While hospital corpsmen had below-average advancement opportunity this cycle, some — like HM3 Marq Ignacio, here in the pharmacy on the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan in February — bucked the trend and moved up. (MC3 Jacob Estes/Navy)
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Sailors came off of cloud nine this spring, with hundreds fewer moving up the ranks as advancements backed off record levels.
Overall, advancement to petty officer first, second and third class dipped 4.3 percentage points, according to quotas released by the chief of naval personnel — from 27.7 percent last cycle to 23.4 percent this cycle. Personnel officials said the drop was a return to the norm after the highly unpopular enlisted retention boards and Perform-to-Serve program opened up many logjammed ratings in the past few years.
The personnel official, who requested anonymity to discuss the advancement outlook, said this would level off, barring any more budget uncertainty, which would force the Navy to underpromote as a precaution.
But force-shaping programs aside, several ratings suffered through a miserable advancement cycle this spring, while others advanced with ease.
With retention flagging, SEALs advanced at 100 percent across the board, as did special warfare boat operators. Explosive ordnance disposal technicians advanced at a 40 percent rate to second class and at 100 percent to first class.
Submarine electronics technicians in the nuclear field also advanced at close to 100 percent across the ranks — at E-5 you could avoid getting promoted if you tried, but it was wide open at E-6. However, their compatriots in the surface Navy advanced closer to Navy-wide averages.
Operations specialists continued their cakewalk to E-5, advancing 100 percent to third class and around 50 percent to second class. But E-6 remains a hurdle for the rate, advancing only 71 of the 947 test-passers this cycle. That is still an uptick from last cycle, when only 67 advanced to first class.
The fleet generally needs one OS1 for every 2.5 OS2s, keeping the advancement to OS1 persistently low, personnel officials said in a May 22 email to Navy Times. Historically, this means operations specialists advance at about 10 percent to first class.
Sailors in the cryptologic technician (interpretive) rating going for third class had a 100 percent advancement rate, though the road to second class was tougher, with less than 35 percent advancing.
Other rates that fared well were aerographer’s mates and legalmen, who advanced 100 percent across the board but had relatively few test-takers.
The ship’s serviceman rating, already miserable for advancement, was even worse this cycle. Only 29 of more than 500 test passersmade third, and chances only slightly improved for E-5 and E-6 candidates.
Ship’s servicemen are being offered early outs this year, according to the first eligibility list released in early May.
Personnel officials say the SH rating is challenged because the number of billets has been slashed by 13 percent over five years. Ship’s servicemen have higher-than-normal rates of command advancements, which takes empty billets away from test-takers.
Docs also suffered another rough cycle, with hospital corpsmen advancing at a 9 percent rate across the ranks. HMs had the easiest time making third, but still only advanced a mere 11.53 percent of test passers.
HMs are beset with issues because of high retention combined with a drawdown in forward-deployed Marines, which means the Navy will be cutting billets. Additionally, hospital corpsmen also have high rates of command advancement, as well as combat meritorious advancement and accelerated advancement for independent duty corpsmen.
Operators in the naval aircrewman rate took a beating, with none of the 197 test passers making first class, and 15 of 100 making second; the lone test passerfor third was advanced. The naval aircrewman (operator) rating is overmanned, according to NPC, and some sailors are being offered early outs.
This was largely because of shifting billets from P-3s to P-8s, the personnel official said.
Recently advanced musicians will remain as elusive as endangered Sumatran tigers in the first half of 2014. Well, not quite. But only 16 musicians advanced this cycle across the ranks, out of 204 test passers, due to billet cuts.
Officials say this is partly because the number of E-3s in the MU rate is exceedingly low, only 25 percent manned, and that opportunities to E-6 are routinely stymied by the Navy Band, which recruits highly trained musicians by offering them the chance to come into the service as petty officers first class. Those MU1s can stay in for 20 years without making chief.
Initially, the Navy reported a steep drop in advancement for mass communications specialists to third, but later corrected the record after personnel officials noticed a data entry error. Rates slipped across the board, however, because of a reduction in billets. Advancement for MCs plummeted from 90 percent to 51 percent for third class, and dropped from 43 percent to 18 percent for second class and from 19 percent to 10 percent for first class.
For surface electronics technicians, the outlook was grim past third class. ET3s advanced to second at a rate of under 7 percent, and the numbers were the same to first class.
Personnel officials say this is because of a combination of factors: Billets in the lower ranks have been shifted away from ETs to other rates, including information systems technician. Additionally, the rate has seen a significant drop in test passers, which leads to lower advancement opportunities.
But officials say that if ETs hang in there, there will be more billets added in 2016 and for a few years after that, which will lead to more advancement opportunities.
Seabee ratings also had poor advancement rates because of a combination of high retention and billet cuts; six of the 10 rating groups offered early outs are Seabees.
Boatswain’s matesalso saw a dip in advancement: 22 percent advanced to third, down from 25 percent the previous cycle. Second class ticked up from 18 percent the previous cycle to 21 percent, but first class remained stubbornly low, down to 6 percent from 9 percent the previous cycle.
Overall, officials are pleased with the BM rating’s health, but said the number of BMs has increased without a boost in the number of billets. That drove down the advancement rate this cycle.■