The Navy filled nearly all of its master chief petty officer billets this promotion cycle — the first one ever to utilize the Senior Enlisted Marketplace — as the service shifts to billet-based advancement to reduce personnel gaps at sea.

The Senior Enlisted Marketplace, introduced this year, requires senior chief petty officers to apply for and accept orders for a specific job in order to advance to master chief. That’s a departure from the previous system, where a selection board voted on who was most eligible and qualified to advance.

“We incentivized the Navy’s most experienced enlisted sailors, and gave them the opportunity to stay and advance,” Navy Personnel Command Force Master Chief Bill Houlihan told Navy Times. “And at the same time, we help fill mission-critical billets that require specific training, leadership, experience.”

The first cycle of the Senior Enlisted Marketplace, which kicked off in March and concluded in October, filled more than 140 sea duty billets and 84 billets ashore — a dramatic increase from previous years, Navy Personnel Command told Navy Times.

Prior to implementing the Senior Enlisted Marketplace, the service filled less than 15 master chief petty officer sea-duty billets each cycle. Altogether, the Navy filled 97 percent of the master chief petty officer billets featured on the MyNavy Assignments portal during this year’s advancement cycle.

To Houlihan, the uptick means that E-8 sailors delivered and showed they were ready to meet the demands of billet-based advancement.

“They are up to the challenge of leadership and high tempo, high friction, situations, circumstances and jobs,” Houlihan said. “And when given the opportunity to select those jobs, they jumped at it. That’s why the number has increased so much, because we are…telling them, if you want to be a master chief, we want you to be. But we want you to be a master chief in a position where you can have the most impact. And they were all over it.”

Although promotion to master chief is now contingent upon whether a sailor qualifies for a specific job, Houlihan said that the selection board aimed to select those who were “best and fully qualified to lead at the level of master chief,” and that the board applied the same standard of selection.

The Navy announced in Nov. 2022 that it would roll out the Senior Enlisted Marketplace in March 2023 to coincide with the fiscal 2024 senior enlisted advancement cycle for promotion to E-9.

The Senior Enlisted Marketplace screening board conducts reviews of board-eligible E-8s, who then receive access to the marketplace to apply for a qualified billet if they are selected.

Sailors enter one of 10 of the MyNavy Assignment cycles over the course of the next 24 months to apply for jobs in the marketplace that are aligned with their ratings. Detailers then coordinate the billet alignment and match for the sailor’s next assignment.

During this initial advancement cycle, 530 screened senior chief petty officers and 66 master chief petty officers applied and filled 225 of 232 priority master chief jobs, according to Navy Personnel Command.

The Navy currently plans to expand the Senior Enlisted Marketplace to accommodate E-7 and E-8 promotions. But it’s unclear when exactly the marketplace will include those ranks, according to Houlihan.

“If we were asked to incorporate the promotion of senior chiefs into the marketplace this current fiscal year, we could do that, we’re ready to do it,” Houlihan said. “But I think that whether or not we do it is going to hinge on the level of education we’ve learned about the first round. And so that’s still being determined.”

Overall, Houlihan said he anticipates billet-based advancement will aid retention amongst senior sailors because it provides Navy families greater geographic stability.

“I think it’s going to have significant positive impact, because we are truly allowing families the opportunity to choose, we’re giving them flexibility in terms of where they are assigned and the type of job they are assigned to,” Houlihan said. “And anytime that you can give a sailor or a family the privilege of choice, they typically rally around that.”

There are currently approximately 17,000 gapped billets at sea. However, those numbers fluctuate regularly due to permanent change of stations, a ship decommissioning, or ships moving into a maintenance availability.

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