For those of you who have been living off-grid up in the mountains inside a wooden cabin with no link to the outside world, this may be news for you. Or for those who don’t really follow or care about military matters, this may be news to you as well. Recently, the U.S. Navy leadership had decided all by themselves to eliminate the old Navy occupational structure known as “rates”. They wanted a new structure similar to other branches of service that use the military occupational specialty codes like the Army and Marine Corps. The Air Force uses something similar called an Air Force Specialty Codes.
In an MOS type system, people are referred to by their rank, “Private”, “Specialist”, “Captain”, “General” and so forth and their MOS or “job” is a separate designation such as 11B (infantryman) or 68W (combat medic). The Navy personnel are also sometimes referred to by their rank, “Petty Officer Third Class”, “Senior Chief”, “Lieutenant”, and so forth. However, for the enlisted personnel, especially E-6 and below, their rank is intimately tied to their rating and folks are more often referred to by their rating and rank “hybrid” designation such as “BM1” for a Boatswain’s Mate First Class or “MC3” for a Mass Communications Specialist Third Class. My rate was a lithographer’s mate (a now defunct rate – was merged with others to for the MC rating) and I quite often called “LI3”. Although, in closer circles I was mostly referred to as “Fucker”, “Dipshit”, and “Asshole” – Naval terms of endearment.
So, the point is that the Navy rating system was an old system but had become tradition and that rating was a source of pride in a sailor’s job and was integrated into their military identity. Therefore, when the leadership, out of the blue (no pun intended) said “hey, rates are gone, we’re replacing them with Navy Occupational Specialties or NOS, sailors were pissed. After a massive amount of criticism for the move on social media, in conventional media and even producing appeals to the White House, the Navy leadership realized they fucked up. Not wanting to go down as the dudes who were the most hated in Naval history, they did an about-face and reinstated the rates.
Okay, so why the big damn deal, you may ask. Why are sailors having a baby hissyfit over job titles? That’s a perfectly rational question. For those who were never part of the military and especially the Navy, it may be somewhat difficult to understand. In the military, tradition is a sacred thing. We often acknowledged those who came before us and honored their sacrifices through various traditions. Some traditions are so old that no one is really sure how or why they began. A perfect example is the Navy tradition of “crossing the line“. This ceremony occurs when a ship parks itself on the equator and those who have never been initiated must go through a sort of hazing ritual – although, we don’t say “hazing” now because that has a bad connotation and leadership makes sure everyone knows that participation is voluntary. However, going through the long ritual of eating green eggs and ham, crawling around on all fours, being sprayed with salt water hoses, being covered in slimy, grimy who-the-hell-knows-what finally leads the slimy pollywogs to become Trusty Shellbacks. For most sailors, the unofficial title of Trusty Shellback is a greater source of pride than most official awards or commendations.
So what was the point of this drawn out story about the Navy rates? I think it is a perfect example of a disconnected leadership and the improper way to enact change. In any organization, it is only as strong as its people. When those people are demoralized and left to felt like they have no input in policy that greatly affects them, they become less productive, less loyal, and you end up losing talented and skilled folks.
Should the Navy leadership have known better? Yes, they should have. Was the idea of a type of Navy Occupational Specialty system bad? Not necessarily, but when you abruptly replaced a system that is hundreds of years old and a source of great reverence and pride with some new, bland system, then it becomes a horrible idea. In this age of lightning speed news and communication, there is no excuse for not knowing the general consensus of your sailors. Despite the ill-implemented system change, the sailors got their rates back and also get to rid themselves of the blueberries (blue camo uniform). Now, if they could upgrade Windows from XP one day soon, that’d be good too – some things shouldn’t be traditions…like your operating system.