'Hooyah!': Sailors react to Navy's decision on ratings system
By TARA COPP, TYLER HLAVAC AND CHRIS CHURCH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 21, 2016
The Navy reversed course on its decision to scrap job-oriented enlisted titles, giving an unexpected Christmas gift to tens of thousands of sailors angered by the move to scuttle a centuries-old tradition.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, who announced the reversal, cited the strong backlash from sailors against the plan to end the system of job-oriented titles, such as gunner’s mate or boatswain’s mate.
Sailors were to receive more information Wednesday from Richardson and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano, Navy officials said.
The reaction on social media was almost instantaneous and mostly positive, ranging from “good call,” to “leave tradition alone.”
Sailors around the fleet joined in the chorus.
“No one was happy about that,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Miller, a machinist’s mate aboard the USS Reagan, said of the September decision to eliminate ratings titles.
“I joined up to be a mechanic and I finally got my rating and then they said, ‘You’re not a mechanic anymore.’ I don’t think anyone is going to be unhappy the ratings are back. No chance,” Miller said.
Many sailors believed the initial decision to scrap the Navy rating titles was not only getting rid of tradition but didn’t work well operationally. Petty Officer 1st Class Gaylon Talley, an information systems technician in Bahrain, said being able to identify someone by their job on a ship makes sense.
“You say you need a damage controlman, you need a fireman, you need an IT,” said Talley. “[After scrapping the job titles] you’re looking at a number (referring to Navy Occupational speciality codes) and you can’t even really remember all of them. Bringing [rating titles] back, you can see everyone is a lot happier, everyone is walking around with smiles on their face.”
The news was still making its rounds around Naval Support Activity Bahrain, and Stars and Stripes broke the news to one sailor during an interview. Petty Officer 1st Class German Furuken had a shocked look and struggled for words when he heard about getting rating titles back.
“They are?” Furuken said, who liked the new opportunity to train in another job skill proposed under the rating modernization plan. “Having the title back is good, but I feel like the changes they were going to make is going to take longer, the process is going to be longer, a few years, you know. So I don’t know if I’m going to be able to see it while I’m still in the uniform.”
The Navy had decided to modernize its rating system — affecting 265,000 enlisted sailors — in an effort to align job titles with other services and allow sailors more flexibility to move between job specialities. The drastic change was initiated during a discussion on how to change rating titles to be more gender neutral, a request from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
The backlash was swift, spawning a WhiteHouse.gov petition to get the Navy to reverse its decision, which gathered 103,760 signatures, just more than the 100,000 required for an official response from the executive branch. Military.com had previously reported the original petitioner was Robert D. Weeks, a retired Navy operations specialist. In November, the White House responded to Weeks’ petition, saying it supported the Navy’s efforts to modernize the ratings system.
Petty Officer 1st Class James Warren, a fire controlman aboard the USS Chancellorsville, said he signed the petition.
“What we know from joining the Navy is your rate is your job and your job defines what you do,” Warren said. “The ratings going away threw a wrench in that equation and there was mayhem. I’m glad the ratings are coming back because that’s who we are.“
Richardson said the Navy leadership heard sailors’ unhappiness with the change.
“Since we made the initial rating modernization announcement in September, [Navy leadership] have had the opportunity to speak with thousands of sailors during our travels throughout the fleet. The feedback from current and former sailors has been consistent,” he said. “So effective immediately, all rating names are restored.”
Richardson admitted getting rid of ratings titles detracted from accomplishing the Navy’s major goals with rating modernization, and that sailors pointed out there is a way to modernize the rating system while keeping rating titles.
But ratings modernization won’t go by the wayside, according to Richardson. The Navy will work toward changing its personnel system to provide sailors flexibility, including allowing sailors to have multiple occupational skill sets or ratings.
“We will need to tackle the issue of managing rating names,” the admiral said. “We will continue to involve sailors throughout the fleet.”
Many sailors pointed to the rating modernization changes—except for the rating titles change—as being good for sailors' careers by providing more training aligned with the civilian world and career flexibility that isn’t as easily available now.
“Give people the opportunity to cross rate if they don’t enjoy what they do earlier,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Devin Mcmichael, a Master at Arms detaching from NSA Bahrain, who was also happy to keep his rating. “Because it gives people a better chance to stay in the Navy for a long run, instead of getting their hopes up, not enjoying what they are doing, and then getting out because they aren’t pleased with what they do.”
For many sailors, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how rating modernization will work. What changes will it actually bring and how will it affect the advancement exams were common questions.
Richardson asked sailors with ideas on how to modernize the ratings titles to send them to NavyRatingMod.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also at NSA Bahrain, Command Master Chief Rudy Johnson said it was a “win-win” situation for the sailors who were attached to the rating titles.
“I guess my main message for this is, the sailors have a voice. If they speak up ... leadership from the command level all the way up to the CNO is listening,” he said. “We may not see every idea that they have as something they can go forth and do, but we are listening.”