Navy personnel officials announced today that they are changing the service's "up or out" deadlines for petty officers — effective Aug. 1 — which will allow thousands to stay in the service longer.
The policy, called high-year tenure, puts sailors on notice that they will be discharged if they don't move up in rank after a set number of years in the service.
The change is needed, officials say, to stem a short-term drop in sea-duty manning caused by a larger-than-normal number of sailors rotating from sea duty to shore over the next few years.
The new limits raise the maximum number of years petty officers can stay on active duty in paygrades E-4 through E-6 by two years for each rank.
- E-4 will increase to 10 years from 8 years.
- E-5 will increase to 16 years from 14 years.
- E-6 will increase to 22 years from 20 years.
"Extending our high-year tenure policy for journeyman sailors is part of the larger strategy to ensure we are able to mitigate the effects caused by the FY12-13 cohort groups rotating to shore duty," said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel. "We are aggressively using all force shaping levers to man the fleet."
The change comes on the heels of a February offering to sailors already on sea duty to extend their current billets for up to two years. Officials said at the time that they would waive up or out rules for sailors agreeing to stay at sea.
That effort produced about 1,500 volunteers who will spend, on average, about 15 more months at sea, Christensen said.
The program remains in effect and officials say they'll continue to consider high-year tenure waivers for sea duty volunteers.
The Navy historically approves over 90 percent of all high-year tenure waiver requests, Christensen said, so it reduces the administrative burden on commands and Navy Personnel Command, too.
Thus far in FY17, Navy has approved 95 percent of the 1,350 requests.
At the E-4 level, the changes reverse limits that have been in place since the 2003, when the service pushed E-4 stay or go limits down to eight years from 10. In 2002, the limit had been cut from 12 years to 10.
As of June 12, there were almost 1,500 E-4s with over seven years of service, putting them in danger of being sent home under the old policy. Those who will hit their limit before will have to apply for a waiver, and officials said it's likely they can get approval.
In 2016, the Navy separated almost 600 E-4s for high-year tenure, up slightly from 2015. In addition, the Navy granted close to 300 E-4s waivers to stay.
The Navy's largest paygrade is E-5, with over 62,000 sailors currently serving at that paygrade. Until 2005, an active-duty sailor could retire as an E-5, but since then, the service dropped the time limit at the rank to 14 years of service.
Currently, there are about 1,000 E-5s with over 13 years of service and almost 2,400 who are over 12 years. These sailors will now have until the 16-year mark to advance to first class before being discharged.
In FY16, just over 400 E-5s were sent home at the 14-year mark, down from the 500-plus in 2015. Waivers were granted for 230 to remain on active duty after their 14-year mark, and so far this year, the number of waivers granted has already reached over 260 as of May.
E-6 remains the lowest paygrade in which an active-duty sailor can retire, but these sailors will now have until the 22-year mark to make chief petty officer before being forced out.
Right now, there are over 2,000 first class petty officers who have eclipsed the 19-year threshold, and almost 4,200 who have over 18 years in service.
Sailors who are already over high-year tenure or have an approved separation or retirement date between August 1, 2017, and January 1, 2018, have until July 31 to request cancellation of their orders if staying in longer is preferred.
The reprieve in high-year tenure will instantly make thousands more sailors eligible for advancement, a group who may have lost eligibility under the old rules. Sailors will be eligible to compete for advancement to E-5 or E-6 this September and for chief petty officer in January 2018, provided all other advancement eligibility requirements are met.
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.