The Navy’s top personnel officer says the service is preparing to test a program that would give sailors temporary instant advancements while filling tough jobs in the fleet.

Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke announced the test, which he is calling “Advance to Vacancy,” on a Navy Live broadcast July 10.

“We’re about to pilot the program with chiefs and senior chiefs who would be eligible to take hard jobs in hard locations,” Burke said. “That’s what’s in it for the Navy, but if they are qualified and willing to go to those hard locations, they’re going to advance.”

Right now, the program will only be for filling E−8 and E−9 billets, but if successful, it could expand to other paygrade billets as well, Burke said. Navy officials say they’ve identived around 23 tough-to-fill jobs, both at sea and ashore, that will qualify.

“A chief would advance to senior chief and a senior chief to master chief by going to those hard jobs…if they have the talent and willingness to go,” Burke said.

The pilot program kicks off August 13, when a special board will convene to evaluate those seeking the billets and the accompanying advancements. If qualified, the sailors will get temporary advancements to the next paygrade and a set of orders to the billet within 90 days of the release of the message.

If they don’t complete the tour they’ve signed up for, the sailors will automatically revert back to their permanent paygrade, according to the message.

To keep the advancement once the tour is over, those sailors must still be picked by the annual active-duty senior chief or master chief boards. Though it’s not a guarantee, Navy officials told Navy Times that someone with a temporary advancement already in a hard-to-fill billet would look pretty good to the selection board, though nothing is guaranteed.

To be clear, officials say they plan to update next year’s E−8 and E−9 board precepts — the document that gives guidance to board memebers on selection criteria — to spell out the added weight that top performance in temporary paygrades should carry.

“My expectation is this will be pretty popular," Burke said. "I haven’t met too many sailors who wouldn’t raise their hand and take these hard jobs if it meant immediate advancement.

"We’ll pilot this and if it works out, we’re going to expand it to as many paygrades as we can, as fast as possible.”

And instant advancements aren’t the only thing expected to increase.

Burke indicated that the opportunity to move up the ranks faster, even through the conventional means of advancement exams and selection boards, is expected to increase as well.

That’s because, according to Burke, the Navy is already expanding by 21,000 sailors by the end of FY2023 in the current budget cycle. And those numbers could nearly double to 50,000 if the Navy pushes a plan to a build a 355-ship fleet.

“Almost none of you have been in the Navy long enough to know what it is like to be in a growing Navy,” he said. “We have been downsizing or roughly the same size for the majority of your careers.

“Budget-wise, we’re funded for 326 ships through fiscal year 23, and that means we’ll be adding 21,000 more people. Certainly, as we work our way up to that 355-ship Navy, there will be even more people, probably another 20,000 to 25,000 on top of that.”

With that, Burke said that life in a growing Navy is as good as it gets, as it opens up more opportunity to stay in the ranks and move up.

“I can tell you the increases you’ve seen in advancement opportunity are going to continue,” Burke said. “You can expect those to continue.”

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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