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As billets drop, board convenes to set future of troubled ratings

Jul. 26, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Naval aircrewmen (mechanical) up for E-6 last cycle had an advancement chance of less than 4 percent. Here, AWF2 Fred Johnson inspects cargo pallets at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso, Texas.
Naval aircrewmen (mechanical) up for E-6 last cycle had an advancement chance of less than 4 percent. Here, AWF2 Fred Johnson inspects cargo pallets at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso, Texas. (MC2 Daniel Young/Navy)
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Between 2005 and 2009, Navy officials converted all naval aircrewmen into five service ratings, but manning and advancement challenges have officials rethinking part of that move and have led them to set up an advisory board to consider their options.

At issue are the careers of the roughly 1,450 sailors in the naval aircrewman (mechanical) and naval aircrewman (avionics) ratings, where advancement opportunity has swung wildly over the last few cycles as officials sharply reduce the number of billets, leaving midcareer sailors stuck in the middle.

The manning crisis stems from a loss of billets — both ratings will see a 60 percent billet reduction by 2020 as the fleet transitions from the P-3 Orion to the P-8A Poseidon, which requires smaller aircrews and fewer maintainers.

Rear Adm. Dave Steindl, head of Navy Personnel Command, announced the convening of a Senior Enlisted Aircrew Advisory Board, whose job it is to “ensure a viable way ahead for AWF and AWV rated sailors,” Steindl said in a July 1 email obtained by Navy Times.

The board contains senior enlisted representatives from the active-duty, full-time support and Reserve P-3 Orion, E-6 Mercury, C-2 Greyhound, and C-12 Huron communities, where these sailors work today. The panel held a kick-off video teleconference July 11, the Navy said in a news release the following day.

Capt. Bruce Deshotel, head enlisted community manager, will chair the board. Deshotel did not respond to requests for comment about the board’s mission or process by July 18.

New plane, no billets

For AWFs, 57 percent of their billets are P-3 flight engineers, whose job has been rendered obsolete by diagnostic and avionics upgrades in the P-8A. Advancement to E-5 this spring was above average at 38 percent, but opportunities stall out at E-6, where just four of 114 eligible sailors moved up. Last fall, no AWF E-6 quotas were available.

For AWVs, 45 percent of their billets are going away in the P-8 transition, with community managers planning to cut 24 billets a year until 2019. Officials were able to boost advancement opportunity at E-5 this spring, with a 20.4 percent shot. Sailors had a 5.75 percent shot to move up to E-6 this spring, an improvement from the zero advancements in the previous cycle.

Without drastic actions, these ratings are headed for a crisis, officials made clear. Steindl said without long-term action, the career futures look grim for these sailors, a conclusion reached in an initial review.

“During that review, we were focused on short-term actions to get the maximum return on aggregate promotion opportunities this exam cycle given the low opportunities from the [September 2013] exam cycle,” Steindl wrote.

The job of the board, Steindl said, would be to “determine the long-term AWF/AWV transition plan for all communities.”

What most community leaders want is to move these sailors back into the maintenance “source ratings” their billets came from during the 2005-2009 move to aircrew ratings. Moving them back would allow them to compete for advancement in those ratings, though they would continue to be assigned by their Navy enlisted classification to their existing billets.

“Previously engaged community leaders believe that a return/transition back to the source ratings is the way forward,” Steindl wrote. “The area of disconnect appears to be the timeline for that transition.”■

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