Attrition: Culling The Chiefs Again


September 11, 2010: For the second year in a row, the U.S. Navy is conducting a review of all its senior NCOs (Chief Petty Officers with 20 or more years of service). Last year, of the 5,686 chiefs reviewed, 97 percent were judged fit to continue serving. The other 158 had to retire, or face dismissal from the navy. This year, the review will include 3,500 senior NCOs from the reserves. Thus about 9,500 chiefs will be scrutinized.

The U.S. Army also reviewed 19,000 of their senior NCOs, but only 33 were forced to retire. It's believed that, because so many NCOs have been in combat in the last nine years, and under a lot of stress, the ones who were not up to the job had already left, and questionable sergeants still in service were cut some slack.

The navy is different from the army in other ways. While officers command the navy, and the ships, it's the "Chiefs" who run the navy. Those chiefs with over twenty years service (and thus eligible for retirement at half pay) are considered the most essential. But it was always known that some of these senior chiefs were just coasting, and not living up to their responsibilities. Thus review boards were established to measure the performance, over the past five years, of all the most senior chiefs. Anyone with disciplinary problems, or low performance evaluations, would be in danger of not being "continued" (allowed to reenlist). But now chiefs who don't make the cut are forced into retirement immediately.  Retirement can cost some chiefs a lot of money, because those with less than 30 years service, will lose out on the 75 percent pay you get when you retire at 30 or more years. You get half pay if you leave after 20 years. The navy did not set any quotas for how many chiefs to boot, they just wanted the low performers gone.

Aside from wanting to improve the quality of the senior NCO force, the additional retirements make it possible for more qualified chiefs to get promoted, and for junior NCOs to become chiefs. Because of the recession, more senior chiefs are putting off retirement, and promotions to chief have slowed. The new review of the chiefs also motivates many marginal chiefs to operate more effectively.

This is all part of a navy downsizing program, "Perform To Serve" (PTS), that was instituted six years ago. PTS is an effort to get rid of people the navy doesn't need (not possessing needed skills) or want (disciplinary or physical fitness problems). Initially only first term sailors, seeking to reenlist, had to basically reapply for their jobs. Recently, junior NCOs also had to do so, including those with 10-14 years of service. Last year, 90 percent of those who applied, kept their jobs. The other ten percent were either offered a job in another area, or told they could not reenlist.

Changing technology has caused shortages in some jobs, and surpluses in others. The PTS program allows sailors in overmanned jobs to take aptitude tests to see if they qualify for training in another job. Some sailors can't make the cut, and have to leave.



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