I am on a guided-missile frigate. We are billeted for 18 officers. We currently are assigned 28, a 165% manning in the wardroom. This does not include the six air detachment personnel or the three ensigns scheduled to arrive shortly (with none leaving). In addition, another second-tour division officer (the new damage control assistant, which is now a second-tour job) will show up soon. This will put our manning at 38 officers on a frigate.
The overmanning is exclusively at the first-tour division officer level. We currently have only three second-tour division officers (auxiliary officer, training officer, navigator), along with our normal four department heads (operations officer, chief engineer, chief staff officer, supply officer).
The obvious question is, What do you do with all these people? The answer: You make up jobs. You find something for them to do. Our first-tour division officers, for example, serve as:
Combat information center officer
Electronics material officer (warrant officer billet)
Antisubmarine warfare officer
Main propulsion assistant (limited-duty officer billet)
And in these "made up" billets:
Assistant chief engineer
R division officer
M division officer
Fire control officer
Force protection officer
Electronic warfare officer
Automatic data processing officer
Assistant safety officer
Plus there are three more coming. I honestly cannot think what other jobs we can create.
The recent influx of first-tour
division officers in the surface warfare community and the resultant
overmanning will have crippling effects on its officer corps
in the coming years because of a lack of proper training, mentoring,
U.S. NAVY (MICHAEL PENDERGRASS)
This situation has serious ramifications. Division officers are showing
up to no jobs. On day one, they lose faith in the system. They lose
the incentive to work hard because they know the system is going to
ask very little of them. "What is my job going to be?" "You're going
to be the assistant safety officer." "What does that entail?" "I don't
know; you're the first one. Oh, we don't have a place for you to sleep
either." Welcome aboard.
Given the need to implement made-up billets, some junior officers are not getting the opportunity to lead a division. Thus, a more appropriate title might be "first tour junior officers," as opposed to "first tour division officers." One of the greatest attributes of the surface community is the opportunity for a young officer to lead and manage a division of sailors. Leading a division lays the foundation for a surface warfare officer's leadership for the rest of his career. We are taking away this experience.
Manning first-tour division officers at 200% has allowed commands to view them as dispensable and interchangeable. This is a dangerous attitude. For the legitimate first-tour jobs, commands look at whomever gives the earliest indication of performance, and then they give the other officers the "made up" billets. In addition, if a person is given a legitimate job and does not perform, he is quickly replaced (because we have 17 other officers to choose from). This causes a round robin where division officers are not allowed to settle into their jobs and learn to be effective managers and leaders.
First-tour division officers arrive with a variety of experience and know-how. Some were prior enlisted and so, initially, perform at a higher level (as should be expected). Others—whether from Officers Candidate School or ROTC, and depending on which commissioning program they are from—arrive very green. This is okay, because one of our jobs is to develop our junior personnel. But because of overmanning, we have shortened our tolerance for the division officer's learning curve. Thus, we quit on a slow learner—even if he is dedicated to developing himself professionally—and swap him out with a different officer. That young officer's tour is done. After three months he has been written off. And, accordingly, since less is demanded of him, he gives less. The point, however, is that the command quit on him first.
Overmanning has caused hands-on training to suffer. All these officers must stand watch somewhere. On my ship, currently only 1 of 18 first-tour division officers is qualified as officer of the deck (OOD). We still have only three qualified OODs on rotation. If you keep the watch sections the same, but increase the number of people, you have to put more people in each watch section. Long gone are the days of the OOD and his protégé, the conning officer. Now we have the OOD, the conning officer, and the junior officer of the deck (for which there is no qualification). But that still does not account for all our personnel. At times, we have had to stand up yet another watch station on the bridge—the radar operator.
This has several effects. First, it impairs the OOD's ability to perform his job. Because you are isolating specific duties on the bridge, each of those watch standers must do his job competently and give you effective input so you (as OOD) can make sound decisions and recommendations. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Most of the watch standers are new, and they cannot perform their jobs effectively, even if it is "only" as radar operator. This means you must train three people while on watch (which, in turn, impairs your ability to stand a proper watch).
Second, it limits junior officers' exposure. They become isolated in their tasks and so do not learn to see the bigger picture of ship driving and bridge watch standing.
Third, it does not allow the junior officers to conduct the special evolutions required to complete the OOD qualification properly. There is no way everyone can conn the ship during an anchoring evolution or a sea and anchor detail when you have 18 unqualified ensigns. Even if you make your best effort to cycle all of them through, they are going to get only one shot each, at best. Thus, no one ever truly develops the skills for these special evolutions. The alternative is to pick out a couple of the "hot running" junior officers and keep rotating them through (to train at least a few of your officers effectively). While this may provide a temporary sense of security, you are leaving out 80% of your junior officers.
Simply put, we have less effective bridge watch teams in the short term, and in the long term, we are producing officers with less experience and, ultimately, less qualified OODs, the crux of a good surface warfare officer. When these officers transfer to their second-tour division officer jobs, that ship's commanding officer will expect a certain amount of experience and competency. It will not be present.
The lack of effective training also is having adverse effects on junior officers' performance managing their division officer responsibilities. As the operations officer, I have five unqualified ensigns, all of whom have been on board for less than nine months. I do not have any second-tour division officers or limited-duty officers working for me (i.e., no experienced backup). As much as I would like, it is impossible for me to mentor five unqualified junior officers effectively. As a result, junior officers are having to figure out their jobs on their own. They are having to learn their jobs without proper guidance. This has shifted nearly the entire training load (with regard to division officers' professional development) to the divisional chiefs, which is part of their job. But only half of the division officers even have chiefs. Bottom line: junior officers are not learning their jobs properly and this causes the department heads to shoulder even more of the load for a command.
To add to this burden, the surface community recently canceled Surface Warfare Officers School. So now we are getting more junior officers with even less exposure, and the ship has to shoulder the entire training and qualification process. On the most basic level, there is now an enormous new responsibility added to ships that was not there a year ago, but nothing has changed in the system to help the ships shoulder that workload. The likely result will be a compromised qualification process with little oversight or attention to detail.
How did we get here? In the surface Navy, a couple year groups had shortfalls in department head retention. The initial stopgap measure, the "Early Rollers" program, was an unmitigated failure and was gone within a year. It appears the new answer is to work the problem in reverse: If we need X number of department heads per year group and we are averaging about Y% retention, how many junior officers do we need to commission each year (factor Z)? Instead of trying to increase Y (retention), we just increase Z (the number of officers entering the surface warfare community). The irony is that because of the increased number of first-tour division officers in the surface Navy we should expect even lower retention rates because of low job satisfaction, poor work environment, lack of challenge, and inadequate mentoring.
If, on the other hand, we reach more than the desired retention numbers, we will have to reconvene the lieutenant board (which was not even held last year). What will be the criteria to keep or not keep officers for follow on as department heads? Most likely qualifications, but it no longer is that simple. Qualifications depend on opportunity. What about the guy who was the admin officer; is he expected to get his engineering officer of the watch (versus someone actually in the engineering department)? What about that officer who, after three months on board, was swapped out to a different job and given up on by the command? Qualifications depend on the command having a process and plan that support those junior officers getting their qualifications. At minimum, the 200% manning of first-tour division officers makes this more difficult.
Leaders of the surface warfare community must address this serious issue. We need to reduce first-tour division officer manning on surface ships. More people does not equal better product.
I am failing my junior officers. This is not acceptable.
Lieutenant O'Neal, a 1999 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, formerly
was training officer and operations officer on the Ingraham
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