Sailors can apply to re-enlist earlier and will get more chances to pick up an active-duty quota under changes to the Navy's Perform to Serve program. Here, crew members of the ballistic-missile submarine Pennsylvania re-enlist in Bangor, Wash., in September. (MCC Ahron Arendes / Navy)
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Ask a sailor what he thinks of Perform to Serve, and you're liable to get an earful. Navy officials understand PTS has a bad rap, and admit sailors' impression of the re-enlistment approval process is based in truth.
The Navy's latest drawdown saw the service drop from a force of 380,000 active-duty sailors in 2003 to 317,054 today. As re-up opportunities tanked in the last days of the drawdown, PTS acted as a cutting tool.
But 2013 is a new day and opportunities have opened up. In fact, Navy officials have since admitted they overshot the drawdown and cut too many sailors. They're now about 5,000 sailors below end strength.
Seeking to improve sailor chances to re-enlist, officials are rolling out new re-up rules that will increase the opportunity and ensure fewer of those sailors E-4 through E-6 with less than 14 years of experience get lost in the PTS system.
Program changes expected by summer include:
More chances to get an approved re-enlistment.
More help for nonrates.
And more opportunities for reservists to go active.
These changes are all good news for sailors, especially those who began to distrust PTS after witnessing their fellow sailors get weeded out.
Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, the chief of naval personnel, told Navy Times in early December that there were indeed good sailors who lost out under PTS.
"You could have been a top-performing sailor, and coming into your re-enlistment window, and we may not have had a quota for you because we were coming down in end strength," Van Buskirk said. "We were asking Perform to Serve to do some of the heavy lifting as we came down in numbers and frankly it wasn't designed to be a downsizing tool but rather a tool to balance the force."
But now leadership says it is working to fix the problem and the re-enlistment trend is up. In 2011, the same year the Navy cut nearly 3,000 sailors through two enlisted retention boards, re-up approvals were at 83 percent.
More recently, approvals were at 93 percent. And, in the past two months, officials say only an estimated 1 percent of sailors received a final rejection letter sending them home at their end-of-service date.
The new rules
The ability to stay blue will get even better in 2013, officials said, but not only because of a clearer manpower picture. It's also these new rules for PTS.
While the Navy has already implemented some smaller changes, the most radical changes are expected by summer. This PTS overhaul will rework how sailors apply to re-enlist, provide more opportunity for reservists to re-up in the active component and better assist nondesignated sailors to get into a rating.
"These changes, I'm happy to say, all originated in the fleet," said Rear Adm. Tony Kurta, head of manpower plans for the chief of naval personnel.
Kurta and his staff at CNP routinely hold teleconferences with fleet career counselors, who then figure out how to incorporate those changes into the system.
The biggest change will be what officials are calling "PTS 3-2-1." The upshot of this change is sailors will begin to apply one month earlier 13 months before their end-of-service date and will get eight monthly chances in the system to pick up an active-duty quota, the official said.
Sailors get six looks in the current system, and it varied how many of those looks were in-rating versus a conversion.
The exact policy on how these new eight looks can be used by the sailor is still forthcoming.
Sailors go into the process able to compete for three options to stay blue: Re-enlist in their current rating, request conversion to another rating or convert to the selected reserve.
How it might work
Officials envision breaking down the eight re-up chances like so: The first four months, sailors will compete to stay on active duty in their current rating and receive four monthly chances to get approved.
Those who don't pick up a quota would then get four more months to compete for a conversion quota into another rating.
"Sailors will know at least 10 months from the end of their contract if they will be allowed to re-enlist in their current rate," the official said. "And will know at least six months from their end of contract if they are able to stay in the active component by converting to a new rate."
Sailors who still don't get an active quota during those eight months will then have three more months but only to get a drilling reserve quota before leaving active duty.
Along with giving more chances to re-enlist, this new policy will especially help those sailors whose rotation dates overlap with their re-up windows.
The new 13-month PTS window would give these sailors four months to try to re-up before they have to start contending with the nine-month countdown to their orders rotation.
Another change is aimed at helping reservists return to active duty.
To navigate PTS, sailors use the Fleet Ratings Identification Engine or Fleet RIDE. All applications come into the system through Fleet RIDE, and the information on those applications determines a sailor's qualifications to stay in his current rating, as well as his ability to compete for conversion quotas. Now that system will be used for drilling reservists to apply to return to active duty under the RC2AC Reserve Component to Active Component Program.
Officials have been running a pilot program since last year and manually processing applications. To date, only 29 sailors have returned to active duty this way, but officials are expanding the program. Currently, there are more than 1,400 quotas to which qualified reservists can apply.
The change will make the application process easier for reservists by putting it online, but more importantly, it will use the same conversion qualification process currently used to qualify active sailors to convert through PTS.
But officials say that unlike active sailors, reservists' applications will still be reviewed manually by the community managers for approval. So they would not compete against active sailors in PTS.
The final new change will help those undesignated sailors who join under the Professional Apprenticeship Career Tracks program. These sailors join the Navy and spend two years in the fleet as undesignated sailors, mostly working in deck and engineering departments, or on flight decks for two years.
At any given time, there are roughly 12,000 of these nonrates.
Their contracts mandate they be designated in a rating by their two-year mark at their first command. Previously, commands had to manually track these sailors and put in "rating entry" or REGA applications.
Under the new change, Fleet RIDE will automatically know who these sailors are and what commands they're at. Officials will use this data to create a generic application for each of these nonrates at their one-year point onboard their command. It will be a trigger for the command.
This does three things: It reminds the command career counselor of the sailor's timeline and provides them with a basic application to start from, and it also allows higher commands to track the sailors and ensure that no one is falling between the cracks.