Naval Air Facility Misawa Command Master Chief Michael McCarthy gave sailors a pep talk earlier this month before they took the E-5 promotion exam at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The Navy announced Thursday that the high-year tenure limit for sailors in the E-5 pay grade will be rolled back to 14 years from 20.

Naval Air Facility Misawa Command Master Chief Michael McCarthy gave sailors a pep talk earlier this month before they took the E-5 promotion exam at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The Navy announced Thursday that the high-year tenure limit for sailors in the E-5 pay grade will be rolled back to 14 years from 20. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Sailors in the E-5 pay grade — petty officers second class — looking to retire from the Navy better start hitting the books.

The Navy announced Thursday it’s rolling back high-year tenure limits for E-5s to 14 years from 20, meaning that in the future sailors who don’t get promoted to first class petty officer by their 14th year in the service will be discharged involuntarily.

The move comes just days after Defense Department officials asked Congress to consider new voluntary and involuntary retirement rules for all four services, to help with force-shaping goals. The Navy will cut its active-duty rolls by more than 13,000 sailors next year.

Currently, once a sailor makes E-5, he or she can remain in the service until the 20-year mark.

The adjustment is being made “to encourage competition, increase advancement opportunity and motivate sailors to convert to ratings with greater upward mobility,” said Cmdr. Ron Hill, a Navy spokesman, in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

The Navy policy takes effect July 1 for active-duty Navy personnel but the change is to be phased in gradually. High-year tenure separations are to begin in July 2009.

“Sailors with 10 or more years of active service are allowed to remain under the current policy to recognize their commitment to serving half their career under the old system,” Hill wrote.

Sailors who don’t reach the 10- year benchmark by July 1 will have eight more tries, over four years, to advance through the Navy’s semiannual advancement exams given in September and March, or to convert to a rating with increased chances of advancement, Hill wrote.

Advancement opportunity to E-4, E-5 and E-6 is expected to increase with the change, according a statement from Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Gerry Hoewing. Officials estimate the time it takes to reach E-6 will drop by six months once the change is fully implemented, dropping from the current length of 9.8 years.

About 79,000 active-duty E-5s now are in the Navy. The Navy estimates the high-year-tenure change will affect about 1,520 E-5 sailors after the transition period ends.

A decrease of about 600 fewer retirements is expected once goes into effect. While sailors can request a waiver to the new policy, officials say they expect few to be approved.

Waivers “may be requested via the chain of command to Navy Personnel Command, they are rarely granted and only if justified by mission readiness requirement,” according to a Navy statement.

Sailors welcome change

Petty Officer 2nd Class Donald Rouse, a Naval Air Facility Misawa master-at-arms with eight years of service, said he welcomes the change even though it means he’ll have to advance to at least E-6 to stay in, and retire from, the Navy.

“It weeds out the bad from the good,” he said. “It makes you more motivated to do good … and to study harder and perform harder to advance.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Hardin, from Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan, said Friday that “I actually read about the changes a few days ago. My sister and I are both active duty, and she sent it to me in the e-mail….

“At first, I thought she was pulling my chain,” said Hardin, a cryptologist and communications specialist for Command Task Force 76. “But I think it’s a great thing, and it complements my plans to make advancement. I’d wanted all along to work toward E-6.

“It will make it more competitive, if not increase the chances for the sailors who actually want to learn and be the best they can be,” he said.

Hardin, in his fourth year as a sailor, said he welcomes the aspect of the high-year tenure reduction that could shave up to six months from the time needed to earn promotion to E-6.

NAF Misawa Command Master Chief Michael McCarthy recently tried to get his E-4 sailors to think ahead about promotions. He warned them of the impending high- year tenure change for E-5s as they were preparing to take the E-5 advancement exam earlier this month at Misawa.

Between 500 and 600 sailors retire every year at E-5, McCarthy said. The Navy believes “that bottlenecks your opportunities to make second class petty officer,” he said.

“That’s why it’s important for you to make second class petty officer as soon as possible; you’ve got to make first class petty officer to be able to retire in the Navy. Knowledge is power.”

Greg Tyler contributed to this report.

‘Up or Out’ in other services

The Air Force will soon be the only service that allows active duty E-5s to stay in uniform beyond 15 years of service.

Under a new Navy “high-year tenure” policy — what most of the services dub “Up or Out” — sailors will now have to earn advancement to E-6 within 14 years or get kicked out. Until now, second class petty officers could stay in for 20 years and retire will full benefits.

Marines have 13 years from the date of their enlistment to make E-6, said Corps spokeswoman Maj. Sarah Fullwood.

For soldiers, the limit is 15 years.

Airmen, however, can stay in to the 20-year mark before facing mandatory retirement as E-5s, said Air Force spokesman Master Sgt. Randy Mitchell.

— Jon R. Anderson

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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