The U.S. Navy is continuing an internal campaign to win acceptance for a change to its traditional ratings system, which gives each enlisted servicemember a title linked to a specific occupation in lieu of a rank.
On December 11, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran visited personnel at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, an important base for military operations in Africa and the Middle East.
"What we are trying to do is not only change how Sailors are assigned to commands, but how we assess your talents, abilities, and experience," said Moran.
The Navy leadership has run into resistance over its plan to introduce a simpler system of ranks and occupational designations, similar to those used in other service branches.
Vice Adm. Robert Burke, chief of naval personnel, argues that the change is all about flexibility. "First, we will provide flexibility in what a Sailor can do in our Navy, by enabling career moves between occupations . . . Second, we will provide flexibility in assignment choice," he said in October. "Finally, we will provide you more flexibility after you leave the Navy, by providing civilian credentialing opportunities."
Critics view the change as an ill-advised attempt at political correctness, made without regard to the opinions of servicemembers or to tradition. The overhaul reportedly evolved from a directive from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to eliminate the suffix "-man" from service titles in favor of gender-neutral terms.
Puzzlingly, the gendered title of "seaman" figures prominently in the new ranking system. It will cover the lowest enlisted ranks, from E-1 through E-3. The U.S. Naval Academy will also retain the traditional title of “midshipmen” for its cadets.
"Some tradition dies hard, especially when the reasons for it are not clear and the changes appear motivated by little more than political correctness," said Capt. J.F. Kelly Jr. (ret'd.) in a recent op-ed for the San Diego Union Tribune. "The Navy is dealing with many issues including an aging surface and air fleet and a new class of ship (littoral combat ships) experiencing major reliability and maintenance problems, so the timing of this change that so negatively affects enlisted morale seems ill-advised."
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson took responsibility for the controversy in a recent visit to Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada. “I underestimated how fiercely loyal people were to their rating, I've gotten a fair amount of feedback on that," Richardson said.
The plan has a rollout period extending into the second half of 2019, the third year of the upcoming Trump administration. President-elect Donald Trump has not yet formally selected a new Secretary of the Navy, and it remains to be seen whether the ratings system will be altered under new leadership.