Sailors hold a line on board the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Rooseveltduring a replenishment-at-sea with the fast combat support ship Arctic on Nov. 22, 2022, in the Ionian Sea. More of them now get the chance to stay in the Navy and advance in rank, thanks to reforms to the high-year tenure program announced Dec. 22, 2022. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Danielle Baker.
In a push to shore up retention and boost fleet readiness in an expanding Navy, the sea service will suspend its controversial high-year tenure program.
Issued Thursday, Dec. 22, the move affects roughly 1,600 active-duty sailors who had not risen up the ranks quickly enough to stave off involuntary separations or transfers to the reserves. Those removals often rankle sailors, who kvetch that they're stuck in rates dogged by too few chances to advance before Big Navy boots them.
“This suspension means more of our talented and experienced sailors can stay in the Navy,” said Rear Adm. James Waters III, the director of the Navy’s Military Personnel Plans and Policy Division, in an email to Coffee or Die Magazine. “By removing this barrier to retaining career-minded sailors, the Navy is broadening career progression opportunities for sailors and allowing them the opportunity to advance to the next higher paygrade.”
To manage its pool of enlisted talent, the Navy erects up-or-out gates in its high-year tenure system that bar sailors from advancing or staying in uniform. Now these personnel can apply for new billets in the MyNavy Assignment portal or extend their current tours to complete their full contract, without fear of being forced out.
“The Navy understands we are in a challenging recruiting environment, and we are focused on making sure that every active component sailor who wants to remain on active duty has that opportunity,” Waters added.
Sailors assigned to the Virginia-class fast-attack submarine Illinois join members of Arctic Submarine Laboratory to shovel snow to free the boat's hatches from the ice during Ice Exercise 2022 on March 5, 2022, in the Beaufort Sea. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Alfred Coffield.
Although it mostly affects active-duty personnel, the high-year tenure suspension also applies immediately to Selected Reservists who also were facing removals.
Sailors who negotiate and accept orders to their next duty stations before the Jan. 1, 2025, deadline will get greenlighted to take those billets, hurdling the paygrade gates in the high-year tenure program even after the suspension expires.
And sailors who have reached the grade of second-class petty officer and are nearing two decades in service also can retire as E-5s under the new order.
That’s important to Navy corpsmen, many who've served alongside Marines in battle. They often struggle to advance, despite their honorable service.
A US Navy hospital corpsman with 2d Reconnaissance Battalion, 2d Marine Division, treats a simulated casualty during cold weather training on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Dec. 2, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dylan Chagnon.
Lt. Rachel Maul, a spokesperson for the Chief of Naval Personnel, said the Navy expects roughly 350 hospital corpsmen are eligible for retention now because of the new program.
That means extra corpsmen at the chief and senior chief level, which could decrease by up to 10% the advancement chances for corpsmen in the E-3 to E-6 range.
"The Navy will continue to evaluate the impact as the pilot program proceeds," Maul said.
Officials said all career options will remain open to the sailors, including sea duty, returning to sea, or filling shore billets.
And the Pentagon hopes the career flexibility will create fewer billet gaps at sea.
US Navy hospital corpsmen with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conduct casualty care during an en route care exercise on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 8, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher W. England.
In late November, Navy leaders told Coffee or Die they were struggling to close more than 9,000 operational sea duty gaps, which are empty billets on operational units.
But the number is fluid, and shifts with personnel movements, ship decommissionings, maintenance availabilities, and unplanned problems, such as limited duty for injured sailors and administrative separations.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on Dec. 27, 2022, to reflect estimates on the number of Navy corpsmen affected by the new high-year tenure program.
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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