Navy restores job titles known as ‘ratings’ after wave of criticism from sailors

By Brock Vergakis
The Virginian-Pilot


Following months of criticism from active-duty service members and veterans, the Navy has reinstated job titles known as ratings that had been used for centuries to help identify enlisted sailors’ roles.

The Navy eliminated the use of ratings such as “hospital corpsman” in September and started referring to sailors solely by their ranks – petty officer second class, for example – as part of an effort to provide greater flexibility in enlisted sailors’ careers and to come up with job titles that more clearly align with what they would be called outside the military. Hospital corpsmen were to be called “medical technicians,” for example.

The change was a major cultural shift in a tradition-bound service that had used ratings for 241 years, and Navy officials acknowledge they underestimated the fierce opposition they’d face. In the lead-up to the elimination of ratings, officials repeatedly noted that ratings had changed or been eliminated more than 750 times over the years. The Navy has about 90 ratings, largely unchanged since 1947.

The Navy will make the official announcement today at 8 a.m. along with additional information on social media, said Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.

Richardson said he has spoken with thousands of sailors at all-hands calls around the world since the September announcement and heard their concerns. He said there has been wide support for the flexibility that the rating modernization plan offers, but the removal of ratings detracted from accomplishing major goals.

“I have been adamant that our Navy needs to be a fast-learning organization – that includes our leadership. The Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority states that our most junior teammate may have the best idea and that we must be open to capturing that idea,” Richardson wrote. “We have learned from you, and so effective immediately, all rating names are restored.”

Richardson’s message says there’s still some work to do when it comes to job titles. He said he still wants enlisted sailors to have more flexibility in their careers, and some sailors could end up with multiple ratings. A working group will be created to figure out the best way to manage that, he said.

Traditionally, enlisted sailors were known by a combination of letters and numbers that referred to their ratings and ranks. For example, a yeoman who is a petty officer second class would be called “YN2.” It’s unclear how adding a second or third rating will fit into what a sailor is called.

A yeoman is one of the prime examples of rating names the Navy was looking to change when it embarked on a review of them earlier this year. Few people outside the Navy know what a yeoman does. Recommendations to change the title included “administrative specialist” so it would make it easier for civilian employers to understand a sailor’s resume.

Following the elimination of ratings, sailors were told to simply refer to each other by rank. Some sailors complained on social media and in online comments on news stories that they felt the change stripped them of a part of their Navy heritage and also made it more difficult to clearly identify the correct sailor on ships with thousands aboard, such as aircraft carriers.

Within hours of Richardson’s announcement in September, Dave Weeks, a retired petty officer first class who served as an operations specialist in the Navy, created an online White House petition. The petition garnered more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days, prompting the Obama administration to respond.

Though the White House in its response stood behind the ratings drop, Weeks said he was happy that the petition helped spur visibility for sailors who were upset over the move.

“It was a source of sailors’ identity and everyone thought they kind of lost some of that when they talked about taking that away,” Weeks said late Tuesday.

He said he learned about the change from a friend on active duty and didn’t believe it until he saw Richardson’s confirmation of the reversal Tuesday on social media.

“I’m glad that leadership listened to the sailors and, you know, took it to heart and reversed course on it,” Weeks said.

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