Navy leaders are reversing their controversial decision to eliminate sailors' ratings and will restore job titles across the fleet, according to a Navy message set for release Wednesday.
Effective immediately, enlisted sailors will officially regain their ratings, the traditional job titles that have inspired a deep cultural loyalty and that have defined enlisted career tracks for generations, Navy officials said.
The move comes three months after the Navy stunned sailors around the world in September by eliminated ratings titles, including those such as boatswain's mate that dated back to the founding of the service.
The extraordinarily rare move comes after a fierce backlash from the fleet that became a distraction from the Navy's broader effort to reform the antiquated personnel system, Navy officials said.
Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, called it a "course correction" and acknowledged the overwhelmingly negative reaction from the fleet was a key factor in the decision.
"We have learned from you, and so effective immediately, all rating names are restored," Richardson wrote in a Navy message set for release Wednesday. A copy of the message was obtained by Navy Times Tuesday.
Cmdr. Chris Servello, Richardson’s spokesman, confirmed Tuesday night that the Navy planned to restore ratings Wednesday and that a fleet-wide message from the CNO would be released online in the morning, along with more details from CNO and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano.
Though the ratings have been restored, change still lies ahead as the Navy plans to press ahead with its broader effort to fundamentally change the rigid personnel system and make career paths more flexible in the future.
"The feedback from current and former Sailors has been consistent that there is wide support for the flexibility that the plan offers, but the removal of rating titles detracted from accomplishing our major goals," Richardson wrote.
"There is a way to have the benefits of the rating modernization program without removing rating titles," the CNO wrote in the message.
"This course correction doesn’t mean our work is done – rating modernization will continue for all the right reason," Richardson wrote. "Modernizing our industrial-age personnel system in order to provide Sailors choice and flexibility still remains a priority for us."
These changes will ultimately mean that sailors’ titles may have to change in the future, Richardson continues, but he’s going to solicit sailor feedback.
As early word of the restoration spread on social media Tuesday night, many sailors celebrated the news, both because they welcomed the return of the traditional titles but also because the decision showed that the Navy’s leadership was responsive to the concerns of sailors.
"Nobody wanted to see ratings taken away. The traditions and identities associated with them are undeniable. My sailors will be relieved and gratified that their voices appear to have been heard," said one East Coast command master chief who spoke to Navy Times and asked not to be named to speak candidly about a high-level decision.
"And I'm just glad I don't have to open a manual to find out what kind of Sailor I'm getting the next time orders cross my desk," the command master chief said.
The reversal did not surprise many sailors, though many believed it would come after a new Navy secretary takes over early in 2017.
"I genuinely believe sailors expected this. I think we've all been waiting and watching to see if someone was going to take a step back and determine that an interesting idea had been pushed too quickly," the master chief said.
Despite the return of the rating titles, Navy officials say the underlying effort of the change in the first place – to give sailors greater flexibility in their careers to go from job to job – is still a top priority for Navy leaders.
The broader goal is to allow more sailors to qualify for more skills and even advance in multiple ratings. To get there, the Navy is still planning to redraw community lines that distinguish skills by specialty today.
"Today we have 12 career fields that group the [over 90] Navy enlisted ratings we have today," Vice Adm. Robert Burke, chief of naval personnel, told Navy Times in an October interview. "Most sailors will be hard pressed to tell you what they are because they are outdated for the most part."
The plan is to establish new career fields that are more broadly defined, Burke said, which should allow Navy leaders to tailor training within the fields and identify gaps that a sailor might need filled in order to take a specific billet that they would otherwise be qualified for, rating or no rating.
For example, he gave a hypothetical example of a future career field that might be called "aviation maintenance."
"We’d like to get to the point in the first step where we can move sailors between types of engines, and then maybe move between engines and airframes and into avionics, too — then possibly move between maintaining combat systems on an aircraft to combat systems on a ship."
This system is being designed to offer training throughout a sailor's career, instead of in a lump at the beginning as many ratings have today.
It’s also designed so it could also be adapted to qualify sailors in new skills to cross them into a related field.
"You might have to go to a brick and mortar schoolhouse for a couple weeks, but it will be at a fleet concentration area so you are not going to have to leave home," Burke said. "You might only need enough training that could be accomplished through an app on a smart device, or through a distance learning course — or even by acquiring an additional certification at your current shop or at your squadron."
It could even put more money in your pocket as you might qualify in something .
"It will open up more timing options — maybe move into an NOS that has special or incentive pay or even a re-enlistment bonus."
The changes could also radicalize the advancement system and has Navy leaders discussing to possibility of killing advancement exams all together.
"I think that’s one possibility we’re looking at," Burke said in the interview. "But we’re just getting started in deciding where we need to go with the advancement exams."
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.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.