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Since 1798, the United States Navy has depended upon civilians to help provide many of the essential services that are necessary to maintain the Navy’s military readiness. Contrary to common belief, it’s extremely common to find civilians working for the United States Navy, both at home and abroad. This is part of a long tradition of military hiring of civilian workers and contractors. As a early as the American Revolution, American military forces were providing essential services that supported the operations of troops in the field, such as driving wagons, managing supply chains, producing uniforms, working on construction projects, and much more. Today, every branch of the United States military – the Navy, the Army, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard – all hire and make extensive use of a civilian workforce. Civilians are employed in key operations sectors such as medicine, information technology, diplomacy, vendor and external relations, contract management, social work, counseling services, human resources, accounting and finance, engineering, and much more. According to the most recent public statistics available, the United States Department of the Navy employs over 175,000 civilians in a huge range of capacities. Most of these civilians play a key role in on-shore military administration, but some also work on ships that are deployed at sea.
For instance, one area where the United States navy very commonly utilizes civilians as employees is within fields that require an extensive amount of academic training. For instance, many doctors and medical professionals that are provided to US Naval personnel are civilian employees (though some are also commissioned officers). In addition, the Navy spends a considerable amount of money investing in cultivation of a strong civilian workforce that includes a wide range of researchers working in fields such as medicine, biology, oceanography, chemistry, physics, geology, and much more. These personnel help the Navy perform at its very peak by ensuring that it has access to the information it needs in order to succeed. In fact, because the Navy’s operations occur primarily at sea, it employs far more of these highly trained, highly qualified civilian personnel than other branches of the military. While the US Army has very little need to employ a large number of geographers in order to support its operations, the US Navy must employ a small army of oceanographers, geologists, marine biologists, and meteorologists in order to safely and effectively carry out its operations. In many ways, operating on the seas entails far more uncertainty than operating on the land or in the skies – which creates the Navy’s unique demand for scientists.
There are two capacities in which civilians may be employed by a military branch such as the US Navy.
- First, the Navy might directly employ civilians.
- Second, the Navy might indirectly employ civilians.
In this second instance, the civilian does not actually work for the Navy, but instead works for a private sector defense contractor. The defense contractor will be paid by the Navy to provide a service or product, and the contractor will in turn utilize its civilian workforce in order to deliver the goods or services that the Navy requires.
In the first instance, civilians will be employed directly by the United States Department of the Navy. Direct employment of civilians is a relatively common occurrence within the US military branches. The US Navy employs 175,000 or more civilians at any given time; the US Army employs nearly 330,000. These employees carry out tasks that are essential to the smooth functioning of each branch of the military, but are only somewhat related to the skill sets that sailors and soldiers need in order to provide for the nation’s defense. Military branches began to depend on civilian labor sources whenever it was realized that certain specialized tasks – everything from mental health counseling to accounting – are necessary in order to run a world class military, but require skill sets that are completely unrelated to the kinds of skill sets that actually help soldiers and sailors carry out offensive and defensive measures. Hence, military branches have been slowly hiring more and more civilians, in an attempt to reduce the amount of training that the military must provide to its employees. In terms of saving both time and money, it makes far more sense for US taxpayers’ money to be spent on hiring a civilian that has been trained by the private sector to carry out a task such as contract management, instead of spending a disproportionately high amount of resources on training an enlisted service member to do the same kinds of tasks.
In the second instance, civilians are not directly employed by the Navy, but still will find themselves working shoulder to shoulder with Naval personnel. In these instances, a contractor or vendor (usually a defense contractor, but not always) will be hired by the Navy in order to carry out a certain task, or to provide and support a certain kind of good (like a weapons system). The contractor will then use its civilian workforce in order to carry out the task or deliver the goods. In this instance, the Navy does not pay civilian workers directly –- this is up to the contractor. Contractors’ employees are commonly used whenever short-term projects are involved, or whenever support and maintenance for certain technology systems necessitates that a trained staff member from a contractor or vendor should be kept on-hand at all times. For instance, large US Naval vessels are usually equipped with a surprising amount of copy machines and high-volume printers. As a result, many larger vessels (i.e. aircraft carriers) usually have a technician from the copy machine/printer company in order to handle support and maintenance – just like a large office would have. It is fairly common for a small cadre of such support and maintenance specialists – for everything from copy machines to fire control systems – to remain on a Naval craft while it is at sea. In this manner, civilians help grease the gears that keep the Navy moving.