Sunday, October 19, 2003

Chief Valerie Setliff, left, assists with the re-enlistment of Petty Officer Sunday Williams with the help of an Internet-based job placement system. Williams was able to relocate while retaining her "rate," or current job, as a Navy journalist.

Quality work

A Navy program is trying to shift
sailors out of crowded specialties

Petty Officer Sunday Williams wants to continue working as a Navy journalist.

But because she is in a field that's considered "overmanned" by the Navy, she must show that she is qualified to stay in the job if she re-enlists.

In March, the Navy initiated what it calls its "perform to serve" program for first-term sailors like Williams, said Chief Petty Officer Valerie Setliff, one of 60 Navy career counselors stationed in Hawaii.

It's an attempt to reshape its force and "flatten out problem areas," said Capt. Chris Arendt, enlisted plans and policy branch head for the Chief of Naval Personnel at the Pentagon. Arendt said the Navy now gives sailors in overmanned job areas a chance to change careers, which gives them a better chance to move ahead and get promoted.

In Williams' case, her supervisor, Chief Petty Officer Tim Paynter, said her bid to remain as a journalist in the Navy was helped by the fact that "she is a good sailor and had good evaluations."

Williams, 23, a single mom, had contemplated leaving the service earlier this year after completing her first five-year enlistment.

She had wanted to pursue a career in journalism outside the Navy, but when she changed her mind and decided to stay in she faced an obstacle. She wanted to continue as a military journalist -- one of more than 40 career fields that are overmanned in the Navy.

When Williams enlisted in the Navy five years ago, she didn't pick a career field and "ended up as a boat driver at the USS Arizona Memorial. But I was interested in writing. It was something I had done in high school. So I took a test and advanced after passing it."

Williams knew eventually she had to go to sea if she wanted to remain in the Navy and was looking for something that would keep her close to her son.

Once she decided what she wanted to do, her career counselor, Setliff, did all the work.

"All the sailor does is sweat whether you are going to stay in the Navy," Williams added, "and whether you are going to stay in your job."

Setliff said sailors are encouraged to begin thinking about their future at least 13 months before their initial enlistment runs out. If a sailor is in a job that is overmanned, the sailor can opt to go to a position that is undermanned, and that application is evaluated by the Navy Personnel Command with other sailors seeking re-enlistment. A sailor can submit up to five job choices with each application.

Besides journalists, the Navy now has too many air traffic controllers, aviation specialists, electricians, photographers, personnel managers and quartermasters.

Vacancies in the Navy include boatswain's mates, any of the nuclear specialties, legal specialists, masters of arms, mess specialists, postal clerks, special forces and explosive ordnance disposal specialists.

In the past, the process was cumbersome and involved "a lot of paper work and forms to be filled. I've seen packages that were at least an inch thick," Arendt said in a telephone interview.

Now everything is done online, Setliff noted.

Since the "perform to serve program" began six months ago, the Navy Personnel Command has processed applications for 15,917 first-term sailors, Arendt added.

Arendt said that 11,113 sailors were allowed to stay in and keep their current jobs, while 1,826 converted to other jobs.

"It appears the sailors are embracing it."

Of the remaining 2,978 sailors, about 700 will not be offered re-enlistment options and will leave the Navy.

Arendt said the Navy is getting a force it needs while giving sailors a better chance to advance and get promoted.

The "perform to serve" program is part of the Navy's continuing force shaping efforts that include giving the sailor the ability to bid for jobs at unpopular posts online, eBay-style.

Arendt said the pilot program, called "Sea Warrior," gives the sailor a chance to increase his monthly salary up to $250 a month by volunteering to take a job in Italy or Japan.

Currently, a Navy personnel officer or "detailer" determines a sailor's next assignment by matching up the sailor's rotation date and his job with the next available vacancy.


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