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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy launched a new career program Thursday aimed at retaining surface warfare officers who don’t get selected to command a ship but desire to stay Navy.

With the fleet size decreasing, the Navy has limited options available for surface warfare officers to follow the traditional path of eventually commanding a ship, said Rear Adm. Michael LeFever, deputy director of Expeditionary Warfare Division.

“It allows people to have more options in their career. We knew up front that not everybody may aspire to take command of a ship, but we know there is some great talent and some great leadership skills and knowledge developed out in the fleet that we can capitalize on.

“It allows us to keep people with these critical skill sets that [are] vital not only to surface warfare, but also to the Navy,” LeFever said.

In the SWO community, where command of a ship is everything, the program amounts to a huge cultural change in the Navy, he said.

“We had a system in which if you didn’t attain [command-at-sea], you didn’t get promoted. It is a culture change, and I think we tend to realize there was tremendous talent out here that we are wasting, for one reason or another. ... Maybe their aspiration for command-at-sea of ‘USS Whatever’ wasn’t in the cards for them, but they would really like to specialize in an area because this is their passion.

“Because they didn’t attain [sea command], we essentially didn’t promote them and kind of pushed them to the wayside. I think we’re realizing ... this is a huge talent base with incredible experience in management and leadership skills that we can’t afford to throw away.”

It also gives upper echelon of officers the option of staying on shore duty without hurting their careers, he said.

SWOs taking the new career path options also are eligible for critical skills bonuses totaling a possible $46,000 for a full three-year re-enlistment commitment. Details of the bonuses are detailed in NAVADMIN at: www.persnet.navy.mil/navadmin/nav02/nav02326.txt.

There are about 8,000 sailors ranked in the targeted O-3 to O-6 paygrades, but those eligible to apply are SWOs who have started the second of their required two 18-month department head tours, and have completed five years of at-sea experience. To apply, they must submit a written application through both commanding officer and to PERS-41, or the Surface Warfare Officer Distribution Division.

At the end of the second department head tour, the next assignment either would be to the chosen specialty job, or to an educational post to prepare, LeFever said.

The new career paths in six existing specialty areas include:

Antiterrorism/Force ProtectionAnti-submarine warfareMissile DefenseMine Warfare SpecialistShore Installation ManagementStrategic Sealift

The shore installation management, for example, is a “huge win” for both career-bound officers and the Navy, he said. The traditional career path preps sailors to command at sea, “and then all of a sudden we send an officer … into a position of trying to run public works … a little city.”

The new career path would incrementally increase such responsibilities, he said. “They would have repetitive tours and understand the business ... and get smart about how to run the bases and manage enterprise of working the shore establishment.”

The first selection board will convene in January to pick the first batch of SWOs opting to take the outlined specialty career path. Subsequent boards, chaired by a SWO flag officer, will convene twice a year in January and July, LaFever said.

NAVADMIN 220/04 has the detailed process to apply and a form letter template.

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