing to the table now, and then to know that after I retire that they are going to be protecting my freedoms, I'm excited about it. With them coming in with the technology background that they have and where the Navy's going, I know that our force is going to be in good hands so I'm excited.