State of Military Sealift Command

I’ve been sailing for 4 years now with MSC as a Third Engineer. Overall not the worst place to work, the checks never bounced, got to see and spend considerably Port time in 14 countries, served aboard diverse engineering platforms.

However, I’m on medical leave (minor surgery) and got a call to come back to work. The HR rep told me that MSC is overdue 34 slots, and that in the future they are enforcing a one month off for vacation rather than the traditional two months off.

This happens every year, there’s no incentive to work during the in demand time of year. Unlike the halls, we get paid to wait for a ship, and we have zero say in where we go, so even if you do go back to a high demand time, no guarantee it will lead to a higher paying ship, thus no incentive.

In addition, the pay differences between ships can be huge (25-35% difference) so if you are on a good ship, prepare to make the big bucks, but stay for a year or two.

It got me thinking, why can’t MSC be Government Owned Contractor Operated across the board? The only difference I can see is certain jobs are heavily involved with UNREPS, and you wouldn’t want an AB with zero UNREP experience on the line. Still, that can be mitigated by training programs, as many of the GOCO ships do now.

But most Civmar positions, particularly engineering and steward department, have little difference in the union jobs. Why not have the unions crew them all, they seem
much better equipped to handle the ebb and flow of employment, provide more time off, and are cheaper for the tax payer.

Any insight on why MSC operates the way it does?

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MSC is a niche market with 130 ships and 5200 CIVMARS.
The SIU alone claims 35,500 members. The unions aren’t structured to manage the number of unique training requirements and the security clearance apparatus.

The unique training requirements at a basic level amount to two weeks of training, most of which is death by PowerPoint. Helo and fall protection training is very important for some key personnel, but majority of us only do it at renewal periods.

You may have a point on the security clearance, but even that is a bit of an overkill for some employees. Sure the radio operator or Navigator needs to be vetted, but does the guy who does the dishes, the inventory guy, or the electrician really have need to know information? And considering a majority of Civmars are foreign born/living permanently overseas, how is it that they qualify and can renew clearances? The process cannot be that stringent.

Entry level mariners (deck, engine, steward) work on UNREP stations, they work under helicopters for VERTREP, they could (but usually don’t) work with ammo.

You could run most of the engine department and the cooks with GOCO.

As for security clearances, everyone onboard knows the schedule and what’s going on so everyone needs clearance. (Not that every cab driver and hooker/girlfriend in our usual ports don’t know our schedules.) Or maybe it’s because someone is worried that someone could try to detonate a hold full of bombs while alongside an aircraft carrier. Who knows?

Now if you’re asking why don’t they convert to the GOCO model using CIVMARs, I don’t know. From the coustomer’s perspective (USN) it usually works. We (CIVMARs) may not always like it but we’re not the coustomer.

I’m ancient. I went through the training before the power point era. IIRC most modules lasted 1 to 5 days with retired Navy instructors. I agree with you that some aspects of the security clearances may seem overdone but you know a guy can inadvertently slip some bit of info to guy who talks to another guy. I don’t see it changing in the current homeland security climate.

PS DeckApe’s comment about cab drivers and hookers and girlfriends notwithstanding. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

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Maybe I’m wrong, but our locations are just not really a secret. Yes there’s the loose lips of the sailors; rules in place to stop the behavior but limited means of detecting and enforcing.

But what about the foreign husbanding agents that we use? If terrorist agents or foreign governments wanted to know where our supply vessels are, much easier to grease the Pakistani guy making peanuts in Jebel for the info. They may not have the big picture of the voyage, but to be honest no one on the ship does. How often do you leave port and only have a vague idea of where you’re going and when you’ll be back around? As a non deck guy I have no clue and don’t even ask anymore.

I guess the answer has been said, but I just really don’t like it: “it works just leave it be”.

But being an engineer I just have trouble accepting that mentality. If I have to tighten a nut and have crescent wrench on me, sure it’ll work. But if I have more than a few, wouldn’t it be smart to go get a ratchet? And if I have over a hundred to do, wouldn’t it be worth it to go grab the impact?

MSC’s mission will hopefully outlive us all, isn’t it time to make changes to a system that works, but just barely?

Oh boy, did you open a can of Navy worms. Ever hear of Fat Leonard?


Our positions including arrival/departure dates and times are classified SECRET. They get downgraded to FOUO a few days before arrival. We send out two messages, one is CLASS with dates and times, another is UNCLASS without dates and times.

In practice many of our dates are known to husbanding agents or shipyards ahead of time. Can’t help that. Sometimes it’s even told to the media in the case of exercises or other public relations. But make no mistake, they are classified.

The whole thing is silly. We used to use a common commercial navigation program to work out our track from A to B (Waypoint for Windows) until someone in USN realized it has our predicted date/time/position on an UNCLASS computer. (So now some folks use the navigation apps on their phones.)

We used to send our weather reports on UNCLASS computers containing current position at sea. Same thing. Now we send it on the classified computer.

It took the 7th Fleet accidents before broadcasting our positions on AIS was acceptable.

To me it’s all absurd. Any advanced nation likely knows the location of every naval ship. It’s hard to hide a hunk of warm metal cutting a wake in a featureless sea while radiating across the electronic spectrum. Even the less advanced nations likely know where the warships are in a smaller area of interest.

That said, position/date/time are classified. Sorry for the derail and rant.


Looking to join MSC as an AB, but am wondering how the training works. I have all the sea time to make 3rd mate, But still need to take all the classes to test. I would like to sail with MSC and get my training paid for if possible. Any information on whether MSC is still paying for classes to progress your carreer? Or has that been phased out because people jump ship once they get all the classes paid for.

How many different threads are you going to post this in?


Security clearance is not only to clear the individual for service, it also provides safety and security for the rest of the crew. You don’t want a highly qualified crewmember who also happens to be a known terrorist.

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“it also provides safety and security for the rest of the crew.”

True. One of the key things the investigators look for is susceptibility to blackmail. That could stem from a wide variety of previous behavior.
Blackmail is a tool that can be used to control someone in more ways than just convincing them to commit sabotage. It could open the door to all kinds of personal abuse.

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I agree but I also have to laugh. All the Chinese or Russians have to do is set up some cameras in Subic or Pattaya or Bahrain (et al.), use facial recognition against public photos to figure out who is who and they’d have a slew of blackmail. (I’d be surprised if they haven’t already.) They’d get everyone from messman to master! A good portion of the crew on every ship is compromised.

‘Does your wife know where you’ve been?’

‘What would mom think?’

‘You know that’s illegal?’


Lurking in the details there are no doubt thoughts about needing to take one of these ships into harms way. The way things are now i think it makes it somewhat more difficult to go on strike, or do a pier head jump etc. Basically, i think the current modus gives the employer a little more control of the situation.

I think it gives the appearance of more control, but not in practice.

Twice a year you have people overdue for months, despite being 110% manned. Then at other times of the year, people are sitting waiting for a job, collecting a paycheck, per diem, and getting free lodging in either San Diego or Norfolk. MSC has a captured workforce, but the workforce has a captured employer as well.

A lot of money is being spent propping up a system that doesn’t work for the sailor on shore, the sailor aboard the ship, the office personnel detailing, and ultimately that taxpayers that fund this system.


Not to open up another can of worms, but I think the rampant prostitution stems partly from a lack of shore leave on MSC’s part.

Prostitution, even if done in the most ethical of ways, presents some problems for both the worker and the patron. And we all know, it’s not done in the most ethical of way in these foreign countries.

I don’t want to remove the responsibility of choice from the Civmar, but if you make a guy sail 9-10 months out of the year for 30 odd years, what do you expect? A person cannot have a personal life in 2-3 months, and being with another crew member doesn’t work out (numbers game and the sake of professionalism).

Maybe if we had a more coherent system of detailing, we’d have more time off and an ability to have a personal life. The Navy has ballistic submarines that more or less have a constant deployment schedule due to the nature of their work. To accomplish this unique mission, they have a two crew rotation.

Perhaps MSC should adopt this approach, particularly for forward deployed vessels. We all have experienced or are aware of the talent drain that happens when a ship gets sent to Fifth Fleet. It takes a charismatic Capt/Chief to keep the crew together (or a free flow of OT fraud/waste/abuse).

By having a defined rotation, you’d be able to retain talent and reduce the mass exodus that happens. A tall order for a government agency to change how they operate, better to just roll into a proven system that the unions provide. They already staff the GOCO’s, a little modification they could staff the UNREP vessels and Support Vessels as well

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And that moron who interviewed me for an MSC job years back couldn’t “figure out why we have so many people quitting?” or why they had retention issues.

I dunno King George… you tell me.


I agree with you. MSC does operate in a terribly inefficient way at a large cost to the tax payer. It is a meat grinder to its personnel. There’s so much potential that gets wasted.

I’ve been trying to understand how a such a poor system can be permitted to drag on year after year. The best explanation I could come up with was the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ reasoning.

A fixed rotation would have all sorts of benefits. It would increase the productivity of CIVMARs. They wouldn’t be so worn out all the time. It would retain more people keeping the knowledge, skills, experience and training with MSC. Better people would stay and not flee to other companies.

I’d even argue the ships would be ‘broke’ less often because, let’s be honest, there have been many times a C3 or C4 CASREP was exaggerated or outright faked to keep the ship in port. When the ship is your life for 10 months a year and the only respite from that is to ‘break down’ every now and then, I mean, what do they think people are going to do?

Keep people on a ship 10 months a year, year after year, nag them with ridiculous requirements (i.e. no beards), and you end up with mentally exhausted, easily distracted, maladjusted, prostitute obsessed, saboteurs who cost a lot and work as little as possible.

But forget us. USN isn’t shelling out money as a social service. They want their warships to have food, fuel, ordnance, spare parts and personnel delivered to them at sea. As long as that keeps happening there is no reason to risk something that works for them.

In the longer term, the lack of efficiency is a risk. Increasing costs with diminishing returns could some day rise to an unacceptable level. When there isn’t enough money to keep the ships operational that would force their hand. But the Navy has lots of money so I don’t see that happening.

Sadly the meat grinder will continue to waste tax payer money and human potential. The CIVMARs will continue to quit, 107, play ‘pool games’ and C4 the ships to get a break from it all.


Good luck, I’m currently in the pool with a 3rd mate hired as a laundryman. All you can do is try, just dont be impatient if you dont here from anyone for awhile it took me two years from the date I applied to get here.

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You can’t beat a two crew rotation for morale and an efficient workforce.