Vice Adm. Gerry Hoewing, Chief of Naval Personnel, announced changes in promotions policies and reenlistment bonuses in a visit to Naples, Italy, on Thursday.

Vice Adm. Gerry Hoewing, Chief of Naval Personnel, announced changes in promotions policies and reenlistment bonuses in a visit to Naples, Italy, on Thursday. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

NAPLES, Italy — Sailors soon will see some major changes that will impact both their wallets and the way they’re judged for promotion, the Navy’s top personnel officer told sailors Thursday at Naval Support Activity Naples.

The service is changing how sailors’ performance evaluations and promotions will be handled, which “won’t happen tomorrow” but might be a reality within a year, Vice Adm. Gerry Hoewing said during a morning all-hands meeting with sailors from southern-Italy bases. Hoewing is winding down a European tour of bases.

Leaders evaluating sailors’ accomplishments will put more emphasis on their day-to-day job performance rather than on criteria such as time-in-grade, time-in-service and “test-taking strategies,” Hoewing said. But the latter criteria still will be considered.

Sailors who might be highly proficient in their jobs but horrible at taking tests and thus penalized, for example, will fare better under the change. A pilot program already in place mirrors the system used for flag officers, who are judged heavily on their job performances.

Hoewing discussed the changes during two all-hands meetings — the first for sailors E-6 and below and the second for those E-7 and higher.

The lower enlisted sailors were a much feistier group, asking pointed questions on a variety of topics ranging from the Navy’s plan to merge ratings, training and promotion opportunities, retirement options, and how to qualify for bonuses.

Petty Officer 1st Class Marilyn Gellegani praised the idea of performance-based evaluations.

“I think it’s fair. Sailors who are motivated, those who do things to improve themselves, go to school, do extra off duty — they will be recognized,” she said. “I really like it. It will motivate people to compete with each other. We’re moving to a very competitive Navy, and those who help themselves will be the ones to advance, and those who don’t are going to be behind in the race.”

Capt. Jeff Landis, spokesman for Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said officials have not made or discussed major changes to the Marine Corps’ promotion system, but do consider job performance as a major factor when making those decisions. Corps officials have made minor adjustments to the system in recent years, like updating fitness requirements and increasing the value of professional military education when considering promotions, Landis said.

The Air Force uses a point system for enlisted promotions, according to Capt. David Small. Points are awarded for time in grade, time in service, test results, decorations, and performance reports.

While performance reports are “heavily weighed” in the promotion process, Small said he could not immediately quantify what percentage that represents in an airman’s total score.

Army officials were not available to comment on their service’s enlisted promotion process.

In Naples, Hoewing also said the Navy is broadening its Selective Re-enlistment Bonus program, upping the bonus amount for some ratings and including others that before were not eligible.

The Navy has faced challenges getting sailors in hard-to-fill jobs such as nuclear specialists, special operations, and explosive ordnance teams, he said.

The service is considering raising the maximum SRB payout from $45,000 to $60,000 for a six-year re-enlistment commitment for Navy SEALs, and also considering expanding the SRB to ratings such as aviation boatswain’s mate and damage-control hull technician, said Lt. Kyle Raines, a Navy Personnel Command spokesman.

The Navy also is merging ratings, or jobs, to make broader categories and give sailors more career opportunities while cutting down on redundancies, Hoewing said.

But Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Wittner said he was concerned that sailors already proficient in one rating will be penalized if ratings merge, especially if tested on material for promotions in skills they didn’t perform before ratings were combined.

Adequate training would be provided to get sailors proficient in all duties, Hoewing said. The performance evaluation changes would help lessen any impact of the merges, he said, because test scores won’t be as heavily considered.

In other topics, he said the Navy would like some latitude when it comes to retirement qualifications. Last year, Congress denied the Navy’s request to change the retirement eligibly requirement, which by law requires all servicemembers to serve a minimum of 20 years to qualify for retirement benefits.

But as technology improves, “some skill sets are not going to be needed in the 21st century,” he said, but couldn’t provide any specific examples.

Instead of keeping sailors in for the sake of keeping them until the 20-year mark, or having them get out without rewarding a decade or more of military service, Navy leaders want leeway to offer retirement opportunities at, say, 12 or 15 years of service, he said.

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