By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Scott Wichmann
Perhaps no one better understands the unique administrative hurdles that come with being a Navy Reserve Sailor — or is better suited to help fix them — than Cmdr. Julie McGill.
Over a career spanning four decades, McGill has seen Navy Reserve pay and personnel processes and systems evolve from a system of clipboards, carbon copies, drill chits and paper paychecks to the more modern-day integration of online functions such as the Defense Travel System (DTS), Enhanced Drill Management (EDM) and direct deposit.
Yet one constant through the years has been the distinct separation between active and Reserve component pay and personnel systems — an electronic divide that still causes frequent delays and headaches for Reserve component members transferring to and from active duty.
But all of that is about to change.
In 2020, McGill began orders with Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command (CNRFC) as the Reserve MyNavy HR Transformation Deputy, developing a new platform to prevent Reserve Sailors from experiencing delayed or inaccurate pay as a result of outdated and ineffective systems, which directly impact the readiness of the force and puts unnecessary stress on Reserve Sailors and families — something McGill has been painfully familiar with throughout her career.
“When I was in the Reserve in 1991, I got recalled and mobilized to Gulfport, Mississippi, with the Seabees in support of Desert Storm,” said McGill. “I remember it took a long time to get my active duty pay started. It was generally a three-month process to gain a Sailor and a three-month process to off-ramp that Sailor back to the Reserve side.”
Operation Desert Storm famously lasted only 43 days, and, according to McGill, she wasn’t even sure if she was fully administratively gained to active duty before the Gulf War came to a swift and abrupt conclusion.
“Funny enough, mine was a three-month mobilization,” she said. “They said if they could’ve turned my mobilization off, they would have. It wasn’t a smooth process back then.”
Always ready to take on a challenge, McGill initially joined the Navy in 1980, mainly in a defiant answer to a verbal broadside casually delivered by her father one afternoon.
“After telling my dad that I was not college material and had dropped out of my first semester at a junior college, he looked me sternly in the eyes, pointing, and said, ‘You need to join the military and the Navy would be the best, but they probably won’t even take you,’” McGill recalled, a conversation she considered a challenge.
“I was like ‘Oh, no, he did not just say that.’ So I stormed right off to the nearest recruiting station, which was 45 miles away in Auburn, Alabama.”
McGill recalled how her routine reliance on the communication technology of the day instantly paved the way for the early days of her Navy career.
“So I’m driving up in a Ford Pinto, and the recruiter comes out and sees my CB radio in the car, so he says, ‘You like CB radios? You need to be a radioman,’” McGill recalled with a laugh. “Well, the CB radio was the cellphone of the early ‘80’s, so I said, ‘Sign me up! I get to join the Navy and I get to talk on the radio.’”
Finishing the self-paced, customarily six-week radioman class ‘A’ school course at Naval Training Center San Diego, California, in only three weeks, McGill earned the title of honor graduate before reporting to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, Texas and then to the Essex class aircraft carrier USS Lexington (AVT-16), where she would serve until 1986. Joining the Reserve soon after, she then earned a direct commission in 1993.
According to McGill, basic administrative management for Reserve Sailors and units in the 1980s and early ‘90s was routinely burdensome, meticulous and time-consuming.
“I used to track my unit’s Annual Training (AT) orders on a clipboard, and that clipboard would have over 100 AT applications, which we filled out by hand,” McGill said, shaking her head. “We had to track all of that with no Excel spreadsheets, nothing. After the drill weekend was over, I’d take that clipboard in to work with me every single day to my civilian job, and I’d call a lady in Goose Creek, South Carolina to track when our people were going to do their AT. Every day, I’d be on the phone, long distance, and that was when we didn’t have cell phones.”
“Our Reserve drill chits were carbon copies,” McGill continued. “You had to make sure you had a drill chit to make sure you’d get paid for your drills and ensure you had all of your required retirement points. It was weeks before we got paid, maybe even a month. So you’d often find yourself at drill again before you got paid — and your check came in the mail. You didn’t get a direct deposit. It wasn’t like looking at a computer screen and saying ‘okay, I see I’ve been mustered.’”
Even back in the days before the internet, McGill said she was always on the lookout for an electronic option to help make administrative tasks easier and more efficient.
“In 1987, I remember bringing my Tandy 1000 Radio Shack computer to a drill weekend,” she said. “I can’t imagine what I could have accomplished with it back then.”
In the mid-1990s, McGill was part of a working group that produced one of the earliest internet-based Navy training systems, Navy Knowledge Online (NKO). During deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005 and 2015, she again experienced some of the more routine administrative hiccups common to deploying Reserve Sailors.
McGill said one constant theme she continues to revisit at each assignment throughout her 40-year career is improving the management of the Reserve Sailor administrative process — experience that has culminated in her latest role as the Transformation deputy, helping run a team committed to streamlining Reserve and active administrative platforms into one comprehensive self-service interface, the Navy Personnel and Pay (NP2) system.
“It’s long past due,” said McGill. “NP2 is an answer to a prayer. It’s an answer to the Reserve Sailor being on equal footing with the active component Sailor, because it creates an environment that tells every Sailor, ‘We are all the same.”’
As part of the ongoing MyNavy HR Transformation effort, the development of NP2 will provide a modern, cloud-based solution combining personnel and pay functions into one consolidated, seamless system maximizing Sailor access to self-service capabilities across both Navy components.
Designed for accessibility via smartphone, tablet or computer, NP2 will offer Reserve muster, all Reserve order types, readiness information, travel, retirement, dependency data and more all in one place. According to McGill, NP2 will be a one-stop shop for multiple functions, eliminating the need to log onto separate systems.
“NSIPS, NROWS, NRRM, they’re all there in one system now,” she said. “If I want to know what my retirement point totals are, I just log into NP2. Orders? Log into NP2. Need to update my page 2 or my RED/DA? Log into NP2.”
McGill’s breadth of experience and depth with administrative functionality led her to Norfolk, Virginia, when, in 2019, she was invited to leverage her insight, leadership and organizational skills as part of the CNRFC Transformation team.
“I think Cmdr. McGill’s experiences from the beginning have been so diverse; she routinely thinks beyond the piece she’s been tasked with,” said Capt. Claudia Macon, Special Assistant to the Chief of Navy Reserve for Transformation, McGill’s direct supervisor and a longtime shipmate and friend. “She truly thinks outside the box. That’s what makes her such an essential part of this team.”
McGill is excited about being a part of the Transformation team at CNRFC and credits Macon with bringing her on board.
“Capt. Macon said, ‘I’m going to see this project through and I need a deputy to help me,’” said McGill. “I thought, ‘Hey, this could be a great opportunity for me. I want to end my career on a good note and hopefully leave the Navy better than I found it.’”
In her role as Transformation deputy, McGill is part teacher, part salesman, part executive officer, part coach, part motivator and part drill instructor. She works to coordinate critical input from NP2 functional area managers called product owners — Sailors tasked with designing and creating the specific pay, personnel or career management content vital to the overall NP2 system.
According to Macon, the successful recruiting of NP2 product owners to the Transformation team is a huge responsibility, one which also falls mainly under McGill’s purview. Successfully selling qualified individuals on the opportunity to work on the platform, selecting the right person from multiple applicants, leveraging their experience and knowledge, surrounding them with the right support, and managing them across the spectrum along with every other program manager while keeping pace with the product timeline are just a few of the jobs McGill has to juggle to ensure a fully-functional product is delivered on-task and on-time.
“Commander McGill is kind of our ‘cat-herder’,” said Macon. “She’s the one responsible for who needs to be where and when, and she’s got to identify the right people to own those products for the Reserve.”
NP2 product owners are supported by a team of subject matters experts (SME) crafting the more granular aspects of a given system within NP2. Product owner input is communicated to site developers, who align the physical product with the requisite tools a Sailor needs to manage their career through NP2’s front-facing customer delivery system.
Macon said the SMEs are a key component of the overall effort.
“A product owner is a person who knows enough to know when they don’t know it,” said Macon. “So they go in and they find SMEs to surround themselves with. If our product owners can’t find SMEs, we tell them, ‘We’ll find them for you. You’re not alone.’ So the product owners are key, and they actually have the authority to approve or disapprove development. Being a product owner is a huge commitment. It’s not just for the development cycle, it’s for design, development, post-test, functional test and final sign-off. It is a big job.”
Master Chief Navy Counselor Kimberly Cedar, the Reserve Force Career Counselor, is the product owner responsible for the content and development of two NP2 projects: reenlistments and extensions and enlisted advancement.
“Many of the projects have both a Reserve and active duty product owner, which is extremely important for these products to work for every Sailor,” said Cedar. “This project has been an eye-opening experience. The caliber of people working countless hours to create these products is phenomenal. I am excited to see the culmination of hard work and how this will change our Navy Reserve for the better.”
Cedar said McGill’s leadership has been key to the team meeting each of its quarterly objectives.
“Cmdr. McGill has been extremely helpful throughout this process,” she said. “She is always willing to answer questions and provides valuable feedback when needed. It is great to have someone with her leadership skills on our team.”
Macon pointed to an extra asset helping McGill effectively lead the team to routinely meet its many benchmarks — applying her talents as a middle school teacher in her civilian career.
“Cmdr. McGill has that school teacher voice,” said Macon. “She thinks like a teacher, and she approaches things from the perspective of ‘Do the right people know the right things? Have we trained them to do the right things?’ She has that kind of school teacher thought process.”
So how does product owner and subject matter expert feedback ultimately find its way into a finished NP2 product delivered on a smartphone held in a Sailor’s hand? According to Macon, the entire process boils down to effective communication.
“It starts with design,” she said. “And that design starts with what we call an Integrated Agile Team (IAT) that sits with all of the SMEs and product owners and walks them through the product today, as is. Then they walk them through ‘what are your pain points? What do we need to change?’ Then they develop it. We refine this process over and over again.”
Macon said the open lines of communication between SMEs, product owners and the IAT continuously helps to improve the product’s functionality, but McGill’s willingness to be vocal is a large part of that overall effort, including encouraging others to speak up.
“She definitely works hard to make sure we have the right people,” said Macon. “She’s running meetings and encouraging our SMEs to speak up; getting them to talk and find their voice and confidence in their center of expertise is really the backbone to delivering the best product.”
That’s where McGill’s skill as an educator really shines, according to Macon.
“We take a teacher approach here,” Macon said. “We don’t assume people coming into these things know what they’re doing. They might have the education and skill sets and information, but do they know how to relay that?”
Macon and McGill lead regular product owner development calls with all product owners to discuss ongoing issues, conduct training and review the progress of each product in development.
“We talk a little bit about each component of the delivery cycle and we try to keep it short,” Macon said. “Our goal is to identify blockers and find out what’s the problem. If there are blockers, then we all — including Cmdr. McGill — address those blockers to fix whatever the issue is.”
Running what is essentially a team of Sailors volunteering their time to shape the future of the Reserve force, Cedar says a personal touch is essential to not only manage the monumental task, but also understand the individual needs of each contributor.
“Getting a team of civilians to understand the complexity of Reserve programs takes someone who is innovative, knowledgeable, clear and concise,” Cedar said. “Cmdr. McGill is all those things and she remains approachable to her NP2 and Navy Reserve team. She effectively communicates to her team, but, more importantly, she listens to people with great attention and sincerity. It has been great working with her on these initiatives.”
Macon sees a successful future for NP2, noting that similar efforts at consolidating pay and personnel systems have ended up grounded on the rocky shores of ignominy due to unclear ownership and lack of motivation.
“Ultimately NP2 is a Navy effort, but we’re just here to make sure the Reserve is heard,” said McGill. “As this product is being built, we’re already integrated. We’re right there with our active duty counterparts. Our Reserve admirals, captains, deputies and deputy chief’s of staff are all right there working side-by-side with their active counterparts.”
“We are now in lockstep,” said Macon. “And, as long as we continue to stay invested, engaged and at the table, we should continue to see success going forward, not just with NP2, but within transformation as a whole.”
The initial rollout of NP2 began in 2019 with the launch of MyPCS, providing active duty Sailors with CAC-free mobile access to Permanent Change of Station checklists, orders, electronic travel vouchers and a travel reimbursement calculator. NP2 implementation continues on a steady pace, deploying new capability quarterly to Sailors and the Navy HR workforce. Initial operating capability (IOC) is scheduled for January, 2022, a date that holds particular significance for McGill.
“This is my last hurrah,” she said. “I turn 60 next year, and we go to IOC with NP2 in January 2022. When it goes live, that’s my farewell.”
McGill sees a parallel between the development of NP2 and another memorable moment when the Reserve component was placed on an equal administrative footing with their active duty counterparts.
“I remember when the Reserve military ID card truly became a legitimate military ID card,” she said. “No longer did you have to carry around a red ID card that said you were a Reservist. You didn’t have to show your drill chits to get in the commissary 12 times a year. For Reserve Sailors, it was huge to get that one simple ID card.”
McGill said the advancements made by the Transformation team all boil down to one simple idea.
“No matter if you are active or Reserve, you’re still Navy, you still have a mission and you need to get it done,” she said. “We need to make it as easy as possible for you to do your job, and this does it. That’s what NP2 is going to do. It won’t matter if you’re active or Reserve.”
“There’s no difference.”