U.S. Navy Sending Reservists To Shipyards Due to COVID-19 Delays

USS George H.W. Bush in Norfolk Naval Shipyard for its docking in 2019 - U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Stuart A. Posada

Published Jun 12, 2020 1:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy is mobilizing 1,629 reservists to support aircraft carrier and submarine maintenance at its four public shipyards starting in July. Being undertaken to reduce the maintenance backlog that has developed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Navy says it is the first time that these many reservists have been activated at one time from its unique Surge Maintenance program.

The Navy's Surge Maintenance program was established in 2005, to augment the Navy's civilian shipyard workforce in times of need. Currently, there are 2,200 enlisted reserve sailors and 240 Reserve officers across 75 units who according to the Navy have technical and trade backgrounds that will allow them to have an immediate impact at the shipyards.

"Our Sailors are electricians, pipe fitters, sheet metal workers, plumbers, hydraulic technicians, mechanics, machinists, carpenters, welders, and more," said Capt. Michael P. MacLellan, SurgeMain's national director. "Many of our people have prior experience at the shipyard where they're being sent, down to the specific shop where they will be working alongside the shipyard's organic civilian workforce."

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the Navy had targeted improving its ship maintenance and modernization efforts in 2020. Highlighting the importance of its maintenance efforts, the Navy said, “Our toughest near-term challenge is reversing the trend of delivering only 40 percent of our ships from maintenance on time.” The goal was to improve productivity, reduce lost days through depot availability in 2020, and eliminate lost days through depot extensions by the end of FY21.

In March, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) authorized leave for shipyard personnel who fell under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) "high risk" category for extreme complications tied to the COVID-19 virus. With up to 25 percent of the production workforce unable to report to their duty location, the Navy reports that shipyards have not been able to execute all their work and have built a backlog of work that, if left unchecked, would result in delays in returning ships to the fleet.

The reservists will start arriving at shipyards in early July, with all 1,629 sailors expected to be on-site by September 2020. They will be on one-year mobilization orders that according to the Navy may be extended or curtailed should circumstances change. 

The shipyards receiving the reservists are:

  • Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, will receive 267; 
  • Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, will receive 486; 
  • Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Washington, will receive 676; 
  • Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, will receive 200.

"We have been methodical in how we planned this mobilization," said Vice Adm. Tom Moore, NAVSEA's commander. "We did not mobilize anyone who already works in the ship maintenance or construction field, and we worked to place people into shipyards where they have previously drilled so there was a built-in comfort factor for both the Reservist and the shipyard personnel."

Once mobilized, and while working at the shipyards, the Navy has directed that the sailors abide by all COVID-19 specific policies. This includes conducting a daily self-screening and undergoing a temperature check before entering the shipyard, wearing all required personal protective equipment and following the same social distancing measures as the rest of the shipyard workforce.