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Commandant: Dropping Ratings Would Create 'Chaos' in Coast Guard

Adm. Paul F. Zukunft (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley)
Adm. Paul F. Zukunft (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley)

With the Navy's decision to phase out ratings in favor of an alphanumeric job code system to create more career flexibility, the Coast Guard is the only service to continue using traditional ratings.

Don't expect that to change anytime soon, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said.

Speaking to reporters following an address at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Zukunft said the Navy's change had prompted a brief internal evaluation for the Coast Guard -- and one with a definite conclusion.

"With the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard [Steven Cantrell], we said, 'What would the workforce think about this,' and it would cause chaos," Zukunft said. "I cannot afford chaos when every person in the Coast Guard has a 24-by-7 job to do."

The Coast Guard, the smallest of the branches, has an active-duty force of about 40,000, compared to the Navy's nearly 324,000. It also has a smaller ratings system, with fewer than two dozen separate ratings compared with 89 for the Navy.

The Navy and Coast Guard use the same naval rank system, which is different from that used by the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Coast Guardsmen are "very proud of the rating badge that they wear on their sleeve," Zukunft said, "so I've listened to my master chief and he's provided me the best advice. So that was a very easy question for me to say 'no' to."

The Navy has also had to contend with pushback from sailors and Navy veterans who have strong attachments to the 241-year-old ratings system, with culture and community built around certain titles.

A WhiteHouse.gov petition to reverse the decision reached 100,000 signatures within a month, prompting a member of the White House staff to issue a response backing the overhaul and promoting the Navy's goals of creating additional opportunities and career paths for sailors and a more straightforward transition to jobs matching their skills as they enter the civilian sector.

The chief of naval personnel, Vice Adm. Robert Burke, has engaged in a number of efforts to sell the concept to sailors, writing opinion pieces and essays addressing the fleet and traveling to the Middle East to participate in town hall meetings with some 9,000 sailors at the end of October and beginning of November.

Navy officials say the full transition to the new system will take time and be done in stages. Key decisions have yet to be detailed, including the future of Navy ratings badges.

Burke published a timeline in October indicating plans to update uniform insignia in keeping with the new job title system, but it remains possible that the badges will be redesigned rather than eliminated.

"Did we choose an easy path forward? Absolutely not," Burke wrote in an op-ed published by Military.com on Nov. 20. "But I believe this change needs to occur, and now is the right time to do so."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

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