SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Almost 300 slots opened this year for sailors to fill the Navy’s top enlisted rank, and plenty are competing for the jobs.

The Navy will add almost 500 new master chief petty officers from a pool of more than 3,100 eligible senior chief petty officers; that’s 286 more than last year.

The promotion percentage for all sailors is just less than 15 percent, compared with more than 19 percent the year before, according to a recent Navy news report.

The “Top Six” concept continues to generate slots, even though high retention percentages slice into the opportunities for promotion.

Top Six is Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark’s directive to increase the number of sailors filling the Navy’s top six enlisted ranks, E-4 through E-9. Thus far, the initiative has increased the number of sailors at those pay grades by 1.5 percent to 71.5 percent, according to Navy Personnel Command figures.

Clark’s Top Six plan seeks to increase that level to 75.5 percent by 2007.

With a larger collection of promotion candidates and the Navy’s successful emphasis on retention, the selection process could be pretty brutal, said Chief Petty Officer Forrest Powell, Navy career counselor at Sasebo Naval Base.

“The boost in selection numbers is based on a number of factors,” Powell said, including the forecast of master chiefs approaching the High Year Tenure mark of 30 years, retirements submitted and budget forecasts for senior leadership.

Vice Adm. Gerry Hoewing, chief of naval personnel, pointed to a “healthy balance between promotion opportunity and the highly competitive nature of serving at the senior enlisted leadership level.”

“Our master chiefs serve in critical roles in every element of the Navy, and we rely on their talent and experience to help us move in the right direction,” he said in the report.

The Navy’s middle management and lower ranks are at an “all-time high,” Powell said. “It’s the senior leadership [senior and master chief petty officers] that needs the small boost, again, because of high year tenure and retirements.”

Hoewing said the Navy is promoting almost 15 percent of senior chiefs to master chief, compared with 1999, when less than 11 percent were tapped. “We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” he said.

The number selected for promotion may seem small, Powell said, but there is a “pyramid effect” because one master chief getting out of the Navy will “bring in two or more senior chiefs, two or more senior chiefs promoted will bring in five or more chiefs, and on and on.”

Personnel by the numbers

Total Navy personnel: 383,167

• Enlisted: 324,503• Officers: 54,467• Midshipmen: 4,197

Top six enlisted ranks:• E-4 through E-9: 232,681

Lower enlisted ranks:• E-1 through E-3: 91,822

Enlisted by pay grade:Top six:• E-9: 3,190• E-8: 6,965• E-7: 24,083• E-6: 54,975• E-5: 75,640• E-4: 67,828

Lower enlisted:• E-3: 52,677• E-2: 24,989• E-1: 14,156

Totals by serviceNavy: 383,167• Officers: 54,467• Enlisted: 324,503• Midshipmen: 4,197

Army: 489,656• Officers: 78,755• Enlisted: 406,894• Cadets: 4,007

Air Force:367,533• Officers: 71,582• Enlisted: 291,910• Cadets: 4,041

Marine Corps: 174,226• Officers: 18,373• Enlisted: 155,853

Total military personnelTotal: 1,414,582• Officers: 223,177• Enlisted: 1,179,160• Cadets/Midshipmen: 12,245

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