Shut down

A US ally is giving most of its sailors two months off.

CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s navy gets a big Christmas gift this year: two months paid vacation for most sailors that will ease the effects of a recruiting slump but make the service Down Under look something like a part-time operation.

The navy hopes that by making life on the sea more family-friendly, it will attract the extra 2,000 sailors it needs achieve its target strength of 15,000.

Critics say the so-called shut down, which inspired a front page newspaper headline Tuesday: “Navy Closes For Christmas,” will worry Australia’s major defense ally, the United States.

“Mothballing your ships for two months sends totally the wrong message to our region and to our allies,” opposition defense spokesman David Johnston told The Associated Press. “I’ve never heard of anything like this. I’m flabbergasted.”

All 55 navy ships and submarines that are not on operational deployments have been ordered home for Christmas, and the number of sailors who stay aboard docked ships as sentries will be reduced to skeleton crews.

Australia could be sending the wrong message to enemies, particularly terrorists. They aren’t immune from terror attacks down under. 88 of the 202 people killed in the 2002 Bali bombing were Australian citizens.

Navy Deputy Chief Rear Adm. Davyd Thomas said that the break will not adversely impact national security.

An Australian navy frigate would remain in the Middle East guarding oil wells over Christmas and seven patrol boats would guard Australia’s northern waters from illegal fishers and smugglers, he said.

Two ships would also be on standby, one on the east and the other on the west coast, to respond to any emergency at sea, he said.

Thomas said the navy always had a shutdown period over the southern summer, although this one was longer.

“We’re trying to become an employer of choice. We want people to want to be in the navy and want to serve here,” Thomas told reporters.

See the Great Barrier Reef and get two months vacation. Where can I sign up?

Very little of the free world requires military service from its young men anymore. Notable exceptions being Israel and South Korea. If Australia can afford to demobilize as much of their fleet as they plan to this Christmas, maybe its time to cut it back to size.

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