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Advancement rules ignored: 67,000 shouldn't have moved up

May. 28, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Ready, Set, INDOC! Wasp Sailors Prepare For Their
Petty officer third class selectees aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp undergo leadership training in 2010. About 45 percent of sailors who were supposed to have taken leadership courses at their command before being advanced either didn't do so or didn't have their class completion recorded. (MC1 Andrew J. McCord/Navy)
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Stevens wants Senior Enlisted Academy for all E-9s

If Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens has his way, in the not too distant future, no sailor will advance to master chief petty officer without graduating from the Senior Enlisted Academy.
“I am focusing very heavily on making the senior enlisted academy a requirement to be eligible for E-9 at some point,” Stevens said May 22. “I also recognize that this is not something that you can just wave a magic wand and do, but from a professional standpoint, this is something I am willing to put myself all in on.”
First, he’s crunching the numbers — about 1,800 senior chiefs would need to clear the course each year at the Newport, R.I., school, which is part of the Naval War College. About 500 graduate from the school now, he said, though the capacity is closer to 700, with many classes only partially filled.
Even if he can boost the output, there’s the matter of travel costs. It’ll run about $5,000 for a student to attend SEA for six weeks, money now shelled out by a sailor’s command. But Stevens hopes making the training mandatory will shake loose more money and that some of the cash used by Navy Personnel Command to send sailors to schools on temporary duty could be diverted to the effort.
The school is already required for those selected to be command master chiefs.
Stevens is working with Fleet Master Chief (AW/SW) April Beldo, the senior enlisted adviser to the chief of naval personnel, to create the new requirement. In the meantime, he wants to gradually increase class sizes to help build capacity. A boost to that plan will come in fiscal 2014, with the Naval War College offering what Stevens called “scholarship money” — cash for 20 students per class to attend SEA on temporary duty.

Navy rules require commands to hold formal leadership training and document that training in fleet databases before they are allowed to frock or advance any sailors to the next paygrade.

Navy rules require commands to hold formal leadership training and document that training in fleet databases before they are allowed to frock or advance any sailors to the next paygrade.

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Navy rules require commands to hold formal leadership training and document that training in fleet databases before they are allowed to frock or advance any sailors to the next paygrade.

Simply put, no documented class, no stripe — no exceptions.

Holding the classes, which total about 24 hours of instruction, isn’t Big Navy’s responsibility anymore. Since 2008, it’s been up to commands to teach formal leadership classes to each sailor before they are allowed to advance, or even frock, those sailors to the next paygrade — from third class to chief.

That’s not what’s happening in the fleet, at least not according to the Navy’s own data.

Fleet figures show 45 percent of the 148,576 sailors E-4 through E-7 required to have the training — 67,191 sailors in all — either didn’t complete it or their commands didn’t document it.

“The training’s not done until it’s documented,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens in an interview with Navy Times. “We have a requirement, and that’s laid down in the instruction on enlisted leadership training [OPNAV 5351.2A]; it states not only that sailors must complete training, but that prior to any frocking or advancement that commands must verify for each sailor being advanced that the training is done and documented. ... If it’s not, then that should be fixed before those sailors put it on.”

Those numbers only include sailors with a date of rank on or after March 1, 2009, after which all sailors are required to have the current, command-taught training. Even the lone exception — commanders can ask their immediate supervisor for a waiver if deployment or other needs make providing the training impossible — only allows for a delay in the training, not a free pass.

Figures are slightly better in the Navy Reserve, with 67.29 percent of those who advanced on or after March 1, 2009, meeting the requirement. But only 45 percent of the total Reserve enlisted force has completed any leadership training, records show.

Stevens says the Navy doesn’t need new inspections or a totally new program — just to ensure commands comply with the one it has, and improve the quality of instruction. And though it’s partially the wardroom’s responsibility to ensure the training gets done, he’s laying the responsibility of ensuring that happens at the door of the chief’s mess.

“Chief petty officers are mostly responsible for the execution of enlisted leadership training,” he said. “We own it. ... Now, we have the responsibility to execute.”

Some of the problem could come from poor record-keeping: Stevens says he believes from his fleet visits as the fleet master chief at Fleet Forces Command that commands are doing the training. He estimates up to 95 percent of commands are complying with the training requirement, with many not recording its completion. But what about those that aren’t doing it at all?

“You think you’re saving time by not doing the training,” he said. “But down the line, that time is going to be used up threefold by trying to resolve an issue that could have been prevented had leadership provided the right tools and education to the sailor.”

A nagging problem

Getting commands to deliver the proper training isn’t a new problem, Stevens admitted — it’s been around for nearly a decade, perhaps longer.

“To know where we are, you have to understand our history with this issue,” he said. “In 2005, we had brick-and-mortar schoolhouses that we wish we had back today,” he said.

Commands were technically required to send their sailors to what was originally a two-week leadership course given in fleet concentration areas. But the training was far down on most commanding officers’ priority list; COs didn’t want to lose a sailor for half a month, or pay to send him away.

To fix that, the Navy cut the course to one week and drew a line in the sand: Sailors were given two years — until December 2007 — to complete the training, and those who didn’t complete it by then wouldn’t even be allowed to take an advancement exam.

Three months before the deadline, 28,000 active-duty and Reserve sailors hadn’t trained up. Then-Chief of Naval Personnel Vice. Adm. John Harvey wasn’t happy.

“Every [commanding officer] is responsible for the professional development of their crew. That is a fundamental command responsibility that is inescapable and constant,” Harvey told Navy Times in 2006. “The expectation is that our COs understand that responsibility and act on it.”

The deadline was extended. The backlog dropped, but more problems surfaced: Up to 35 percent of all scheduled classes were being canceled each year because they lacked the minimum 12 students.

As Harvey was considering consequences for COs who didn’t send sailors to training, fleet leaders had their own fix in mind: Moving the training into the commands.

The plan, which came to light in late 2008, seemed to answer all the problems — no more class-size issues at off-site locations, no more losing sailors to far-off training, and an in-house system that could let leaders better track who’d finished the training.

But when Stevens pulled the string on training completion statistics in 2010, he found the percentage of completion to be “around 40 percent,” he said. By focusing on the problem, he said that rate rose more than 30 percentage points, but he’s worried that momentum has been lost.

“I have a great deal of trust in commanding officers, and I believe that they truly want to do the right thing and make sure this is getting done,” Stevens said. “I respectfully request that commanding officers and command master chiefs ... help us make sure that the training is being done and is being documented and before frocking or advancing their sailors that they go back and ensure that it’s done and properly documented.”

But getting it done isn’t enough — MCPON wants it done better.

Leadership as a weapon

“Our greatest enemy right now as a Navy is poor choices and bad behavior,” he said.

More sailors are hurt and killed off the job than on it, and more get in trouble for off-duty offenses than for poor performance in uniform.

“If misconduct and poor decision making are the enemy and we need a weapons system to defeat that foe,” he said, “our weapon to defeat these problems is leadership, and we need to be using every available resource to develop leaders for this fight.”

Stevens — with Fleet Master Chief (AW/SW) April Beldo, the top enlisted sailor on the staff of the chief of naval personnel — is working to improve the training, starting with those who teach it.

Classes at the previous fleet concentration area schools were taught by qualified Navy instructors with the 9502 Navy enlisted classification who also had detailed training at the command to facilitate what was then a two-week course.

When training shifted to commands in 2008, plans were made to “train the trainers” and churn out qualified instructors throughout the fleet, Stevens said.

“Somewhere from conception to execution, that promise fell off to the wayside,” Stevens said. “What the instruction says today is if you’re a 9502 or already qualified to teach command indoctrination classes, then you can also teach the petty officer leadership courses.”

Stevens says that falls short of the mark and he wants it fixed.

The new plan would add to training that instructors take before teaching a command’s indoctrination course — classes sailors attend when newly checked aboard, as well as other Navy shipboard training classes the Navy gives. Those trainers would also be taught how to give the leadership instruction — and to make sure it’s documented properly.

“We may have to lengthen the course a day or two, but it will allow us the expertise to train all of them to give all command-delivered training,” he said. “I would call it a facilitator course on steroids — when you go to this course as a first class petty officer or chief or above, you will walk out of there able to deliver any commanded-delivered training.”

The changes are now in the works, but Stevens doesn’t yet know when the new course will begin to be taught.■

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