In an abrupt about-face, the U.S. Navy announced Wednesday that its sailors may keep their existing rating titles, effective immediately. The announcement suspends the service's plans to replace its system of 60 titles with a simple set of seven enlisted ranks, comparable to those in use in the other service branches.
The U.S. Navy adopted its enlisted rating system from the Royal Navy, and its basic structure predates the existence of the United States. Under the direction of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the Navy’s top leadership moved to eliminate it, arguing that the time-honored designations limit flexibility and translate poorly to the civilian job marketplace.
The proposed rank system has drawn widespread criticism. Mabus and his staff have worked hard to promote it over the past three months, but on Wednesday they conceded that it has become a distraction. "The feedback from current and former Sailors has been consistent that there is wide support for the flexibility that the [modernization] plan offers, but the removal of rating titles detracted from accomplishing our major goals," said Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson in a statement.
A broader review of the ratings system will proceed, but it will not be discarded in its entirety. "As we looked at rating modernization effort over the past few months, we saw that we could still achieve the positive results we want without changing rating titles right now," said the Navy's Chief of Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke. "However, modernizing our industrial-age personnel system in order to provide Sailors choice and flexibility still remains a priority for us. Our personnel system has not fundamentally changed since the 1970s, and just like our ships, aircraft and weapons systems, it needs updates to keep pace with a rapidly changing world."
The military news outlet Stars and Stripes interviewed sailors across the fleet to get their reactions to Wednesday's announcement, and it found that servicemembers broadly support retaining the rating system. "What we know from joining the Navy is your rate is your job and your job defines what you do,” said fire controlman James Warren, a petty officer first class serving on the USS Chancellorsville. “The ratings going away threw a wrench in that equation and there was mayhem. I’m glad the ratings are coming back because that’s who we are.”