The Navy has been using the same promotion system since 1947 and the service's top personnel officer thinks it's time for a change.
Vice Adm. Bill Moran, the chief of naval personnel, is proposing to retool officer promotions to ensure officers who take nontraditional paths, whether in their jobs or education, have a fair shot at promotion in the Navy's up-or-out system. He also wants enlisted to get more training throughout their careers, rather than just a data-dump at the start. wants to change that, and he laid out his vision for a new personnel system and an updated training structure on Wednesday at the annual Surface Navy Symposium outside Washington, D.C.
In a Wednesday speech before the Surface Navy Association's symposium on Wednesday, Moran said it's time for a new approach to officer promotions, Moran said, one that rewards experience and education for officers rather than penalizing them for taking some time out of their prescribed track.
Right now, the Navy is more like the chocolate factory episode of "I Love Lucy," he said. Sailors and officers are on the conveyor belt, he explained. Some of them are getting packaged, some of them are getting eaten. Others are falling on the ground or ending up in Lucy's hat.
"All humor aside, this is kind of a reflection of the system we have in place. You wait your turn," Moran said. "Sometimes it moves slow, sometimes it picks up the pace, and in the end, you wonder if you're going to be picked up."
"Your talent, your skill set, your education, do they matter in this kind of style, or do we need to change it?" Moran continued.
The year-group system isn't serving the Navy's officers the way it used to, he said.
"You could argue that we don't have a lot of choice in the Navy today for a junior officer," Moran said. "You know what your golden choice is, and you better not veer too far off that path, because you'll lose your spot in line."
Rather than rewarding those who take a fellowship or pursue a graduate degree, the Navy forces officers have to compete with their original year group, whose members might have racked up more sea time or leadership roles in the same period.
"If we just throw them right back in the year group they left with, they're done," Moran said.
He suggested resetting year groups after a break, or even doing away with year groups after the 10-year mark, moving to a case-by-case merit system.
Some of those timelines are mandated by law, but Moran said that congressional staffers he's spoken to about redrawing the lines have been receptive to ideas.
Enlisted training overhaul
On the enlisted side, Moran said, 12 percent of boot camp graduates make it to 20 years. Though recruiting, in both numbers and quality, is at an all-time high, the Navy's 98 perfectpercent fill and 92 percent fit statistics can be misleading, Moran said.
It can be more than two years before a recruit hits the fleet, from boot camp to "A" and "C" schools. For the average sailor, he said, they're getting all of their job training at 18 or 19 years old.
"Now, I don't know about you, but when I was 18 or 19, I didn't pay attention very much," he said. "If somebody gave me all the training in the world at 18 or 19 years old, it wouldn't be long before it timed out."
After a couple of sea tours, the average sailor would goes to ashore, and not necessarily to do the job for which they are trainedhey'd trained for. Though the Navy has enough of these sailors to send back to sea, their training may not be up to date.
"We've got more people, but you're not necessarily giving me the guy or the gal with all the training or experience," he said. "And oh, by the way, it's a second or first class petty officer who hasn't been doing this for a while."
However, the Navy always sends officers to school in between shore and sea duty for a refresh.
"Why aren't we doing that for our enlisted?" he said. "Could it account for 12 percent making it to 20 years? Could it account for 12 percent of mediocre talent and not extraordinary talent?"
Moran did not lay out a timeline for the changes, but said the discussion is ongoing within the personnel community and on the Hill.
He added that the Navy is doing "fine" under its current system, and gaps at sea are down to 2,500 from 17,000 in 2010.
However, budget pressures and 13 years and counting at war create a situation where the Navy needs to get creative about cultivating and retaining its talent.