Editor’s note: this story has been updated to include comment from Chief of Naval Personnel officials.

The Navy plans to upend its high-year tenure policy, which booted enlisted sailors out of active duty if they didn’t advance up the ranks within certain timelines.

In its place, the Navy announced Monday in a naval administrative message that it will make permanent the so-called “High-Year Tenure Plus” program, which prohibits commands from separating or involuntarily transferring active-duty sailors who fail to advance under the high-year tenure policy’s parameters.

The new policy “provides Sailors the option to remain on active duty beyond (High-Year Tenure) gates, if the Sailor agrees to orders to fill available Navy assignments,” a Chief of Naval Personnel spokesman said in an email. “Based on experience with HYT Plus as a pilot program over the past year, we expect that anywhere between 1,000-2,000 Sailors might participate per year, many of which would otherwise have left the Navy or retired.”

High-Year Tenure Plus began as a pilot program last year and will become permanent on Oct. 1, 2024, when the pilot program timeframe expires. It applies to all active-duty sailors as well some reservists.

The Navy introduced the pilot program last year in an attempt to improve retention, amid an historically dire recruiting environment for all the services.

“This suspension means more of our talented and experienced Sailors can stay in the Navy,” Rear Adm. James Waters III, director of the Military Personnel Plans and Policy Division, said in a December news release. “By removing this barrier to retaining career-minded Sailors, the Navy is broadening career progression opportunities for Sailors and allowing them the opportunity to advance to the next higher paygrade.”

When the Navy unveiled the High-Year Tenure Plus last year, service officials said those who have surpassed their high-year tenure threshold could apply for new jobs in the MyNavy Assignment portal. Additionally, they could extend and complete another full-length tour at their current command, allowing them to remain at sea, return to sea, or fill a shore billet.

The change comes after the Navy announced this summer that junior sailors will automatically advance to the rank of E-4 in 30 months for most career fields.

While all services are grappling with recruiting challenges, the Navy says its retention numbers are encouraging.

The Navy surpassed its retention goals for fiscal 2023 — keeping more than 110 percent of sailors with up to 14 years of service. Altogether, a total of 35,175 active-duty enlisted sailors decided to stay in uniform, an increase from the Navy’s projected target of 31,823 personnel.

According to Navy Recruiting Command, the service missed its active-duty enlisted recruiting goals for fiscal year 2023 by more than 7,450 accessions. Military leaders claim more thorough medical screenings, fewer Americans eligible to serve and low civilian unemployment are factors contributing to recruiting difficulties.

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