(Photo: Navy Times)
WASHINGTON — Almost 8,000 senior enlisted personnel must go before a continuation board later this year to determine whether they can continue to serve or must retire.
The board — the first since early 2013 — will convene Oct. 27, according to a Navy document released Aug. 14.
At risk are between 7,500 and 8,000 retirement-eligible active and reserve E-7s, E-8s and E-9s with at least at least three years' time in rate.
But there is a big upside to the process: Clearing out senior enlisted who have engaged in misconduct or whose performance has slipped noticeably makes way for hot running sailors to move up.
The board has no exceptions; even the most senior sailors — up to and including Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens — will have their records reviewed.
"It's an opportunity for us, as chief petty officers, to police ourselves," said Fleet Master Chief April Beldo, senior enlisted adviser to the chief of naval personnel, in a July 30 interview.
"Expectations for continued service depend on maintaining performance," she said. "As chief petty officers, we're accountable to the Navy, our sailors and ourselves for our actions — and that is really what this is all about."
The board has no quotas, meaning no mandatory cuts to make. It's the board members' job simply to review records and decide who gets to stay in and who must retire — what officials call a "pure quality cut."
The Navy has held such boards — every year but one since fiscal 2010, the last in February of 2013. To date, 30,850 records have been reviewed, with a total of 1,381 chiefs being told to retire — an overall 4.48 percent chance of being sent home.
The fiscal 2014 board was skipped because of a decision made in 2013 by Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, then chief of naval personnel. Scheduling conflicts had caused the fiscal 2013 board to slip into early calendar year 2013. Officials realized that a fiscal 2014 board would have to be come almost immediately after the 2013 non-selects were required to retire.
"We decided (that) to do another one right on the heels of the last one wasn't a good idea," Beldo said. "Based on everything that was going on — sequestration, manning at sea issues — CNP made the decision, supported by the CNO and MCPON, not to do one for fiscal year 2014."
Retirement-eligible active and reserve chief petty officers — E-7 through E-9 — will be reviewed by the board.
More specifically, active-duty chiefs will be looked at only if they had at least 19 years of active service as of Feb. 28, and three years' time in their current paygrade on June 30.
For drilling reservists, the only difference is that they won't get looked at unless they had 20 qualifying years of service as of Feb. 28. The time-in-paygrade cutoff is the same.
"The board will look at those who are not only retirement-eligible, but also retirement-eligible in their current pay grade," Beldo said.
For example, if a chief is selected for and pins on senior chief, but decides to retire a year later, Beldo said, he or she would retire as an E-7 unless there were extenuating circumstances.
"This guarantees that anyone selected not to continue can retire in their current grade," she said. "We don't want this in any way to be punitive or even to be perceived as punitive."
There are two exceptions to eligibility for consideration by the board: Anyone with an approved retirement request or who has been selected for warrant officer by the most recent selection board won't get a look.
Aside from that, not even the most senior fleet and force master chiefs will escape review. Enlisted board members, too, will be reviewed before being cleared to sit the board.
This wasn't always the case; the first board exempted those in special warfare, nuclear power and the command master chief programs. But the scope of the review has gradually expanded each year, and the fiscal 2013 board included everyone for the first time.
Although personnel officials estimate the review will include 7,500 to 8,000 chiefs, the the exact number won't be known until the end of August.
Naval Personnel Command will post the initial list of eligible chiefs to the Bupers Online Portal. Fleet commands will have until Aug. 29 to add someone or to make the case that a particular chief should not be considered.
The watch list
The 2015 board will be looking at the same types of issues as previous boards, according to the NavAdmin.
"This board's purpose is to evaluate the performance of our chief petty officers and determine whether they should continue on in active service," Beldo said. "It has absolutely nothing to do with force-shaping, or downsizing, if you will — it's simply a performance check."
Every record gets an initial look, as with promotion boards. If the board finds nothing adverse, the sailor is selected for continuation.
If certain negative indicators are found, the board is required to deliberate further on whether that chief stays or goes.
Even those chiefs with one or more black marks on their record won't necessarily be asked to retire; that will only happen if a majority of the board members gives them a thumbs-down.
That's why, officials say, this is a board and not simply a scrub to bounce those with hiccups in their records.
"We're not a zero-defect outfit," then-Capt. Leo Falardeau, who is now retired, told Navy Times after the 2011 board. As head of enlisted progression, Falardeau was in charge of overseeing the board and reviewing its findings.
"There were people who had performance indicators in their record, and their futures were debated in the tank, but they were ultimately retained," he said.
Creating room to advance
Because the Navy's advancements are based on vacancy at the next level, no openings means no advancements.
The solution was to create an enlisted continuation board — similar to the early retirement boards held for officers.
The chief of naval personnel at the time, now Adm. Mark Ferguson, wanted to set a quota of 2,500 chiefs to be cut, but his senior enlisted advisers recommended a pure quality cut instead.
Though it might take longer, the advisers said, the quality cut would serve the same purpose: creating opportunities for advancement in ensuing years.
"This is at the heart of why we've started the continuation board process," said then-Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SS/SW) Rick West, who has since retired. "Yes, it's about performance, but if we do it right, it will also create opportunity for our best young sailors to move up."
Now, nearly six years and almost five boards later, the chance to make chief has again risen.
"This is an opportunity for leadership to show junior sailors coming up — who want to be chief petty officers and who might have the perception that chiefs get away with anything — that we police ourselves," Beldo said. But she re-emphasized that the board's decisions aren't punitive in nature and won't impact any retirements, other than to speed them up for those not continued.