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Almost 8,000 chiefs face the ax

Move will free up positions for sailors to advance

Aug. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Almost 8,000 senior enlisted must go before a continuation board later this year, which will determine whether they can continue to serve or must retire.

The board — the first since early 2013 — will convene Oct. 27, according to NavAdmin 180/14, released Aug. 14.

At risk are between 7,500 and 8,000 retirement-eligible active and reserve E-7s, E-8s and E-9s with at least at least three years’ time in rate.

But there is a big upside to the process: Clearing out senior enlisted who have engaged in misconduct or whose performance has slipped noticeably makes way for hot running sailors to move up.

The board has no exceptions; even the most senior sailors — up to and including Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens — will have their records reviewed.

“It’s an opportunity for us, as chief petty officers, to police ourselves,” said Fleet Master Chief (AW/SW) April Beldo, senior enlisted adviser to the chief of naval personnel, in a July 30 interview.

“Expectations for continued service depend on maintaining performance,” she said. “As chief petty officers, we’re accountable to the Navy, our sailors and ourselves for our actions — and that is really what this is all about.”

The board has no quotas, meaning no mandatory cuts to make. It’s the board members’ job simply to review records and decide who gets to stay in and who must retire — what officials call a “pure quality cut.”

The Navy has held such boards — every year but one since fiscal 2010, the last in February of 2013. To date, 30,850 records have been reviewed, with a total of 1,381 chiefs being told to retire — an overall 4.48 percent chance of being sent home.

The fiscal 2014 board was skipped because of a decision made in 2013 by Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, then chief of naval personnel. Scheduling conflicts had caused the fiscal 2013 board to slip into early calendar year 2013. Officials realized that a fiscal 2014 board would have to be come almost immediately after the 2013 non-selects were required to retire.

“We decided [that] to do another one right on the heels of the last one wasn’t a good idea,” Beldo said. “Based on everything that was going on — sequestration, manning at sea issues — CNP made the decision, supported by the CNO and MCPON, not to do one for fiscal year 2014.”

Who's eligible

Simply put, retirement-eligible active and reserve chief petty officers — E-7 through E-9 — will be reviewed by the board.

More specifically, active-duty chiefs will be looked at only if they had at least 19 years of active service as of Feb. 28, and three years’ time in their current paygrade on June 30.

For drilling reservists, the only difference is that they won’t get looked at unless they had 20 qualifying years of service as of Feb. 28. The time-in-paygrade cutoff is the same.

“The board will look at those who are not only retirement-eligible, but also retirement-eligible in their current pay grade,” Beldo said.

For example, if a chief is selected for and pins on senior chief, but decides to retire a year later, Beldo said, he or she would retire as an E-7 unless there were extenuating circumstances.

“This guarantees that anyone selected not to continue can retire in their current grade,” she said. “We don’t want this in any way to be punitive or even to be perceived as punitive.”

There are two exceptions to eligibility for consideration by the board: Anyone with an approved retirement request or who has been selected for warrant officer by the most recent selection board won’t get a look.

Aside from that, not even the most senior fleet and force master chiefs will escape review. Enlisted board members, too, will be reviewed before being cleared to sit the board.

This wasn’t always the case; the first board exempted those in special warfare, nuclear power and the command master chief programs. But the scope of the review has gradually expanded each year, and the fiscal 2013 board included everyone for the first time.

Although personnel officials estimate the review will include 7,500 to 8,000 chiefs, the the exact number won’t be known until the end of August.

Naval Personnel Command will post the initial list of eligible chiefs to the Bupers Online Portal. Fleet commands will have until Aug. 29 to add someone or to make the case that a particular chief should not be considered.

The watch list

The 2015 board will be looking at the same types of issues as previous boards, according to the NavAdmin.

“This board’s purpose is to evaluate the performance of our chief petty officers and determine whether they should continue on in active service,” Beldo said. “It has absolutely nothing to do with force-shaping, or downsizing, if you will — it’s simply a performance check.”

Every record gets an initial look, as with promotion boards. If the board finds nothing adverse, the sailor is selected for continuation.

“If I’m holding up my end of the bargain with the United States Navy and with my commanding officer and sailors, then I, as a chief, should lose no sleep over this board,” Beldo said.

In their precepts, the marching orders from the chief of naval personnel, board members are told to look for specific “indicators” of an issue in the past five years of a chief’s career.

If found, any of these indicators require the board to deliberate further on whether that chief stays or goes.

The precepts for this year’s board won’t be published until Oct. 27, the day the board convenes, officials told Navy Times, but this year’s marching orders should still include such indicators as:

■ Receipt of a “significant problems” or “progressing” promotion recommendation in evaluations.

■ An evaluation trait average score of 2.99 or below.

■ Two or more failures of a physical fitness assessment in two years.

■ Moral or professional dereliction, such as a detachment for cause.

■ Other adverse information “inconsistent with national security interests” or not “in the best interest of the Navy.”

Gaps of greater than 90 days between evaluations will always result in a chief’s record getting closer scrutiny by the board, but contrary to rumors in the fleet, that in itself is not enough of a reason to send someone home, officials told Navy Times.

Still, Beldo said, chiefs should review their records at least annually to ensure they’re accurate. If something’s missing — as with any other board — they can send a package for the board to consider. This year, they have until Oct. 6 to send documents and letters to the board.

If adverse indicators are found during the board, that doesn’t guarantee the chief will get the boot, officials say.

Those flagged with indicators, however, will have their entire record reviewed. Board members will make their decision based on the chief’s entire body of work while in uniform and decide if his or her “continuation is in the best interest of the Navy.”

Even those chiefs with one or more black marks on their record won’t necessarily be asked to retire; that will only happen if a majority of the board members gives them a thumbs-down.

That’s why, officials say, this is a board and not simply a scrub to bounce those with hiccups in their records.

“We’re not a zero-defect outfit,” then-Capt. Leo Falardeau, who is now retired, told Navy Times after the 2011 board. As head of enlisted progression, Falardeau was in charge of overseeing the board and reviewing its findings.

“There were people who had performance indicators in their record, and their futures were debated in the tank, but they were ultimately retained,” he said.

Creating room to advance

In 2009, the Navy was in the midst of a 60,000-person, decade-long drawdown, which took the Navy active force from 380,000 down to 320,000. And the possibility of more cuts was still on the table.

Chief petty officer billets had been cut by more than 10 percent, officials told Navy Times in 2010. As a result, 60 of 82 ratings were declared “overmanned” with retirement-eligible chiefs, meaning they had at least 110 percent of the sailors they needed. Many ratings were worse off than that.

The result was a cascading slowdown in advancements, most evident in the decline in the opportunity to make chief, which dipped 10 percentage points to a decade-low 18 percent selection rate.

Because the Navy’s advancements are based on vacancy at the next level, no openings means no advancements.

The solution was to create an enlisted continuation board — similar to the early retirement boards held for officers.

The chief of naval personnel at the time, now Adm. Mark Ferguson, wanted to set a quota of 2,500 chiefs to be cut, but his senior enlisted advisers recommended a pure quality cut instead.

Though it might take longer, the advisers said, the quality cut would serve the same purpose: creating opportunities for advancement in ensuing years.

“This is at the heart of why we’ve started the continuation board process,” said then-Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SS/SW) Rick West, who has since retired. “Yes, it’s about performance, but if we do it right, it will also create opportunity for our best young sailors to move up.”

Now, nearly six years and almost five boards later, the chance to make chief has again risen.

Although this year’s opportunity saw a slight decrease to 24 percent, from slightly more than 26 percent a year ago, it’s still above the average over the past 10 years, officials say.

So the board has lived on, and officials say another one likely will be held next year.

“This is an opportunity for leadership to show junior sailors coming up — who want to be chief petty officers and who might have the perception that chiefs get away with anything — that we police ourselves,” Beldo said. But she re-emphasized that the board’s decisions aren’t punitive in nature and won’t impact any retirements, other than to speed them up for those not continued.

Once the board adjourns, officials will review the results before finalizing the list of those being retired and notifying commands — most likely sometime before the end of December.

Those selected to retire must then submit their requests to retire by Jan. 31. Active-duty sailors must retire by Aug. 31, 2015, and reservists by Sept. 1, 2015.

Commanders who believe they have an operational or readiness need to retain their chiefs can submit a waiver request — due to NPC by Jan. 31.

If granted a waiver, those sailors must still retire by Nov. 30, Navy officials said.

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