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Sailors to MCPON: Fix these problems

Oct. 1, 2012 - 07:45AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 1, 2012 - 07:45AM  |  
Sailors say MCPON (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens should tighten PT requirements, improve the NWUs and also work on a Navy motto.
Sailors say MCPON (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens should tighten PT requirements, improve the NWUs and also work on a Navy motto. (Navy)
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Job No. 1 for the Navy's new top enlisted sailor will be listening to you. So what is it the fleet wants Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens to fix?

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Job No. 1 for the Navy's new top enlisted sailor will be listening to you. So what is it the fleet wants Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens to fix?

Navy Times asked readers to send us their concerns about the fleet and how the new MCPON could address them. Responses ranged from quality-of-life suggestions, such as designing a lightweight Navy working uniform for tropical climates; to career-focused changes, like improving the chief selection process; to challenging the Navy to adopt an official motto.

Others raised issues, but not solutions. "Get rid of the exams!" read one typical comment. Another piñata was the re-enlistment approval process, Perform-to-Serve. And many railed against the two enlisted retention boards that laid off nearly 3,000 sailors.

The enlisted force has gone through a great deal of tumult in recent years, from ratings mergers to the ERB, pointed out a number of active-duty responders, who said the new MCPON should emphasize stability and advocate for the deck plates.

While Stevens did not speak to the suggestions in this article, he did provide the following statement: "I am excited about the future and look forward to leading our Sailors and engaging with our families, as we carry out the mission of our Navy by executing the chief of naval operations' Sailing Directions."

Here are some of fixes you want the MCPON to make:

Better uniforms

Sailors see a lot of room for improvement with uniforms, an area where MCPON has real power as a voting member of the uniform board. They suggested fixes ranging from physical training gear to working uniforms.

Some sailors based in hot climates say that the Navy working uniform is too stuffy and doesn't breathe well.

"NWUs are too thick of a fabric for tropical climates," wrote Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW) Celia Batoon, who is assigned to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. "I recommend creating a summer weight NWU to accommodate the sailors living in tropical climates."

Navy Times reported in late summer that board officials are considering dumping the NWU Type 1, or "aquaflage," uniforms, and replacing them with the woodland and desert pattern NWUs. Some sailors have said these stand up better in warm climates.

Another sailor called the yellow-shirt, blue-shorts PT uniform "hideous" and suggested that a white shirt be adopted instead.

"We need to go back to Navy blue and white," wrote one yeoman first class assigned to U.S. Pacific Command, who didn't give Navy Times permission to use his name. "Simple. Sharp," he added.

Officials are running trials to see whether women should wear male uniforms in an effort to make uniform styles gender-neutral. Female Naval Academy midshipmen are wearing male combination covers. Female band members in the Fleet Forces and Pacific Fleet bands are donning "Dixie cups" during concerts. And women in the Navy Ceremonial Guard are wearing dress blue jumpers at ceremonies.

One female seaman apprentice assigned to the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman said she favored this direction, asking the new MCPON to approve timeless sailor uniforms, such as "Dixie cups" and jumpers, for women. "We hate our stewardess-style dress blues," wrote this sailor, who didn't give permission for her name to be used.

Get serious about PT

The Navy uses physical readiness test failures to boot sailors, but commands aren't doing enough to help sailors stay fit, some sailors say. They say chiefs and officers are too hands-off and often don't PT themselves.

"A majority of the chiefs don't require PT be done or simply don't show up at all," wrote one information systems technician first class, who asked to remain anonymous to criticize more senior ranks. "If every chief showed up to PT, the Navy would improve overnight in every way. This is leading by example in its simplest form."

The IT1, a former Marine who joined the Navy in 2004, added: "I think the Navy needs to follow the Marine Corps example and force the chiefs to start enforcing and attending PT — and not just during chiefs initiation."

Retired Master Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW) Michael Carr wrote the new MCPON should demand chiefs PT with their sailors and suggested that this would bring home the message that chiefs lead from the front.

And one sailor suggested the Navy consider scoring PRTs the same for everyone, regardless of age or sex. To do otherwise is just politically correct, the sailor argued.

"Heads on the new carrier are gender-neutral," he wrote, referring to the fact that no urinals are planned for Ford-class flattops. "Why not PRT scores?"

Chiefs' board changes

One way to ensure that the Navy's deck-plate leaders are in shape is to require a photo for promotion boards, one reader suggested.

First classes up for chief, as well as chiefs up for E-8 and E-9, would need a full-length photo in their record to be screened by their promotion board, a practice that would ensure only those within the Navy's physical standards would be chosen, wrote Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (FMF/SW) Will Stewart.

"If the officers are required to have a current photo on file for their promotion boards, and if the Marines can do it for their [staff noncommissioned officer] promotions, why not have recent photos available on sailors going up before a promotion board?" asked Stewart, who's assigned to Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, N.C. "I'm not advocating that the best-looking sailors get selected, but I do think there should be some measure of ‘trust but verify' involved."

The process of selecting chiefs should also become more transparent, one first class wrote. In the Navy, everything is detailed in instructions, references and paperwork — except for when it comes to promotion boards, he complained.

"How does everyday life in the Navy have standards for anything and everything in all ranks, but the selection of Navy chiefs is subjective and left up to a board of people that are not supposed to talk about what happened during the board?" wrote this sailor, who didn't allow Navy Times to publish his name. "When it comes to the selection of chief, nobody knows why they weren't selected or how close they possibly came to making it."

The first class, who acknowledged he'd been passed up for chief a few times, said he'd like to know what the board had been looking for so he could improve his submission and make chief next year.

Stop the micromanagement

A score of current and former sailors believe that chiefs are leaning too hard on their divisions and that the new MCPON should send a message to them: Give petty officers the chance to lead.

Chiefs are spending too much time in their work centers and shops, a constant presence that's undermining their petty officers, one Navy Times reader wrote.

That's perhaps an indication of how involved chiefs have become in the surface fleet's back-to-the-basics approach. Oversight may be a good thing, but too much sends the wrong message.

One sailor, who posted anonymously on a Navy Times forum in response to questions, said that when he made second class in 2003, "My job was to keep the chief out of the shop and in the mess."

But that's changed, he continued: "This isn't how the Navy is working anymore. I'm not sure what's happening. Is more pressure coming down on the CPOs [so] that they're afraid to be out of the shop?"

As this reader pointed out, when the chief is always around, it undermines the authority of the work center supervisor and the senior PO. Any time their petty officer gives a sailor a job he doesn't want, he can turn to the chief.

"Running to the chief when you don't have the answer you want — and getting it — is bad," agreed "Vrake," the forum user name of a commenter who replied to the sailor's statements. "It's also getting bad where a sailor does not get the answer he wants from a chief and goes to another."

Fix the mess

While readers were generally upset with the rash of senior enlisted firings this year — 13 as of Sept. 26, a tally equal to last year's total — most saw this as evidence of holding chiefs accountable. They asked the new MCPON to continue the focus on standards.

One former master chief went so far as to argue that MCPON should "fire all slackers" — any chiefs, afloat or ashore, who are not pulling their weight.

On top of these reliefs, which former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SS/SW) Rick West made public to deter others, the enlisted force has experienced a lot of tumult. With this in mind, one reader said the new MCPON's focus should be on continuity.

"We have just gone through one of the largest periods of upheaval in the enlisted ranks, from rating mergers en masse to the force-shaping tools of [Perform-to-Serve] and [the enlisted retention boards]," wrote Lt. j.g. Mike Hatfield, a limited duty officer who previously served as a chief. Hatfield said that Stevens should not "succumb to pressures to create new programs," but rather stick with programs that have worked.

"What we need now is a focus on rating expertise, deck-plate leadership and officer mentoring, which has always been what makes the CPO mess the backbone of the Navy," Hatfield wrote.

To keep sailors informed, MCPON should produce a weekly sitrep for all hands, one reader suggested, as a podcast or video.

Empower COs

Last year's ERB unleashed anxiety across the enlisted ranks. The cuts forced out 2,946 sailors from E-4 to E-8, most of them midcareer sailors with good records. Sailors and leaders in the fleet have complained over the past year that the cuts would have lots of operational and manning repercussions, saying the Millington, Tenn.-based boards only looked at overloads in 31 ratings, not the actual impact of cutting a specific sailor from a specific command. Navy officials have pledged not to hold another ERB in the next few years.

This experience shows that commanding officers, who know the sailors at their command far better than random board members glancing at their records, should have the power to retain them, one reader suggested.

"Give the commanding officers the power to keep sailors in the Navy, regardless of circumstances. If a CO deems it necessary to keep a sailor it should be done," wrote the reader, who didn't authorize Navy Times to use his name.

This authority would also cut the other way, he added: "On the flip side, give COs the power to kick sailors out."

The Marine Corps has a memorable motto: "Semper fidelis." So does the Coast Guard, "Semper paratus." One reader wondered, why doesn't the Navy?

"We need an official motto," observed Richard Miller, a former personnel specialist first class who now works as a Navy civilian in Portsmouth, Va.

A motto could boost the fleet's esprit de corps. And it's a handy way to sum up the service's value to citizens, just as the Marines are "Always faithful" and the Coast Guard is "Always ready," according to their translations from Latin.

The Navy has core values (honor, courage, commitment). And courtesy of the SEALs, it has "Hooyah," the rallying cry embraced by West. One front-runner is "Semper fortis," or "Always courageous," a motto often used in speeches by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

According to Naval History and Heritage Command, however, the Navy has no official motto. Another possibility is "Non sibi sed patriae," meaning "Not self but country." But that's a mouthful, isn't it?

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