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Sailors want formula change for advancement

Mar. 4, 2013 - 09:03AM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 4, 2013 - 09:03AM  |  
Then-Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 3rd Class Travis Clay takes the fleetwide advancement exam at Naval Station Everett, Wash., in September. The value of a sailor's exam score as part of the final advancement multiple could change after a Navy study of the process. Clay appears to have done well under the current system, though — his name appears on the AZ2 fall-cycle advancement list.
Then-Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 3rd Class Travis Clay takes the fleetwide advancement exam at Naval Station Everett, Wash., in September. The value of a sailor's exam score as part of the final advancement multiple could change after a Navy study of the process. Clay appears to have done well under the current system, though — his name appears on the AZ2 fall-cycle advancement list. (MC2 Robert Winn / Navy)
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What would you change about the advancement system? Write to navylet@navytimes.com and include your name, hometown or duty station, and rank/rating; your comments may be published in an upcoming edition of Navy Times.

Ask 10 sailors what they think is wrong with the advancement system and you'll most likely get 10 different reasons why they say the Navy unfairly "racks and stacks" its sailors.

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Ask 10 sailors what they think is wrong with the advancement system and you'll most likely get 10 different reasons why they say the Navy unfairly "racks and stacks" its sailors.

When it comes to petty officer advancements, many say too much weight is given to the exam score and not enough to job performance. This skews the system in favor of those who test well, but may not be the best-performing sailors when it comes to turning that wrench.

Others say the Navy needs to better recognize sailor fitness, rewarding those who stay in top shape. Then there are those who believe more points should be granted to repeat deployers, or those with multiple warfare qualifications.

Still others think receiving points for college degrees isn't fair — that's rewarding sailors for off-duty accomplishments.

If you're one of these sailors who have a beef with the advancement system, there's a glimmer of light ahead.

For the second time since the turn of the century, Navy officials are going to re-examine the advancement formula, known as a final multiple score, and see if there's a better method.

"We are working with both [Center for Naval Analyses] and the Naval Personnel Research, Studies and Technology Lab to determine if the final multiple score is working as designed and if an update would be beneficial," said Cmdr. Renee Squier, director of enlisted force plans and policy for the chief of naval personnel.

The review, she said, is also timed with the service's plan to update the Advancement Manual this fiscal year. That manual is actually Bureau of Naval Personnel Instruction 1430.16F, which contains the rules for enlisted advancement, and had its last overhaul in 2007. In the past six years, though, officials have made some minor adjustments to eligibility rules and tweaked how awards points are counted for some.

Since they're updating the rulebook anyway, they'll take a deep dive into the system to make sure it's still the best way to advance sailors.

They're also seeking sailor input before any decisions are made. Sailors will be surveyed via email and focus groups will be formed to gain fleet feedback. The study will "include a wide variety of pay grades, regions and theaters," according to a statement posted Feb. 6 on the Navy Advancement Center's Facebook page.

The post quickly garnered 80 comments from sailors — almost all of them calling for change now — and it was eventually hidden from the center's main page. A Navy personnel official said it was removed because Facebook was not the appropriate venue for collecting survey data on the subject.

Navy Times' Facebook page continued the debate, however, and the overlying message persisted: Good sailors were not advancing under the current system.

Officials are willing to listen to suggestions from the deck plates and hope to gather that information and make some decisions by Oct. 1. If you have an idea, Squier said, you should write it down and take it to your command master chief first. Only they can then push that suggestion on to the final multiple score working group, headed by Fleet Master Chief (AW/SW) JoAnn Ortloff, the top enlisted sailor for Naval Forces Europe. Ortloff declined comment for this story.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens encouraged this review of the final multiple, wanting to ensure the Navy is using the best method possible.

Change isn't guaranteed. And, no matter what, advancement quotas will still be tied to existing vacancies in the fleet. And advancements will still occur in two cycles, in the spring and fall.

Focus on performance

The two greatest factors affecting a sailor's multiple are evaluations and test scores. These factors, along with other variables such as awards, education and service in paygrade, are put through a mathematical formula to arrive at a final multiple score.

For those looking to advance to E-4 and E-5, performance makes up 42 percent of the final multiple, with the test score at 37 percent. In the competition for E-6, performance is 47.5 percent with the test score at 33 percent.

The performance factor is an average of your eval scores. A sailor, in his eval, is given one of five designations. An "early promote," or highest designation, earns a 4.0 score, and the lowest is "significant problems," or a 2.0.

For those going up to E-4, your performance will be the average of every eval score, including transfer evaluations, received over the past eight to nine months; for E-5, it's 14 to 15 months and for E-6, it's the past three years.

For the multiple, performance has been weighted more than exam scores since 2000. Even so, sailors insist that it's not weighted enough — the most pervasive complaint among the fleet.

"I think the test should count no more than 20 percent of the FMS," said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (FMF/AW) Scott Reid, who is stationed at the Naval Health Clinic in Charleston, S.C. "The Navy should put much more emphasis on evaluations — how you perform on the job and what you are doing for your command and community, as well as what you are doing to better your sailors."

That's also the feeling of retired Capt. Tom Hilton, who was in charge of research and development and studies under Adm. Jeremy Boorda when he was the chief of naval personnel in the 1990s.

"The current scheme's heavy reliance on paper-and-pencil knowledge, test scores, is misplaced," Hilton said. "Paper tests are easily compromised by cheating and by repeat testing. They are poor indicators of a member's knowledge of system dynamics, which is really what the Navy should be emphasizing."

Instead, Hilton said, the Navy should look to do more interactive, computer-based testing that measures sailors' critical thinking while performing their on-the-job skills, not just their book knowledge.

The Navy has tested this idea in recent years, with a pilot program of multimedia exams for musicians and aerographer's mates. While successful, those efforts have been put on hold, for now, partly due to cost considerations.

"An alternative that can work as well is hands-on oral testing just like Navy uses for [personnel qualification standard] certification," Hilton said. "It is very possible that expanding PQS to include a greater amount of rating knowledge would offset man-hours lost to on-the-job testing."

If the Navy stays with an algorithm, Hilton said the fleet needs to start from the bottom up and determine exactly what factors officers and enlisted leadership must want in their leaders. Then, weigh those factors for importance — as is done now — and test that system against the current advancement system.

Education, awards and more

Though tests and evals make up most of a sailor's multiple score, the system also allows sailors to earn additional points that can become "tiebreakers," which sometimes determine whether they advance.

Sailors believe these should also be changed.

"I don't think it is necessarily fair that sailors get points because they have a college degree," said an aviation electronics technician second class from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. "Stop putting so much emphasis on that stuff and let the sailors who bust their butts at work and are doing the job they are supposed to, reap the benefits."

The Navy instituted a maximum of four advancement points for a bachelor's degree and two for an associate degree in 2009. That should be scrapped, and the Navy should instead reward sailors with multiple warfare quals, said the AT2, who asked to remain anonymous.

"The Navy should reward those who work to qualify in other warfare areas above the minimum requirement of one," he said. "There should also be points awarded to those who get watch-standing qualifications that are above their current paygrade level."

The system also rewards sailors who have passed the advancement exam in the previous year but not advanced. These sailors receive a cumulate "passed, not advanced," or PNA, score. A sailor can earn a maximum of 15 points accumulated over the last five cycles. Each cycle earns you three PNA points.

Hilton said this sends the wrong message.

"Criteria like PNA seem to undermine fairness [as] PNA points enable members to promote without further achievement or improvement in performance since the last exam," he said. "It suggests, to many sailors, that promotions come to those who wait, rather than those who try hardest to improve."

Most sailors are glad you can earn extra points for awards, but some said the Navy should lift the cap.

Though there are 22 awards and medals, ranging from letters of commendation to the Medal of Honor, that can net a sailor advancement points, the Navy restricts how many points.

E-4s and E-5s can earn up to 10 points this way. E-6s can earn 12. The maximums increase to 12 and 14, respectively, for sailors who served in a war zone as individual augmentees.

Though HM2 Reid said that's a good start, he doesn't think that goes far enough.

"As far as award points, I think they should be unlimited," he said. "If you have a stellar sailor who is getting the awards, why should you punish them by having a limit?"

Still others say the Navy should want to reward sustained superior performance at sea. In other words, rewarding repeat deployers.

"I would like to see a greater emphasis placed on deployment somewhere in the process," said another hospital corpsman who asked not to be identified. "It is my belief that in order to rank up, a person must be willing to step up, so to speak."

Reid said he'd "give one point per every six-month deployment."

That's double the 90 days the Navy requires sailors to be deployed in order to qualify for the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon — the only reward sailors get for deployments and one that doesn't bring any advancement points.

Reward fitness

Another bone of contention among sailors is physical fitness.

Repeat failures can get you booted, but there's nothing to reward the athletes, they said.

"I think that if you receive an ‘outstanding' you should receive a point and, if you score ‘excellent,' a half-point," Reid said. "Anything below an excellent would receive zero points."

Still others think physical fitness assessments should instead be given greater status in a sailor's evaluations. The sailor's PFA score is one of seven traits sailors are graded on that fall under "military bearing/character."

One assistant command fitness leader who asked not to be identified said PFA scores should be a separate category on evals.

"Currently, we have five scores on the PRT," he said. "The PFA listing [on evals] should reflect that." His eval trait would rate an outstanding fitness score at 5.0 with a failing score netting a 1.0 — the rest would fall in between.

Copy Army and Marine

If the Navy is looking to overhaul its advancement scoring, it should turn to the Army or Marine Corps, some sailors said.

The Army and Marine Corps use "cutoff" or "cutting" scores as part of the process to advance noncommissioned officers.

Ed Forstner, a retired aviation structural mechanic who spent time at sea with a Marine F/A-18 Hornet squadron, said he saw the Marine Corps system in action and thinks it "is much better and fairer than what the Navy has."

In the Marine Corps, cutting scores are released each month for promotion to corporal and sergeant. To get promoted, a Marine must meet or exceed the score, which is based on a formula incorporating rifle, fitness and combat fitness scores, proficiency, conduct and other variables.

Personnel Specialist 1st Class Tenesa Gibbs, a classifier at the Charlotte, N.C., Military Entrance and Processing Station, is a 13-year veteran who said she's struggled as a test taker and that's hurt her by slowing her advancement.

She said the Navy should follow the Army's lead and adopt selection boards that sailors would have to face as part of the promotion process. In the Army each month, these young soldiers must face leaders in a boardroom, where they are subjected to uniform inspections and tough questions.

"A ranking board would present the opportunity for those [picking sailors to advance] to see the sailor, know the sailor and hear what the sailor's answers are, instead of a Scantron test that most people guess on anyway," she said.

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