Train the Ones Who Are Going

By Captain J.H. Chapman and Lieutenant S.R. Quenga, U.S. Navy

A study conducted in 1995 found that 50%-60% of the crew that started the predeployment training cycle did not complete the deployment. 1 With the cost to train a battle group for deployment reaching into the millions, our present personnel assignment policy wastes significant resources. When the 11 ships and 10,000 sailors of a recent battle group and amphibious ready group left for deployment, for example, their personnel readiness was lower than at the beginning of the training cycle. Much of the expertise gained from the six to nine months of intensive training, inspections, and assessments was lost as a result of personnel transfers prior to the deployment.

Depending on the class of ship, there can be as many as 40 predeployment inspections or certifications, ranging from Tomahawk certification to underwater hull inspection. 2 Fifteen of these evolutions are personnel intensive. Thus, if a majority of certified crew members are not on board when the ship deploys, the ship no longer will meet the standard—and may not be able to function as effectively when needed. This loss of qualified crew members normally is not reflected in the ship's readiness numbers or Status of Readiness of Training System (SORTS) reporting, because SORTS measures evolutions completed and assumes no changes in personnel.

Readiness Study

Another study conducted in 1996 measured the readiness of key individuals, those war fighters who contribute directly to the ship's combat mission and whose skills directly benefit from the training received during the interdeployment training cycle (IDTC). The study was applied to three similar Aegis cruisers that were at different points in their employment cycle: immediately after deployment, at the end of basic phase training, and during pre-overseas movement. Using previous experience, sea/shore duty, requisite training, and current performance data, the study rated individuals as follows:

  • M1: Fully skilled
  • M2: Partially capable
  • M3: Minimally skilled
  • M4: Not skilled or vacant

The results of the survey revealed two critical points. First, personnel readiness decreased before deployment. Second, personnel coming from in-rate shore billets qualified more quickly than those from general shore billets.

As seen in figure 1, there was a noticeable decrease in readiness in the ship in the pre-overseas movement phase. The reasons for this degradation were both the planned and the unplanned personnel losses prior to or shortly after the beginning of the deployment. When a ship deploys, she leaves behind all sailors whose obligated service or transfer date falls within approximately two months of her departure, but no relief is assigned until the scheduled end of active obligated service or transfer date. This leaves the ship with a personnel readiness "hole" of two to three months. Unplanned losses caused by medical problems and family hardships and the inability of the personnel distribution system to respond to short-notice losses produce a further drop in personnel readiness. Unplanned losses always will be with us; however, there are ways to lessen their impact. We should not expend resources and time training individuals when we know they will not complete the deployment.

As seen in figure 2, there is a direct correlation between types of shore duty and the time needed for an individual to become a fully functioning crew member. Sailors with in-rate shore duty qualify sooner.

Unfortunately, the present detailing system does not value the shore experience of an individual. Little effort is made to send sailors to the types of shore duty that will reinforce their technical skills and then back to sea in billets where those skills will be used. As a result, we must use more formal schooling to maintain and refresh our sailors' technical abilities. We can and should use shore duty to increase shipboard readiness.


There are several potential solutions to these problems. One is block manning, where the crew is transferred as a group. Another might be to adopt our ballistic missile community's blue/gold crewing process. A third method is a flexible rotation system in which individuals' projected rotation dates are adjusted so that transfers of sailors with warfighting skills are not made during workups and deployment. The most promising solution is two-pronged:

  • Match war fighter rotation to the interdeployment training cycle.
  • Build career paths that value sea/shore relationships.

War fighters should not be transferred during the IDTC or deployment. Examples of sailors who fall under this heading are those who operate the ships sensors, weapon systems, propulsion systems, vital auxiliary systems, and damage control. These ratings include operations specialists, fire controlmen, machinist mates, and hull technicians. Some of the ratings that would not fall into this category are yeoman, personnelman, and mess management specialist. These ratings are just as vital to the running of the ship, but their skills are developed independently of the IDTC. A mess specialist prepares food every day, and as a result, his or her skills are honed on a daily basis. If that same mess specialist also is part of the ship's damage control team, however, he or she is also a war fighter and should be subject to controlled transfer.

The second part of the plan involves filling critical shipboard warfighting billets with the most qualified relief. Critical billets are identified by four criteria:

  • Prerequisite training is required.
  • Platform- or system-specific afloat experience is required.
  • Skill-building shore billets exist.
  • A managed career path enhances skills.

Many are the primary Naval Enlisted Classification (NEC) billets of a ship. Also, they are billets in which shore duty that reinforces skills, knowledge, and proficiency is very beneficial—it reduces the amount of formal schooling required and creates a more proficient and experienced technician. 3 Some examples of shore billets that fall into this category are Fleet Training Center instructors and repair technicians at Fleet Technical Support Centers or Shore Intermediary Maintenance Activities.

Critical billet management is a career-development process. Sailors in line for future critical billets are pipeline-managed to ensure that required skills are developed ashore for later use at sea. As seen in figure 3, the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BuPers) controls the assignment of personnel to either A, B, or C type shore duty, which directly affects afloat readiness by determining the quality of sailor returning to the fleet.

The ideal career path is a progression from apprentice to master craftsman (see "Training Tomorrow's Navy," February 1997 Proceedings, pp. 62-64). Upon completion of accession training, a sailor would receive apprentice training and then take those skills to sea for further development. Transition to shore duty would bring with it journeyman-level technical training and in-rate work experience. During the second sea tour, the journeyman-level sailor would develop skills further while mentoring subordinate apprentice-level sailors. Master-level systems and management training would follow, and the cycle of in-rate work and mentorship would continue.

An example of critical billet detailing for a typical electrician's mate is shown in figure 4. After recruit training, the sailor receives minimum accession training to prepare him for sea. Following reenlistment, the individual goes to a skill-building shore billet, such as instructor or repair technician, and then back to sea with that instructor or repair technician knowledge. After the second sea tour, the sailor returns to another skill-building shore billet, and this cycle continues throughout his career.

A preliminary study of this concept was applied to a three-ship amphibious ready group. Of the approximately 1,670 billets in the group, 50% were determined to be war fighters, and 15% within this group were determined to be critical billets. Aligning transfer dates to specific transfer windows would require transferring roughly 9% of the crew early and granting extensions for another approximately 9%. Over the long term, at each rotation, approximately half of the war fighters and personnel in critical billets would transfer. Assuming a 24-month ship employment cycle, each individual would make two deployments and have a sea tour of approximately 48 months.

There are many reasons why the personnel distribution system has evolved to its present state, but the result is that its desires have taken priority over the personnel aspect of combat readiness. We now must ask some tough questions: Is the training really important? Is readiness our number one priority? Are we satisfied with a detailing system that wastes large sums of money and time training individuals for deployments they will never complete? What are we willing to change?

There are numerous issues that must be addressed to make this proposal work. We have to consider sailors whose end-of-obligated-service dates fall within the IDTC or deployment and those who choose not to reenlist. We also must be prepared for unexpected changes in ship schedules. Solving these tough issues, however, will provide numerous benefits, including improved readiness, efficient use of resources, and a clear picture of which shore billets contribute most to fleet readiness. Shore billets that do not have an impact on fleet readiness could be outsourced, for further savings.

1 Impact of the Distribution System on Unit Readiness, ComNavSurfLant, 18 December 1995.

2 Inspections and Assists Applicable to NavSurfLant Ships, ComNavSurfLant Note 5040, 3 June 1996.

3 Supporting studies: Rose Hagman, "Retention of Military Tasks: A Review," 1983; Montgue Wetzel, "Conditions Influencing Skill Deterioration," March 1983: Blanchard, Celland, Megrdichian, "Enlisted Personnel Individualized Career System Test and Evaluation," January 1984.

Captain Chapman and Lieutenant Quenga are assigned to the Atlantic Fleet Training Directorate. This article was prepared with assistance from Mr. Al Flanders, public affairs officer at Training Command, Atlantic.


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