The Navy deep-sixed all of its 91 enlisted ratings titles Thursday, marking the beginning of an overhaul of the rigid career structure that has existed since the Continental Navy in a radical shift sure to reverberate through the fleet and the veterans community beyond.
Sailors will no longer be identified by their job title, say, Fire Controlman 1st Class Joe Sailor, effective immediately. Instead, that would be Petty Officer 1st Class Joe Sailor.
Officials say the controversial move will improve sailors' lives and ease their transition into the civilian workforce by broadening their skills in this tectonic shift in Navy’s personnel system to redraw the traditional lines between enlisted job specialties — a massive shake-up that is only beginning. Within the next three to four years, earlier if possible, the service plans to allow sailors to retrain in related skills, expanding their worth to the Navy while reaping broader assignment opportunities as well as increased advancement changes and greater access to special pays and bonuses that come with the most critical skills.
"We're going to immediately do away with rating titles and address each other by just our rank as the other services do," said Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke in a Sept. 19 interview. "We recognize that's going to be a large cultural change, it's not going to happen overnight, but the direction is to start exercising that now."
Sailors past and present have longstanding and deep love of the titles that have defined their Navy lives. All of these now belong to the history books.
To highlight a few: Gunner’s Mate stood up the watch in 1775 in the Contintental Navy. Boatswain’s Mate dropped anchor in 1775, too. Hospital Corpsman rushed to duty in 1948 after being called four other names over the previous 150 years. Operations Specialists started tracking in 1972 an upgrade from the name Radarman before it.
Through Navy history, as many as 700 titles have come and gone. Over 400 were created and eliminating during and immediately after World War II. But this move will disband these ratings entirely and reorganize sailors into Navy Occupational Specialties, or NOS, that will define the peer group they compete with for promotion. Under this new system, for example, Gunner's mates will be identified as B320 and quartermasters will be B450.
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The move also strips the titles airman, fireman, constructionman and hospitalman, titles that will be also replaced by job codes. The title seaman is the sole non-rated rating remaining, for E-3 and below.
The moves leaves the enlisted force's foremost symbols as the petty officer crow and the chief petty officer anchors. It remains unclear what will happen to the ratings badges that feature iconic rating insignia that officials are considering changing. An engineman’s gear. An information systems technician’s sparks. These images were beloved by many and inspired countless tattoos.
The huge shift was approved by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and had been advocated by the now retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens, who urged it as way to promote more cross-training and boost sailors’ post-service employment opportunity. It began by a directive from Mabus to find gender-neutral rating titles that stripped them of the word "man," in an effort to be more inclusive to women sailors who make up an increasing size of the force.
In June, the Marine Corps — also under the Mabus edict — announced they'd take "man" out of 19 occupational titles, as well. The Navy's newly released answer is to take a much more difficult and controversial approach by scrapping their existing system and starting over.
Sailors's aren't losing everything in their titles, however: the warfare qualifications that demonstrate mastery of their operational commands will remain.
"Sailors take great pride in earning those coveted warfare designations and they like to place those behind their ratings because they want people to know they've earned them," said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (IDW/SW) Steve Giordano said in the Sept. 19 interview. "That won't go away — they will still have those as part of their titles."
For now, there is no change, Burke said.
"It's definitely our plan to cross that bridge, but it will be one of the last thing we'll do for a couple of reasons. One depends on how we draw the career fields lines and something may fall out, based on that, I just don't know, yet."
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.