After 22 years in the Navy, Senior Chief Aviation Electronics Technician Jeffrey Satterwhite had one more job he wanted to tackle.
He wanted to become an aviation maintenance master chief, the top enlisted maintainer at a command.
“As the maintenance master chief, you’re the one responsible for things getting done,” Satterwhite told Navy Times. “As a senior chief or supervisor, you are involved, but at the end of the day, you’re not the one who is going to take the heat is something goes sideways. I was ready for that responsibility.”
But first he had to make E-9. He’d been a senior chief for six years, so his first few visits to the board weren’t successful.
And then last summer the Navy made Satterwhite an offer he couldn’t refuse, but his dream job came with a catch: He’d have to fill a critical at-sea billet few others wanted. If he was selected for that, he’d automatically pin on master chief.
By fall, he’d made the cut. Now he’s a master chief, the top enlisted maintenance sailor assigned to the flattop Nimitz’s aircraft intermediate maintenance department.
“Truth be told, I really wanted the job and might have considered it without getting E-9 in the deal, but that advancement really sealed it for me,” he said.
That’s what Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bob Burke wants to hear. The Navy’s former chief of naval personnel spearheaded reforms designed to woo talent to the toughest assignments at sea and ashore, and spot advancements were a top priority.
“We’re going to trickle that down for all pay grades,” Burke told Navy Times shortly before he was tabbed as the next VCNO. “This is going to be a way of doing business. If you’re a hard-charging sailor, willing to go to a hard job in a hard place, you can speed up your advancement.”
Master Chief Satterwhite is near the peak of the Navy’s enlisted manpower mountain but Navy Personnel Command is looking at how it can boost junior sailors, too.
The next phase of the program will offer E-5s first class petty officer crows if they’re willing to recruit or train the next generation of sailors.
It expands on an initiative the Navy already runs that give officers spot promotions if they fill critical billets above their pay grades.
Last year’s test of the “Advance to Vacancy” reforms focused on senior enlisted sailors like Satterwhite. For petty officers, it’s been dubbed the “Advance to Position” program.
“It’s the same basic idea as what we started last summer, said Bernie Dunn, deputy director for career management at Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee. “We were encouraged with what we learned from that, and that led into this evolution.”
Those perks could include advanced training or the ability to stick around in a fleet location in exchange for taking on a tough billet or moving to a command that’s hard to staff.
Dunn believes adding these sorts of inducements to routine negotiations add another “measure of flexibility and choice” when sailors mull over orders or plan their careers.
It’s still part of a “learning evolution” and Navy leaders are studying as they proceed “but it’s fair to say that we’re going to further explore this concept,” Dunn added.
Because it’s still in the test phase, Navy leaders have kept the numbers of spot advancements low.
Last fall’s senior enlistment program hooked 91 applicants and 19 were selected to advance into their critical jobs.
“The idea is to not only see if the idea takes off but also to measure what, if any, impact the advancements might have on rating manning levels,” Dunn said. “That’s one of the things we’ll have to learn as we go forward but right now the numbers are small enough that we can manage that.”
To screen the candidates, the Navy convened a special board. Once chosen, the senior enlisted sailors were frocked to their new pay grades and started getting paid at the new level once they started doing the job.
Unlike other senior enlisted boards, however, the pay grades for the frocked sailors were temporary. They still had to be confirmed at the higher level at the next annual selection panel.
To give that first class of candidates a boost before the selection board, panel members were ordered to give special consideration to those in the temporary pay grades, as long as their performance and conduct met standards.
The master chief selection board liked what Satterwhite was doing so they made his advancement permanent.
“You still have to be racked and stacked with your peers,” Statterwhite said. “But the special consideration helps, provided you are performing well.”
If the board doesn’t make the temporary advancement permanent by the time the sailors rotate out of their jobs, they’re returned to their previous pay grade.
Officials have capped the initial 30 spot advancements to petty officer first class at just 30 billets. Twenty are for recruit division commander jobs at Great Lakes and the other 10 are for recruiters.
To be eligible, petty officer second class sailors must have served six years on active duty and have met all the usual requirements to advance to E-6. They must have cut a minimum standard score of 50 on the most recent semi-annual exam and be in their detailing window and slotted for shore duty.
They also must meet special screening standards for evaluation marks, fitness scores, medical readiness and legal issues.
Sailors applying for either billet will be racked and stacked by a formula that includes their performance marks, awards, pass/not advanced points, education and service in pay grade.
“We still want to make sure that the folks who are ultimately selected for E-6 are the ones that we, in fact, want to advance,” Dunn said.
Because sailors from all ratings are eligible to apply, individual rating test scores won’t be factored into the ranking.
And unlike the senior chief petty officers, they won’t be eligible for immediate frocking, according to NavAdmin 122/19, which was issued on June 3.
Instead, they will be advanced to first class once they attend training, arrive at their new commands and qualify for the positions.
Officials will be closely watching the application and selection process and will tweak the rules and procedures during this initial test run, Dunn said.
“Sailors can expect expansion of the advancement-to-position program in the coming months, both in terms of jobs and number of billets,” wrote VCNO Burke’s successor, Vice Adm. John. B. Nowell, in the June 3 NavAdmin message.
Nowell had served a Burke’s deputy helming manpower plans and policy before becoming the 59th Chief of Naval Personnel on May 24.
Burke told Navy Times in March that he believes the spot advancement initiative likely will expand soon to “intensive shore assignments” such as those in the afloat training groups and shore maintenance facilities.
“Things like that have to do with getting and maintaining our fleet ready again, making our training readiness and warfighting readiness as a fleet as good as it can be,” he said. “We’ll be incentivizing our best sailors to go to those hard jobs.”
Satterwhite said he welcomes the reforms and will encourage his sailors to apply.
“I’d make it clear to them that they’re not going there to try a job. They’re going to do a job,” Satterwhite said. “They need to understand fully what that job is and be ready to do it.”
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.