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Navy personnel chief to sailors: you have a voice in ratings overhaul


Chief petty officers stand at attention during a chief pinning ceremony aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) on Sept. 16, 2016, in the Atlantic Ocean. | U.S. Navy photo by Christopher Gaines

Vice Adm. Robert Burke is the chief of naval personnel. He assumed the role in May and is responsible for the planning and programming of all manpower, personnel, training and education resources for the U.S. Navy. This views expressed in this commentary are his own.

There has been a lot of discussion since we announced the Navy's rating modernization plan on Sept. 29. I've been following the conversation closely, and it's clear that many were surprised by this announcement.

While there is rarely a right or perfect time to roll out a plan as significant and ambitious as this rating modernization effort, I firmly believe this change needs to occur, and now is the right time to do so. Throughout our rich, 241-year history, the U.S. Navy's consistent advantage has come from its Sailors. You are our asymmetric advantage in an increasingly complex world -- you are our prized possession, our secret weapon. In recognition of that, we continuously work to ensure that we develop and deploy our Sailors in the most modern and effective system possible. This is just our latest effort to modernize our personnel system -- one of hundreds we've made in the past.

The objectives of this effort are simple: flexibility, flexibility and flexibility. First, we will provide flexibility in what a Sailor can do in our Navy, by enabling career moves between occupations to ensure continued advancement opportunity and upward mobility as the needs of a rapidly adapting Navy change. Second, we will provide flexibility in assignment choice -- a Sailor with the right mix of plug-and-play skills will have more choices for ship type, home port, timing, sea/shore rotation, even special and incentive pays! Finally, we will provide you more flexibility after you leave the Navy, by providing civilian credentialing opportunities -- in other words, giving you credit in the civilian job market for your Navy education and experience.

This effort will take us several years to complete, and we will include you in the process as we work through it -- we're just getting started and you will be involved as we go. Many questions remain unanswered, and we'll get to them -- together. There will be fleet involvement throughout.

Here's the rough breakdown of the project, as we see it today:

-- Phase 1 (now through September 2017) -- redefine career fields and map out cross-occupation opportunities. Identify career groupings to define those rating moves that can be done, and that also translate to civilian occupational certifications.

-- Phase 2 (now through September 2018, will run parallel with Phase 1) -- examine the best way forward for how we best align our processes for:

  • Recruiting and initial job classification;
  • Planning for accessions -- the numbers and mix of skills for folks we recruit;
  • Advancements -- how do we define what is required for advancement if you are capable of several skill sets? Do we eliminate advancement exams altogether?
  • Detailing processes;
  • Pay processes -- to include things like SRB, Assignment Incentive Pay, etc.; and
  • Reenlistment rules.

-- Phase 3 (now through September 2018) -- updating underlying policy documents, instructions, things like applicable BUPERSINST, OPNAVINST, and the Navy Enlisted Occupational Standards Manual. This will include changes to how we handle things like Evaluations and Awards.

-- Phase 4 (began last year, expect to go through September 2019) -- identify and put in place the underlying IT systems. This is probably the most complex and game changing aspect of the project.

-- Phase 5 (September 2017 through September 2018) -- redesign the Navy rating badges. The idea is to hold off on this until we settle on the right definition of career fields, to better inform the conversation on the way ahead in this area.

-- Phase 6 (September 2019 and beyond) -- continuous improvement, further integration with all Sailor 2025 initiatives.

I am committed to ensuring you have a voice in the way ahead. Toward that end, I am aggressively expanding the membership and avenues of communication into the Navy-wide working group that has been assembled to tackle this project. As we go forward, your feedback matters and we want to hear from you during each phase of the transformation. You can expect lots of discussion on this as we learn and adapt the plan to make it deliver on the objectives. Have conversations with your Senior Enlisted Leaders, who are armed with how to move those conversations forward. You also have a direct line to me in order to make sure your ideas are heard -- send them to NavyRatingMod@gmail.com.

We are proud members of numerous different tribes within the Navy -- our occupations, warfare specialties, ships and squadrons -- we must always remember that there is one Sailor's Creed and we are one NAVY TEAM supporting and defending our Nation. This modernization will make us more capable as individuals and a Navy.

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