ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy is discharging 433 junior officers as the service continues to reshape by shrinking its force, officials said.

The junior officers, all in their first five years of commissioned service, some with an enlisted background, recently got word they have until the end of May to leave, said Navy Personnel Command spokesman Cmdr. Randall Lescault.

And those won’t be the only sailors to get the pink slips. Another round of junior officer cuts is expected in fiscal 2005, probably around this time next year, Lescault said.

“This is a limited and targeted release of a very small number of officers and an integral part of our strategy to properly shape the force,” Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Gerry Hoewing said in a statement.

“The policy governing this action has actually been in place for a while, but we’ve not had to enforce it,” Hoewing said. “Today, as the Navy moves to a more efficient and surge-ready force, maintaining the correct skill sets and individual performance is more important than ever.”

Of the 433, some have been let go for medical reasons and others because they failed to qualify for their ratings or get the necessary practicing licenses, Lescault said.

The breakdown is as follows: 303 naval aviators in flight school, 97 surface warfare officers, 21 submarine officers, seven lawyers, four doctors and one in the nursing corps.

Aviators are unlike the doctors and lawyers, who enter the Navy already trained in those professions, said Lt. Robert Lyon, a spokesman for the Chief of Naval Air Training in Corpus Christi, Texas, “We’re taking these people directly off the street and training them to be naval aviators from scratch,” Lyon said. The training is long and rigorous, and roughly 15 percent don’t make it all the way through.

Provisions are being made to possibly waive discharges for sailors who have previous enlisted service and good service records and then entered the officer program but failed to be qualified, McLellan said.

But no decision has been made. The Navy does not allow officers to revert to the enlisted ranks, he said.

In the past, when sailors failed to meet certain qualifications, such as aviators, the Navy often would transfer them to a different rating, Lescault said.

“Some were allowed to laterally transfer if they had a certain skill set found to be valuable,” he said. But with the downsizing of the service, leaders took this course of action.

Sailors can appeal by filing paperwork to the Separations Branch. Each of the 433 sailors received their letters from their commanding officers that detail the appeals process, Lescault said. Appeals will be considered by Rear Adm. John Townes, deputy chief of Naval Personnel and commander of the Navy Personnel Command.

Some sailors can be granted a 90-day extensions if they have demonstrated “exceptional, personal circumstances,” Hoewing said.

The sailors don’t have to wait until the end of the six months to leave. “If they get a job tomorrow, for example, they can get out before May,” said Navy Personnel Command spokesman Mike McLellan.

“To be fair and do the right thing, we’re giving them plenty of time to transition,” Lescault said of the six month time frame.

None are doing nothing and collecting a paycheck, Lescault assured.

“The Navy is finding other things for them to do,” he said. “They will be given other tasks. An aviation officer can be a signal officer or a watch stander, for example. If they can’t fly an airplane, there are other tasks.”

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