Retired Navy officers speak out against force reduction

The local Military Officers Association wrote to Congress following the announcement of sailor cuts.

In response to an announcement from the Navy that details a large cut in the number of sailors next year, Whidbey’s chapter of the Military Officers Association sent letters to Congress pleading for reevaluation.

“I think if there’s enough outcry, they may revisit it,” said Terry Sparks, chapter president. “They’re already stretched beyond belief, and they just cut the resources and keep adding deployments to them. You can’t keep these ships going 100 miles an hour in every which direction and the maintenance coming to suffer.”

According to the release, the Navy will fund an active-duty strength of 332,300 sailors, a decrease of 14,700 compared to 2023. The number of Marines will go unchanged.

The release states that the Navy is improving housing and food options for sailors assigned to ships undergoing maintenance, alongside “significant investments” in childcare centers and professional development opportunities. They are also increasing funding for mental health, suicide prevention and sexual assault prevention.

Sparks claims this hasn’t been the case for the Whidbey base. His letter addresses the increase in deployments this year, reduced medical benefits and ongoing closures of services at Naval Air Station Whidbey, such as the packaging store, furniture store, food court, auto shop, marina, equipment rental shop, car wash, daycare and more.

Currently, there are nine major sea service commands deployed and land-based squadrons separated from their families, the Military Officers Association letter states.

“There is a reason recruitment is down,” reads the letter. “The government used to try to take care of their military. This is no longer happening, and medical and squadron members are getting out at the end of their commitment. Is this a Navy you would want to be in? Please do anything you can to stop this madness and keep our country safe.”

Sailors join the Navy because they are dedicated to the country and keeping its citizens safe, Sparks said, and “the government’s doing everything they can possibly do to get rid of them.”

“Having served in the military, I can attest that our armed forces are facing unprecedented challenges,” reads another letter from an anonymous active-duty Whidbey sailor. “The strength of our military should align with the capacity to combat potential threats to our nation and what we hold dear. Sustaining an all-volunteer force is paramount, and we have much work ahead to rebuild and reinforce the trust and confidence of the American people.”

According to Sparks, Navy pilots are extremely valuable to high-paying airlines, and the Navy is disincentivizing them to continue to serve.

Currently, the Navy is deployed to Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Israel, Ukraine and elsewhere, and this is not the time to downsize, Sparks said.

“These guys are really being tasked, continuously deployed,” he said. “I had a friend that just came back from deployment and get ready to start work, to go again and gone for like seven months.”

Oak Harbor is a Navy town, said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Neuberger, whose son is a Navy chief of combat operations currently deployed in Qatar. These cuts affect families and the community.

“They’re just doing more with less all the time, and it’s a pressure on the active-duty force,” Neuberger said.

Many medical services have been cut from the Naval hospital, Sparks said. For many procedures, sailors must go down to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, about two hours away.

The change is a major impact on Navy families, he said, and if they don’t take care of the families, “all the good guys are going to get out.”

According to the press release, the new fiscal request shows the Navy is developing strong warfighting teams, recruiting talented personnel and ensuring a high quality of service.

“Our request demonstrates the department’s commitment to providing a ready, modernized and capable naval force continues to be the nation’s primary instrument of sea control both now and into the future,” the press release reads.