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Sailor training falls short

Thousands advanced without mandatory course

Mar. 31, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Indoctrination Class Aboard USS Abraham Lincoln
Navy records show tens of thousands of sailors still are advancing without proper training, or without the training being documented. Here, sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln take part in a petty officer indoctrination class. (MC3 Johndion Magsipoc/Navy)
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It falls to your skipper to make sure your command holds leadership training before frocking or advancing any sailor.

It’s as basic as no course documentation, no stripe.

No exceptions.

But the courses are falling far short of the mark.

Sailors who complete the training are moving up over peers who didn’t. The latest figures show tens of thousands are getting advanced without going through the leadership courses or having it entered in the fleet’s records.

Since 2008, it’s been up to commands to teach formal leadership classes to each sailor before they are allowed to advance, or even frock, those sailors to the next paygrade — from third class to chief. Each course takes about 24 hours of instruction time.

The number of sailors who’ve been advanced without taking the course has dropped in the past year — a good step, but not good enough, according to a Navy source.

“The progress is a good sign — but the current numbers remain far from satisfactory,” said the source, who is familiar with the issue but not authorized to speak publicly on the subject. “There’s really no consequences for not training and reporting, so it falls in the list of priorities for [commanding officers] who have a lot on their plates.”

The total stands at 51,544 sailors with an unauthorized advancement, a tally that raises questions about whether the regs have should be sharpened — or ditched.

Officials, however, say the problem most likely stems from faulty training databases and shoddy reporting of training completion.

“I’m very confident that, as I talk with commands across the Navy, that the training is being done,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens told Navy Times in a March 19 interview.

Personnel officials agree that the training is happening and say that they’re reconsidering the documentation aspect to lighten burdens on commands.

“We are re-evaluating the reporting requirement as part of our review of the enlisted advancement manual,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel. “This training is occurring — adjusting the documentation requirement could potentially free up countless administrative man-hours.”

Falling through the cracks

Last year, when Navy Times revealed the issues, fleet figures showed 45 percent of the 148,576 sailors E-4 through E-7 required to have the training — 67,191 sailors in all — didn’t complete it or their commands didn’t document it.

It’s dropped by 15,647 sailors in the past year, but still 1 in 3 sailors were advanced without required training — hardly a success story.

All sailors with dates of rank in their current paygrade of March 2009 or later must take the training. Those with earlier dates are grandfathered — until they advance, when the new rules apply.

Some believe the Navy could do more to get this fixed.

“Take for example last year’s required [sexual assault training]. Big Navy required it be completed and documented by the end of March 2013, and by all accounts by mid-April compliance was at around 98 percent,” said the Navy source familiar with the problem. “It’s really a simple thing, but it can easily fall between the cracks.”

Training, such as the petty officer leadership courses, is supposed to be documented in the Fleet Management and Planning System — FLTMPS, or “fleet-temps,” as it’s known on the waterfront.

That database, and the ability to access and update it, is where some are pointing the fingers.

“I’ve gone into commands, and I’ve looked at them specifically through an assessment process,” Stevens said in the March interview. “They’re doing it. The long pole in the tent is that we’re not documenting it.”

The problem is access, and commands that don’t have enough people set up to make the FLTMPS entries. If someone transfers or gets sick, things can fall through the cracks.

“If we actually documented the training that everybody is doing, I think that we’d be in the really high 90s,” Stevens said. “So, I think that that is what we need to get better at — we say it all of the time: ‘The training is not done until the admin is complete.’”

To bolster his case, Stevens says other training is underreported and falling through the cracks. He believes that even documented training sometimes doesn’t show up in the system because of glitches or other complexities.

“I’m not a big fan of the challenges that FLTMPS presents to us,” he said. “I don’t think that it gives us real-time reporting and so, I would like to see us, as soon as the opportunity allows ... take a good hard look at FLTMPS and figure out a system that works better for us.”

Still, those problems aren’t an excuse, he said.

“Before a sailor is frocked, they’re supposed to have completed the requisite training — the expectation is that, as leaders, we hold ourselves accountable and make sure that we’re doing that,” Stevens said.

'Necessary and valid'

Stevens stressed that the leadership classes shouldn’t be eliminated or the requirement waived.

Leadership training for every enlisted sailor is “necessary and valid,” he said.

He’s worked to strengthen the CPO 365 program, which develops future chief petty officers, and he’s recently unveiled plans to make the Senior Enlisted Academy a requirement for anyone hoping to compete for master chief after 2019. Given these efforts to professionalize the enlisted ranks, Stevens doesn’t want to pull back on petty officer training.

Yet, leadership training has been a problem area frequently over the past decade.

Before 2009, sailors attended a two-week leadership course in fleet concentration areas. But it was rough on commands to give up their sailors, and attendance was low. Navy officials later changed tack and put the requirement on commands, but as the latest data show, that hasn’t solved all the problems.

While there is some progress, the real solution will come down to adding more teeth to the requirement or lifting it. Either way, top leadership should ensure fairness and accountability for those moving up, said the Navy source.

“If they know it’s being checked up on, they’ll ensure it’s squared away,” he said. “It’s been that way since John Paul Jones.”

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