The Navy's top officer wants sailors to know he's not trying to squelch tradition with his new plan to do away with Navy ratings. However, some have their doubts.
In the wake of the announcement that the Navy will discard its two-and-a-half-centuries-old rating system in favor of a set of alphanumeric job codes, some have been outspoken in their opposition to the change, and a White House petition to reverse the decision is nearing 50,000 signatures.
But at an event hosted by the Center For Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson suggested that some of the Navy's most beloved job titles and honorifics would persist.
"The idea is that the official communication would be your rank, so you'd be seaman or petty officer or master chief, etcetera," Richardson told Military.com. "But I'll tell you what: On the battlefield, all those corpsmen are called 'Doc,' right. And so how that all transpires, we'll see. I'm not here to squelch any of that type of thing."
This kind of logic, Richardson said, would stretch to other titles as well.
"There's positional titles; so no matter what rank I'm in, if I'm leading a ship, I'm called the captain," he said. "And so we're not going to change any of that. But official titles will be your rank."
Richardson said he wanted sailors to focus less on what they will be called in the future and more on the Navy's plan to make more job fields and skills experience available through the change, which will allow sailors to have more than one four-character job code and make lateral moves to different jobs easier.
The pushback over getting rid of the ratings system among the rank-and-file is not as strong as the media is making it out to be, Richardson said.
"[The concern over ratings] seems a little peripheral, but it is a deep part of our tradition and something we have to be respectful of," he said.
There are some who would disagree. A WhiteHouse.gov petition to restore the ratings system has received more than 46,000 signatures in just four days. If the petition makes it to the 100,000-signature goal, it will receive a response directly from the Executive Branch.
Robert D. Weeks, a former Navy operations specialist who retired in 2014 as a petty officer first class after 20 years of service, is behind the petition. Weeks, 40, told Military.com he started a Facebook group for fellow operations specialists years ago and was dismayed to learn that this rating, like others, would be done away with.
"A lot of people like myself really loved their job, and the title that went along with it was part of your Navy identity," he said. "And besides that, when people start off in the Navy and strike into a rating, it is a huge sense of pride for them to be able to put on a rank badge that has a rating symbol on it."
Weeks, now a student at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida, said he thought there was a good chance he'd get the 100,000 signatures he needed, but hadn't expected them to accumulate so fast.
"I've had a lot of active sailors thank me for taking up the cause, because they can't really speak out themselves," he said.
Navy officials have said the new job code system will be implemented gradually, likely over years. Some decisions, such as whether to keep traditional ratings badges featured with rank on some enlisted uniforms, have yet to be made.