Ratings Petition Unlikely to Sway Navy: Chief of Naval Personnel

FILE - Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Adm. Robert Burke speaks at an all-hands with members of the submarine community in Groton, Conn. at Naval Submarine Base New London (U.S. Navy: Steve Owsley)
FILE - Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Adm. Robert Burke speaks at an all-hands with members of the submarine community in Groton, Conn. at Naval Submarine Base New London (U.S. Navy: Steve Owsley)

Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke is aware of a WhiteHouse.gov petition asking the Navy to rethink its decision to do away with its centuries-old ratings system.

But though the petition recently reached 100,000 signatures, guaranteeing a direct response from the Executive Branch, the Navy has no plans to reverse its decision on ratings, Burke said.

Speaking to Military.com from the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Gulf, where he is conducting a series of town hall meetings with some 9,000 sailors deployed with the Eisenhower carrier strike group and elsewhere in the Middle East, Burke said he's working to have as many face-to-face conversations as possible about ratings modernization plans and communicate the expanded career and training opportunities the changes aim to provide.

He also wants sailors to know that they can participate in expanded focus groups, he said, and their input will be used to shape the Navy's transition to its new job classification system.

Bringing back ratings -- and beloved titles such as corpsman and boatswain's mate -- does not appear to be an option, however.

"We've been following that conversation, and I'm aware of the petition effort," Burke said. "The White House, I'm confident they'll consult Navy leadership, including the secretary of the Navy on how to respond to that petition, just like they do to the multiple petitions they get all the time. So I'm continuing down the path that was set out."

More important than beloved titles, Burke said, is the ability to function as a strong, unified whole.

"Our sailors are all proud members of different tribes within the Navy, whether that's their ratings, their occupations, their warfare specialties, ships or squadrons," Burke said. "But the main thing the American people care about is that we're one Navy team supporting and defending our nation. And when they see a sailor walking down the street, they don't see a corpsman, they don't see a hull [maintenance] technician first class, they see a United States Navy sailor."

And despite what the petition appears to suggest, Burke said the majority of feedback he has received from sailors has been positive. He has received questions and entertained discussion about why the Navy didn't signal its plan to do away with ratings ahead of a sudden announcement but much of the conversation is forward-looking, he said.

"As we've talked about it, we've been able to assuage a lot of their fears and reassure them that there's not going to be any immediate changes to evaluations, exams and uniforms," he said. "This is a multi-year project; some pieces of it are four, five, six years down the road, and that again we've re-established and widened those paths to get fleet input. We need their help to get it right."

Burke said he has already received useful feedback from sailors on how to consider multiple avenues for advancement as the Navy restructures career paths away from ratings silos and toward a system in which sailors can hold useful specialties.

He has also heard from recently separated sailors, prior to his current town hall tour, who asked him to include various occupational certifications and credentialing into updated Navy job training requirements, a boon for those looking to transition into civilian equivalent jobs.

Burke insists that the changes ultimately will be a net gain for the Navy.

"We're not shying away from it; we're addressing it head on, with transparency, and making it clear to the sailors that they can expect wide involvement and lots of discussion for the significant game-changing steps that come down the road," he said.

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

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