The U.S. Navy's leadership is reaching out to enlisted sailors to press the case for changes to the services' 200-year-old system of ratings, changes which will eliminate traditional rank and role designations over the span of the next several years.
The Navy adopted its existing enlisted rating system – effectively a hierarchy of job descriptions – from the Royal Navy at the outset of the Revolutionary War. It has been updated over the years to include new roles like Sonar Technician and to remove outdated ones like Coal Heaver, but it remains conceptually the same as it was in the Age of Sail.
The Navy says that today, these designations limit sailors' flexibility to pursue their own career path within the service and translate poorly to the civilian job marketplace. Under the leadership of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, the service is moving to a combination of ranks (Seaman, three grades of Petty Officer, then Chief, Senior Chief and Master Chief) and alphanumeric specialty codes.
"This effort will be accomplished in six phases over the next few years, and while there are several questions that we're still working through, you will be included in the process as we go forward," said Master Chief April Beldo, speaking alongside Navy Chief of Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke at the Senior Enlisted Academy on Tuesday. "Although the way we address each other has changed, make no mistake, our mission remains the same as do the bonds that unite us. There is no higher calling than to serve our nation, and we, as senior enlisted leaders must lead the deck-plate effort – as we always have, and always will."
The review was initiated by Secretary Mabus in order to create gender-neutral titles for the many ratings ending in "-man" (e.g., Damage Controlman), but ended up in a more thorough overhaul. Although several gendered ratings for pay grades E-4 and above will disappear, the Navy will actually increase its use of the gendered title of "Seaman” as a consequence of the broadened review.
The rank designation change will accompany a restructuring of the Navy's enlisted personnel training system, part of an initiative it calls Sailor 2025. The new configuration will integrate rate, billet, fleet, on-the-job and non-occupational training into a single pipeline with less front-end classroom time and more mobile training delivery (online or on board).
The Navy is also overhauling its command-level HR departments, or Personnel Support Detachments (PSDs), with revamped recruitment and training for detachment leaders. “They are going to have a direct impact on timeliness and accuracy of Sailors’ pay, so it is important for commands to select their brightest Sailors qualified to serve as Command Pay and Personnel Administrators,” said Friloux. “The partnership between commands and their supporting PSD is the key to providing Sailors with accurate and timely personnel and pay support.”