Thursday, December 22, 2016

Now that we have ratings...

...can we refocus on technical training?

While we can go back and forth about whether the rating removal was aimed at the word "man," or helping Sailors land civilian jobs, or some other reason, we missed that ratings were more than just a nice way to address ourselves.  Enlisted ratings linked Sailors to a promotion exam, which required them (at least up to E-6) to be knowledgeable in their rating.  The whole point of that was to keep our Sailors studying and staying sharp in their job.

We have managed to erode that over time in the IWC, mainly by a lack of investment in training.  The Navy is quickly becoming a hypocrite: on one hand, demanding more STEM-trained Sailors, while on the other providing less resources to build these Sailors or maintain their skills.

For example, despite a Cyber Security Workforce (CSWF) instruction that wants CSWF members to have more technical certifications, the IT training pipeline no longer incorporates tests like Security+.  Students are instead "encouraged" to use Navy COOL to pursue these certifications on their own time. 

Or what about CTMs?  After first disestablishing the rate (leaving cryptologic equipment at the mercy of non-CT ratings like ETs and ATs), CTMs were then targeted by Sailor 2025, which sought to turn ratings into a series of block training events that would be pursued over a Sailor's career.  Seems like a good idea, until you dig into the details.  What ends up happening is that Sailors spend less time in school and end up with more on the job training.  This increase in OJT doesn't come with an increased tour length at a command, so commands spend all that time training a CTM, only to have them transfer without spending a lot of time using that knowledge.

Sailor 2025 is coming to a rating near you, just in case you thought it was a CTM problem.

It gets worse because this assumes that all commands have a robust training program when in fact most commands aren't billeted for dedicated training in the first place.  At NIOC Georgia, the training department is 150 people, covering everything from linguist annual refresher training to cyber certifications, but NIOC Georgia isn't billeted for a training officer.  The other large NIOCs are likely no different.  Had Sailor 2025 come with a plan to put more training resources at commands, I would have thought it genius.  Sadly, it did not, so commands are forced to make do with few resources.

Our officer training is by far the worst example of training cutbacks.  Despite placing our Information Warfare officers in extremely technically demanding billets, we have cut down their initial training to only a few weeks.  Think about it: our people leading cyber and SIGINT, running multi-million dollar systems, get less than 3 months of training.  Contrast this to our nuclear trained officers, who get a YEAR of technical training before being allowed to qualify on their vessel's reactor plant.

The Navy's rating elimination was part of a plan that ultimately generalizes our Sailors too much at the younger levels.  I'm all about broadening Sailor's horizons into the other IWC areas, but that should happen at the E7/O4 level, not as E1s and O1s.  Sure, I want my 1810 LTs to be familiar with METOC, Intel and IP.  I was familiar with them, having worked with each group during my time at Second Fleet and PACFLT staffs, but I was NOT (and still am not) an expert in any of those fields.  My major contributions in both of those jobs was technical and very focused, which is what we expect of LTs.

Generalizing too early doesn't build interchangeable Sailors who can hop from one job to another with great flexibility; it instead builds Sailors who are mediocre at all things.  When our enemies actively pursue excellence in very specific weak areas, we have to be prepared to use strength.  Mediocre Sailors will always struggle to exercise strength in their rating and warfare areas.

I'm hoping that the rating re-introduction will spark a larger conversation about what we as a Navy will do to address a massive training gap before it becomes too late.

This post represents the views of the author and does not reflect the positions of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy or any other governmental organization.