When Master Chief Petty Officer Bob Shannon went from seaman to third class petty officer years ago, he remembers someone handing him a book and telling him to study it.
"It certainly did not teach me anything about being a leader," said Shannon, who now has 27 years in the Navy.
Shannon and some of the noncommissioned officers at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, are trying to do that with a 10-day leadership class for those eligible for promotion.
The Navy requires three days of classroom training and little else, Shannon said. But at Sasebo, chiefs have been leading a longer and more interactive course that focuses on teaching seamen to become managers and mentors to younger sailors.
This week marks the third time in a little more than a year the base has run the program, Shannon said. It’s required for his shore-duty sailors moving from the E-3 pay grade to E-4, and some ships and other tenant commands at Sasebo have sent their sailors to the course.
Chief Petty Officer Jim Ratliff, who works as a master-at-arms at the base’s security department, said he got the idea for the course after his experience working with soldiers and Marines on a deployment to Iraq.
There he saw that corporals were given oversight of younger servicemembers as soon as they were promoted. In the Navy, that responsibility comes more slowly, Ratliff said. In some jobs, he said, "you can get to E-6 without being responsible for younger sailors."
The latest leadership training course started Dec. 3 and runs through Friday. Most days start with fitness training and morning colors, followed by lessons in naval history, cadences and team-building.
The course also teaches the soon-to-be petty officers how to evaluate lower ranking sailors, recommend nonjudicial punishments and help sailors learn about college education and career tracks, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Charles Sardono, the course’s lead instructor and coordinator.
Putting more onus on the third class petty officers also helps even out workloads among the ranks, Sardono said.
"It alleviates work off of more senior petty officers and puts more responsibilities on the younger leaders," he said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Pownall went through the training a year ago. She said her class quickly became close, working through problems and trying to keep up with a busy workload.
"We had to lean on each other," said Pownall, who is now an instructor.
"It made us more confident as leaders and it made it feel like we really earned something."
Shannon says he’s passed the course and the ideas up the chain of command, adding that the Navy is rewriting and formalizing much of its training now. He said he hopes the idea catches on.
"These are our first-line managers," Shannon said.
"We really need to give them some basics of leadership right away."