In today's Navy, advancement is everything. It's a pay raise, a jump in responsibility, recognition of talent. And it's a morale boost.
Along with ensuring a career and retirement — regular and steady moment up the ranks is not only how to get a pay raise, but also how to move into new levels of responsibility.
Ask any grizzled old master chief and they'll tell you that no single part of Navy life has more of an impact on a sailor and their career, — not to mention their individual morale, as does their ability to advance up the ranks.
"At the individual sailor level, nothing impacts their life and personal morale as advancement," said Master Chief Damage Controlman (SW) James Rawlings, acting command master chief on the Little Creek-based dock landing ship Tortuga. "It impacts their ability to better provide for their families with more money and also their ability to have a career — they must advance to do these things."
Sure, the sailors have has the most important role in earning their advancement, but yourtheir commands also plays a role and that gives some a leg up. Active studying programs, career tracking, and deployed time are hallmarks of the best commands, according to interviews and Navy data. And then there's the involvement and mentorship by of command leaders.
And those same senior leaders will tell you that the sailor has the most important role — they must perform on the job and excel on the test to get a score that puts them in reach of nabbing a quota during each advancement cycle.
But commands, too have a role and a large role many leaders admit.
So why is that some commands seem to advance nearly everyone, while other commands — often those of the same type and size — are left wondering why their sailors aren't moving up at the same rate?
A lot of it is the command's attitude.
"It starts with the commanding officer and it goes down the chain of command from there," said Master Chief Career Counselor (AW/SCW/AW) Brent Emricson [cq] the senior career counselor in Submarine Forces Pacific. "If advancement is a priority to the command's leadership, that catches on all the way down to the deckplates."
Each command, he says, goes through a Career Information Program Review — which looks at how they counsel and coach their sailors in career matters throughout the year.
The hottest command for advancement — the Virginia-class fast attack submarine Hawaii — which advanced 70.45 percent of eligible sailors, or 31 of 44. The sub also eligible sailors — for the best opportunity in the Navy, scored a 90 percent on this assessment last year — a very high score, Emricson said.
"It shows they're engaged with their sailors at all levels and when it comes to advancement, simply taking the time to sit down with the sailor, goes a long way to them better understand the process and how they can improve their own performance."
Navy Times decided to take a deeper look at the command dynamics in the advancement picture. The service doesn't hold service-wide advancement competition, at least not formally, but the ability to find out which commands are advancing the most sailors exists in data that Navy Times obtained from the Navy Advancement Center in Pensacola, Fla.
Navy Times ranked commands by promotion rates in the most recent the the data from the last petty officer advancement cycle with an eye to look at which commands are advancing their sailors at the highest percentage at each of the petty officer paygrades. We did this not only to give those units kudos, but also to crack the nut and see what the common factors lead to advancement success and what role does the command play in that process.
We've produced lists of the top and bottom performing commands at each paygrade level to give an idea of which commands are advancing their sailors well — and to look into why those commands are successful.
While broad factors figuring into advancement success can be ascertained by crunching the numbers and talking to sailors and officers at top-performing commands — and those not faring as well — Navy officials saywarn there are many factors at play and cautionwarn against singling out any commands as being either good or bad.
Still, Navy officials warn there are many factors at play and warn against singling out any commands — either good or bad.
"It is difficult to compare commands by their promotion rates and could really be misleading," said Joy D. Samsel, deputy public affairs officer at the Naval Education and Training Command. "Each command has different ratings and different numbers of people who are up for advancement.
Simply put, a command with a heavy numbers of a rating with good advancement can sway the results up, while the opposite is also true.
To be sure, not all commands are directly comparable. Some are dominated by ratings with lots of opportunity. Many SEAL teams, for example, So, you'll notice as you browse the data, many SEAL Teams are in the top 10 at each paygrade while many medical commands are in the bottom 10 these days.
There's reason for this that we'll explain below, just to be fair, but it's not those commands we truly want to highlight.
It's commands, specifically those ships — commands with a wide diversity in ratings ad pay grades — who rise above the rest in spite of individual rating details that we want to highlight.
To prevent small numbers from skewing the rankings, we only considered commands with at least 10 eligible candidates in each paygrade.
As we crunched the data for the pay grade lists, to level the playing field some, we eliminated any command without at least 10 candidates at the individual paygrade level. But We also took a look at all the ships in the fleet, individually as well as in their own class of ships and produced a list of how those groups of ships perform — and which were the top ships in each category.
Here's a look at what we found:
Photo Credit: JOHN BRETSCHNEIDER
In March, a total of 88,832 sailors sat for an advancement exam and, of those, last month 21,589 , or 24.30percent got the nod to move up.
Navy officials say that the 24.3 percent average is good, which is much higher in some ratings.What this means is that around a quarter of the sailors in the force got the chance to move up and Navy officials say this is good advancement.
This left 64,489 or 72.60 percent to try again in the fall. Meanwhile, 2,739 or 3.08 percent failed their tests and were out of the running altogether.
Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Adm. Bill Moran, as he entered the job as chief of naval personnel nearly two years ago vowed to stabilize advancements.
He says that this level of advancement — which is higher than the Navy's average over the last 10 years — is roughly where he sees it staying for the near future.
It's natural for levels to fluctuate slightly cycle to cycle, official say. It's the large swings they are seeking to avoid.
At E-4, Navy-wide, 27,965 sailors took the third class exam and 9,113 or 32.59% advanced. Most of the rest, 18,657, 66.72 percent, passed their tests, but didn't get a quota to advance.
At this level only 0.69 percent or just 193 sailors failed their exams.
E-5 is the Navy's largest pay grade and 36,655 E-4's took the second class exam and 8,358 moved up for a 22.80 percent chance to move up. This means that 26,962 or 73.56 percent passed, but didn't advance with 1,323 failing, a failure rate of 3.61% percent.
Making E-6 this cycle came with a 17.01 shot with 4,118 of the 24,212 moving up. Here, 18,870 passed, but didn't net a quota - 77.94 percent while 1,223 or 5.05 percent failed.
The good and the bad.
When you rack and stack commands by their own individual levels of opportunity — the percentage of their eligible sailors who actually move up — you can see immediately some of the factors that come into play with advancing.
Some ratings are well-represented in the best commands list. Specifically you see that commands made up of the hot ratings today — those growing and in the process advancing at above average rates — are plentiful in the lists of top commands. Seven of the listed top commands at each at all three pay grade levels are SEAL teams. Another seven are submarines, while three surface ships made a top 10 list.
Cyber and explosive ordnance disposal are also represented here.
Though we didn't rack and stack commands on the bottom of the list, there were trends worth pointing out here, too. as many those on the down side of opportunity, for example,
Many of these had sailors in overmanned ratings. But the list also listed regular commands, like bases, a submarine, a littoral ship squadron and a regional legal office. But also represented are Navy Bases and a submarine as well as a littoral combat ship squadron and even a regional legal office.
Here's where the Navy's disclaimer comes into play, for commands heavy with one rating or another, much of their plight can be attributed to individual rating health.
Such is the case for the SEAL teams where currently The Navy's Special Warfare Operator rating is among the best in the service, the result of a growth spurt that has been ongoing since 2006. End strength in the SO rating end strength is roughly 3,200 and will stay that way through fiscal year 2018.
But even without growth, expect SEAL advancement to stay high, officials say, high because the job is tough and SEALs keep leaving. attrition in the ranks keeps advancement flowing.
On the other end of the spectrum is the hospital corpsman rating; with at 26,513 sailors, it is the Navy's largest enlisted career field.
And tThough corpsmenthey support the Marine Corps, the Corps' ongoing drawdown hasn't hurt the rating, though it has been overmanned in recent years due to a Navy force structure adjustment that will see HM drop to 25,978 by fiscal year 2018.
Traditionally the HM rating falls below the rest of the Navy in advancement, officials tell Navy Times, and that will impact overall how commands with a high concentration of corpsmen perform overall on advancement.
The good news is that could rise soon. slightly in the near future.as E-4 advancement is expected to improve from its it's current state of 17 percent promotion rate to theits historic average of around 20 percent.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors impacting advancement regardless of how the sailor does on any given cycle.
Larger commands and indeed the data shows larger ships specifically, often are at a disadvantage as they tend to have a wide variety of ratings.
The deployed edge
Operating forward is more than one of the chief of naval operations' tenets. It may also be key the secret recipe to getting advanced.
"If there was a secret recipe for sailor advancement, clearly we'd all jump right on that," said Capt. Karl O. Thomas, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, which has led the carrier class in advancement rates for managed to maintain a carrier-class-leading advancement rate of more than 28 percent high of over 28 percent advancement each of the last two cycles. "I believe it's combination of factors."
Along with the difficulties of being a larger command, Thomas says there are some overall factors that work in a ship's favor when it comes to advancement.
"Deployment is a large part of it," he said. "When you are out at sea, there are fewer distractions — you are working in your job and let's face it, a lot of sailors learn not only by studying, but probably more so by doing, so all that helps."
This factor alone, he said, doesn't bode well for a Vinson "three-peat" as the top carrier in terms of advancements. Ships in maintenance periods often find their advancement slipping just because sailors often aren't working in their rating.
Thomas knows this first hand as the former CO of the carrier Abraham Lincoln, currently in a mid-life refueling career overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding. He said the Lincoln instituted a two-hour study hour once a week to help sailors stay current and have an ability to compete on the exams.
The impact of extended time in the "yards" is evident with the remaining crew of the de-activated, but not yet decommissioned, aircraft carrier Enterprise. "Big E" sailors They returned from their last deployment and went into the yards to de-fuel the ship in 2012. During the last Over the past two cycles, they've been they're advancing at only a 15.217 percent clip, well below the Navy-wide average, and lead the Navy in exam failures. of but they lead the Navy in exam failures at E-4 through E-6 with a whopping 17.54 percent.
Time to study
There's tThree major players contribute to have a in your opportunity chance to advance ion any give cycle — Big Navy, your command and you.
Big Navy has made inroads at stabilizing opportunities across the force since the drawdown ended a few years ago. doing it's part as providing regular and stable advancement, which has risen and stabilized in the last few years since the end of the drawdown in 2012.
But most senior enlisted believe it's up to individual leaders and commands to mentor sailors through the process and give them every advantage in moving up.
"It's critical the command get involved to provide as much opportunity as possible to study and improve for the test," said Rawlins, the Tortuga's top enlisted. "But it's the sailor's job to sit down and do it."
The dock landing ship was number seven on the E-6 top 10 list, with seven of 11 advancing to first class. That's a 63.7 percent advancement rate, many times the Navy-wide E-6 rate. rate of advancement in a rating where the Navy average is around 17 percent. Overall the command nearly doubled the All Navy
Rawlings believes that it's the command's responsibility to help sailors. His command and the command mandates mentors for new sailors to help them with advancement. provide sailors with the chance for success. His command mandates new sailors pick mentors who can guide them through the process.And it also the command provides sailors with two-hour lunch periods to study for exams or PT along with eating. they can not only eat, but also use the time for physical training or exam study. Often sailors band together and use their extra time to study together, quizzing their shipmates from references or prepared notes using potential exam questions.
"Each department also has its own emphasis on exam study and preparation, and all have regular training periods for in-rate study," he said. But what he recommends is the often informal training that many leading petty officers and chiefs give.
"When I'm out on the deckplates around the ship, I routinely see chiefs and senior petty officers engaging with their sailors, stepping in on a given job to teach, too," he said. "It starts with commitment at the command level, which sets the tone for the whole command."
Another tip: Rawlings says the commands need to track sailors in their professional advancement. This starts from the time constantly through career development boards given from the time they check on board and all through their tours and especially if a sailor doesn't advance.
On board the Pearl Harbor-based attack submarine Hawaii,, chief of the boat, Master Chief Fire Control Technician (SS) Nicholas Messina individual sailor advancement is an all-hands evolution, from the skipper down. commanding officer on down.
Along with their Navy-high overall advancement rate, Hawaii advanced 11 of 12 candidates at E-4, where they performed in the to 10 Navy-wide as well.
"We're constantly talking about it from the time they check on board," said Master Chief Fire Control Technician (SS) Nicholas Messina, the chief of the boat. "I always tell them the day after they take the exam, they can take the next day off — but the following day they need to begin studying again.
"And the key to success is to get them to buy into that mentality."
To do that, advancement-related general military questions are posted in the ship's plan of the day.
"This gives them the chance to learn and write down and learn 180 exam questions before the next cycle," he said. "It's the mentality and attitude we try to push throughout the command. — tThe word study is ingrained in my sailor's brains if they want to get ahead, make more money and get more authority."
Messina says the impact of advancement — or failing to advance — is are huge for a sailor's morale. on a sailor's "giant on the moral scale," he said.
"Where you see it most is on the faces of those whose names aren't called out when the results are announced; you see their faces visibly drop while their shipmates who made it are giving high-fives, and that echoes through the ship."
Here, too, it's The career development board process that plays a key role in tracking each sailor's development. On the Hawaii, that involvement starts with the skipper. for each sailor and even the CO gets involved who has a binder of every sailor's exam profile sheet which tells where they did well and where they need work on exam knowledge.
"Every single career development board, the CO pulls out his book and turns to that sailor's profile sheet and will discuss the weak areas that contributed to them not making it," Messina said. "Each sailor comes away knowing exactly where they fell short — the captain is extremely engaged in the process and that sets the tone for the command."
And it's not just the sailors who benefit from the individual sailor's career development board. Cmdr. William Patterson, the boat's COcommanding officer says that he and the COB are present at every career development board, along with that sailor's division officer and chief, too.
"It's just how I was raised in the Navy, you might say," Patterson said. "I know it's against the current trend in the Navy, but I insist on being present at all CDB's, for multiple reasons."
This helps sailors — and their chiefs and officers.
He says that also benefits the chief's and officers present at the CDB's that they learn how to look at a sailor's advancement results and figure out how to help that sailor increase their chances next cycle.
But also, it's more than just the sailor who gets training in a career development board, it's that sailor's leadership, too — making the impact of that type of counseling even greater.
"There isn't any school that I know of that trains officers and chiefs [in] how to read a sailor's profile sheet and use that information to help them improve, so that's why I'm involved," Patterson said. "No one else is really trained, so it's important for me to train my officers and chiefs in how to do this kind of counseling."
Patterson said this kind of individual attention was taught to him, and he's seen it's success through his career. E — by ensuring his chief's and division officers know how to read a sailor's results is just good leadership that he's passing on to the next generation.
"There's nothing more important that taking care of our sailors and I come from the philosophy that we take care of the guys and they take care of the ship," Patterson said. "And in that, there's nothing as important to our sailors than making sure they get paid on time and ... what they should as well as doing everything we can to help them advance, too."