Navy Shakes Up Commanders' Merit Promotions

U.S. Navy meritorious advancement ceremony
Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Cody A. Bass was among eight sailors Naval Health Clinic Corpus Christi promoted through the Fiscal Year 2018 Meritorious Advancement Program during separate ceremonies July 5-12, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by William Love)

The Navy has made another change in its yearslong effort to improve how it promotes sailors, this time setting its sights on how commanders reward high-performing sailors with promotions.

In an administrative message released Monday, the Navy announced that it will now allow commanding officers to automatically advance sailors to the ranks of E-5 and E-6 if they have empty positions -- or billets -- at those ranks and if the sailors agree to extend their service.

The message also said that the Navy will start to phase out its old system of allowing commanders to promote sailors to those paygrades regardless of whether the ship had open billets. That system didn't come with extra service obligations for sailors.

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Under the new program, which is being called "Command Advance to Position," commanding officers can nominate sailors who are promotion-eligible to step into a higher-ranking but vacant position in the command.

Traditionally, sailors advance by serving a minimum amount of time at their current rank, then taking an advancement exam offered twice a year. Those scores are then added to a complex formula that compares them against all other sailors in their job field to determine who will make the cut based on quotas set by the Navy.

    This quota system sometimes leads to situations where high-achieving sailors struggle to advance because either their job field is small or there has not been enough movement in the upper ranks.

    As a result, the Navy has allowed commanders to bypass this system on rare occasions with meritorious promotions.

    Under this new version of the program, the advantage for sailors is the opportunity to serve at a higher rank, while the commands benefit by filling empty jobs, Lt. Meagan Morrison, a Navy spokeswoman, explained to on Monday.

    The service would sometimes, in the past, send sailors to fill billets that were already being manned by those who had received meritorious promotions, causing a logjam. The new system should prevent that problem by ensuring the central office knows that commanders have filled more senior jobs with internal promotions.

    According to the message released Monday, the new "Command Advance to Position" system is expected to replace the old system over the next two years.

    This change is just the latest tweak the Navy's personnel office has made as officials continue to move the service to billet-based advancement.

    Billet-based advancement aims to tie two previously separate aspects of a sailor's career -- promotion and new orders -- together. Officials have said that their main goals are to offer the service a benefit by getting higher-ranking sailors into matching jobs more quickly, while offering sailors more control and transparency over their careers.

    However, the Navy has also used these changes to try and help fill the thousands of empty billets it has at sea by offering promotions as an incentive.

    The latest change in this process was the Navy's move to make promotion to E-4 automatic after 30 months of service, ditching the old advancement exam.

    Morrison told that they expect around 14,000 sailors to be promoted to E-4 this July when that program comes into effect.

    Related: The Navy Is Making Promotion to E-4 Automatic After 30 Months of Service

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