Arlington, VA --
Shipmates, in my first 100 days as your Secretary, I have had several opportunities to engage with many of you across the fleet. As some of you may have heard during my confirmation hearing, re-establishing a strong culture starting with leadership, trust up and down the chain of command, upholding good order and discipline, and empowering people to embrace their responsibilities have all been top priorities for me. My conversations with many of you have filled me with great pride and confidence in where our force is headed. These interactions reinforced what I already knew when I took this job: our Navy and Marine Corps is composed of a remarkably talented force of our finest Americans, executing difficult missions with commitment, perseverance, and excellence every day. I fully recognize you routinely perform your duties under austere conditions, the challenges of which have only grown during the global Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic. I am acutely aware of the strain that cancelled port visits, increased family separation, and PCS challenges have had on you as you've continued to protect our nation during this pandemic. I know many of you joined the Navy to see the world as did I when I joined in 1990 and I want each of you to be able to demonstrate to the world the best our nation produces. I promise you we will loosen restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so.
The best part of serving as our Secretary is getting out to the fleet and talking with the remarkable Sailors and Marines who are accomplishing our mission every day. I am in fact returning from Pearl Harbor as I write this. I enjoy taking questions because it keeps me up-to-date on the issues that each of you face.
Questions about educational benefits, particularly Tuition Assistance, are the most common queries I get. First, it is terrific that so many Sailors and Marines are taking advantage of the educational opportunities offered by our Department. It is one of the greatest benefits of serving in uniform. Education not only makes us a more effective Naval Force, but increases employment options for Sailors and Marines after leaving the service. Last year, 43,000 personnel took advantage of TA so many, in fact, that we ran out of TA money. Unfortunately, this meant that some TA requests were denied, which disrupted many individual's college plans. To ensure that every Sailor and Marine could apply for TA, we temporarily capped the number of credit hours at 12 per year. In order to remove the cap, we have requested more funding for the program to prevent future funding shortages. I would like each of you to receive all the education you can complete.
We are also pursuing accreditation for the Navy Community College program so that the courses you take can count towards a degree program. Additionally, if your operational schedule permits, you will be able to take courses while at sea or deployed through the Navy College Program for Afloat College Education. This program currently offers 332 distance learning courses that are self-contained and do not require internet connectivity.
Recently while in San Diego, I was also asked if women would be able to serve on Columbia-Class submarines, our planned replacement for Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarines. Yes! I am happy to report that berthing facilities for Columbia are being designed to allow mixed gender crews, allowing women to continue to integrate and excel in our submarine force.
Finally, I received a great question from a Sailor who was unable to take the SAT or ACT due to testing center closures because of COVID-19; this meant his Seaman to Admiral application was incomplete for reasons beyond his control. Thanks to his question, your shipmates here in the Secretariat are working to ensure that those who were unable to take the SATs or ACTs due to COVID-19 will not be disadvantaged at the STA-21 selection board.
Please continue to ask questions like these they help identify the gaps and the issues that are sometimes overlooked. My direction to leadership at all levels is to provide responsive, transparent guidance ensuring you receive the support you require to do your jobs to the best of your ability!
I am looking forward to meeting many more of you and hearing what is on your mind as I travel throughout the fleet. I am committed to building an even more capable force while improving the quality of life for you and your families. Finally, I am looking forward to sharing with you some more exciting announcements in the very near future. In the interim, continue to do the great job you are doing every day the one I tell all Americans I meet how proud I am of each of you. And as always, thank you for all that you do to protect our nation, around the world every minute of every day. It is the greatest honor to serve at your side. Full speed ahead!