For many sailors, earning the anchors of a chief petty officer is the culmination of 13 years of work, the reward for succeeding in the toughest jobs of the enlisted force.

But those anchors may soon come readily, even right after boot camp, for some specialists joining the service under a new proposal.

This push is part of the military's controversial plan to recruit experts mid-career for growing areas like cyber warfare where the services want to build up the capabilities of their uniformed forces rapidly, by recruiting experienced operators from the private sector.

The military Navy has asked Congress to relax some officer personnel laws so they could directly hire civilians access more senior officers from the civilian sector — at pay grades up to O-6. 

It's an authority The Navy already has to some extent. Today, on the officer side, the Navy can already bring in officers up to O-4 and if approved by the secretary of the Navy — O-5.

On the enlisted side, current Navy policy already allows the service to they can bring in sailors at up to the E-6 level, which in the active-duty force is limited to musicians as per existing service policy. And It would only take the stroke of a pen to approve lateral entry into new communities and ranks as high as E-7 or chief petty officer — a move Navy leaders have said they're interested in.

"We're seeking the authority to bring somebody in at the E-7 level or up to the O-6 level," said Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke in May. The Navy already direct accesses officer candidates with special experience, like lawyers and doctors, to ranks up to lieutenant commander. the chief of naval operations, said in head of the chief of naval operations’ personnel plans and policy office.

Navy officials want this expanded authority to But the Navy wants Congress to approve the idea, too, setting it in stone for all the services — and mostly it will allow the Navy to fill critical needs in existing career fields and to but also to build new capability fast. 

"Right now, the one we’re focused on is the cyber [community] because that’s the immediate need," said Vice Adm. Robert Burke, who took over as the chief of naval personnel in May after chief of naval personnel last month after a year overseeing personnel plans and policy. "But, we want this authority in place so that we could use it where those needs arise, because we want to be responsive when the need comes — we don’t want to start writing policy the minute we discover we need it."

The foremost challenge in changing the enlisted lateral entry rules will be persuading Navy chiefs to accept someone into their ranks who's just graduated from boot camp.

"There is a heck of a lot more to being a Chief Petty Officer than whatever technical knowledge you may know," one commenter wrote in May, when Navy Times first wrote about this proposal.

The boosted lateral entry powers center on the Navy's cyber force. They could also be used for Staff Corps and Restricted Line officer specialties. But in the foreseeable future officials say they won't be used for the Unrestricted Line officers that lead the Navy's combat forces.

The Navy does not have any detailed plans plans, but could put this into effect as soon as October should Congress nod their approval. on the table at the moment, only ideas. Should Congress give their nod of approval — sources tell Navy Times  —  they could put this into play sometime in fiscal 2017.

Expanded authority

Direct accessions are common for a number of officer communities, especially those that require professional certifications. Some medical specialties bring in officers at ranks up to O-5. Here, Lt. Nicholas Michols, a Navy physician, treats a Colombian woman in 2015.

Photo Credit: MC2 Derek Paumen/Navy

Direct accessions are commonplace for some officer communities. Today it’s already used for the in the active and reserve Navy to recruit staff corps officers. Certain medical specialties can be brought in up to the O-5 level, but most come in as O-3s. Lawyers, and chaplains, supply officers and civil engineers are already directly accessed as well, but typically only to the O-3 level; it requires Navy secretary approval to direct access an officer to commander.

The Navy Reserve has an very active and successful direct commission officer program that hires access officers straight off the street in one of 13 specialties, mostly in the restricted line specialties. For example public affairs, intelligence and engineering duty are all specialties. Many come in as ensigns. directly access at the 0-1 level.

In the active-duty enlisted ranks, currently only the musician rating uses direct accession to recruit professional musicians into the special bands located in Washington, D.C. These sailors are brought in as E-6s after completing boot camp.

In the reserve, there’s what’s called the Advanced Paygrade Program that brings in enlisted sailors with needed skills in in nearly all ratings at up to the E-6 level. Some have even come in at the E-7 level, though currently this requires an exception approved by CNP.acceptation to policy and approval by the chief of naval personnel.  

With greater authorities, direct accession could eventually be Where this could go, officials tell Navy Times, direct accession could be used anyplace where Navy needs available advanced skills quickly. and not entry level sailors.

The Navy wants to hire civilians for its cyber force to senior positions, as the threats in cyberspace multiply and demand seasoned operators and team leaders. Here, Seaman Joshua Villareal stands watch aboard the amphibious transport dock New Orleans.

Photo Credit: MC3 Chelsea D. Daily/Navy

Burke told Navy Times May 24 In the short-term, the Navy wants this is really only looking at this right now to expand their cyber capabilities.

"Today, cyber is where we need it, tomorrow we might need it in 10 other places," Burke said. "I just can't foresee what those might be right now."

The Navy is seeking lateral accessions in the enlisted and officer force to draw on the experience of cyber experts in the civilian world, by promoting them to positions where their know-how is needed to pursue operations in the growing cyber force.

"I think it would mean a lot operationally and it recognizes that sometimes this is a rank-free zone," Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, who leads U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and 10th Fleet, said of the lateral accession push in May. "When we are doing operations, what someone is wearing on their collar may not have implications as to how much expertise or fight that they have in them — how much ability they have to deliver during cyber operations or information warfare operations.

"So how do we resolve that? Either incentives or rewards or promotions or bringing them in at the right level."

Officials said direct accession is unlikely to be used in the Unrestricted Line, where future leaders are built over years at sea, in the cockpit, in the SEAL teams. Where direct accession won’t be used are in the direct warfighting skills such as surface or submarine warfare or in aviation where the skills the Navy needs are those built by years at sea or in the cockpit.

"We’re looking at having the ability to do this at our discretion," said then Chief of Naval Personnel ice Adm. Bill Moran, the former CNP who became the vice chief of naval operations in May.  in a May 24 interview with Navy Times. "They are not going to be the rule — its allows us to have more options in the talent you want to recruit and retain."

Battle for talent

The Navy’s leadership sees direct accession from places like Silicon Valley as a means to the civilian world as the best option to that along with regular recruiting of untrained recruits can build a robust cyber warfare capability fast.quickly in the near future.

Seabees built the facilities needed for the island-hopping campaign against Japan during World War II, like this concrete floor for a mess hall in Guam. Many of these Seabee battalions were comprised of construction workers who came in at senior paygrades.

Photo Credit: Naval History and Heritage Command

They warn it could take a decade or more to grow their own cyber warriors — an eternity in the rapidly evolving cyber battlespace.

To wagefight this new fight, the Navy is leaning on its history to rapidly field new teamsbuild There’s not enough time to "grow their own" cyber warriors from the ground up. That, officials say, could take as much as a decade or two to get close to the capability they need.

And it's not  a new idea, either. The idea has been used off and on during the entire 241 years the Navy has been in existence.

It has been used to fill the ranks with skilled personnel to build as well as to build or expand complete communities on a short fuse.

One of the foremost examples of widespread lateral entry was the rapid creation of the For example, direct accession was used to rapidly create the Navy’s Construction Battalions — or SeaBees"  — from scratch at the onset of during the early days of World War II.

The Navy had plans for construction troops during the 1930s, but it wasn’t until after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack that those plans were set into motionput into playBecause The capability was urgently needed right away for the Pacific island campaign that hopping strategy which, began in November 1942 in Guadalcanal. The service brought these Seabees in via direct accession from the civilian construction trade organizations and unions; foremen and supervisors joined at more senior positions, while laborers came in as petty officers was their only option. During the course of the war, over 325,000 were directly accessed into the Navy in the Seabees alone.

Other communities needing to rapidly expand such as administration, Supply and medical, to name just two, a few also expanded their ranks by bringing in officers and enlisted laterally from civilian organizations, too

The Navy even brought in professional athletes to take charge of physical training at boot camps and in the fleet.  Legendary Cleveland Indian’s baseball pitcher Bob Feller was laterally accessed into the Navy in 1941 as a chief petty officer. Because of his skill level and He started and finished his career whipping raw recruits into shape as a chief specialist; he also served as a fitness instructor onboard the battleship Alabama and was a turret captain when the ship was called to general quarters. He served in combat during the Battle of the Philippine Sea in this role.

Boot camp

Should lawmakers approve of the Defense Department's request, On the officer side, it would most likely be left up to the communities seeking the lateral accessions would run the program. Boards could be convened under existing rules to review candidates' packages from candidates and determine if candidates are suitable and qualified for service and decide what paygrade they’ll be offered. 

That's how the service managed the process during World War II — and generally how they handle the reserve direct commissions today, though there's usually no paygrade determination, as most come in at O-1.

Already, the Navy has an Today's reserve selectees then go through the Officer Training Command in Newport, R.I. The two-week already operates a Direct Commission Officer Indoctrination Course, This two week course affectionately known as "Knife and Fork School," teaches them the basics. newly commissioned direct commission officers the basics of being an officer.For active-duty sailors being advancing to chief warrant or commissioned officer status, there’s another, longer course that teaches sailors the basics of being an officer ask well.   

On the enlisted side, non-prior service direct accessions first attend Navyboot camp at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Ill. This applies to both the Navy Reserve and active-duty musicians. Upon graduation, they assume the their direct accession rank.

Prior service sailors re-entering would most likely be treated different, having already graduated boot camp; they could be re-indoctrinated through the prior service training that also happens at Great Lakes.


The Navy wants to hire experts for senior positions in fields like cyber up to the rank of chief petty officer, raising the prospect that new hires could enter the chief's mess after boot camp in some instance. Here, a chief assigned to Navy Munitions Command East Asia Division Atsugi receives his chief's cover during a 2015 ceremony.

Photo Credit: MC3 Jason Bawgus/Navy

Beyond the Staff Corps and the enlisted musician rating, it's been a long time since the Navy has direct accessed on any scale. Though the Navy has been down this path on the active-duty side, it’s been quite a while since it’s been used on any scale, save for the Staff Corps on the officer side as well as the enlisted musician rating.

And don't look for the service to use this on a grand scale, save for an all out mobilization for a large-scale war as happened in World War II.

Moran says the biggest obstacle to bringing in candidates at senior positions enlisted and officer is an age old one — money.

"The governor on all this is money, if you bring someone in at the E-5 level or O-5 level, is that you will be paying them more at an early point in their career and that will always be somewhat of a limiting factor is the amount of money you have in pay," Moran said. "Once we get our arms around that and look at more creative ways of managing careers and take full advantage of the changes in the retirement —  all of those things are merging together in a very important discussion — to look at policies to do lateral transition."

On the cultural side, there's also challenges. The foremost: persuading Navy chiefs to accept a civilian brought in at the E-7 paygrade. there has already been reaction to from some in the Navy’s chiefs mess who don’t think bringing in civilians at the E-7 level is a good idea.

Culturally the biggest issue for the Navy is acceptance by the service's collective chief's mess of any civilian brought in at the E-7 paygrade. It's a really that both Moran and Burke realize.

When Burke discussed this idea in mid-May, he got an immediate reaction from some, like a chief aviation electronics technician who asked not to be identified by name out of concerns for his career.Shortly after then Rear Adm. Burke told a panel at the annual Sea-Air and Space Symposium in mid-May, Navy Times got an immediate and swift reaction from some chief petty officers, including a Chief Aviation Electronic’s Technician stationed at North Island who asked not to be identified by name.

"For  Rear Adm. Burke to suggest "Creating push button CPOs is ridiculous," the ATC wrote of Burke's statement. "He states that he is, ‘seeking the authority to bring somebody in at the E-7 level.'"

"I find the choice of words interesting — notice that he doesn't say that they want to bring someone in at the CPO level. There's only one entity that selects, tests and accepts Chief Petty Officers. That's the United States Navy Chief Petty Officers Mess. Anything else is an E-7.

"They talking about cheapening the CPO brand. They're talking about creating counterfeit chiefs."

Staff writer David Larter contributed to this report.

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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