Suppose that every commander now on the active list of the Navy were told that, to be a captain, he must take an examination on a certain day; that, to be promoted, his mark must be one of the thirty-five highest regardless of his position on the list; and that he could never be promoted until he stood in the first thirty-five. Indignant protests would fill the air. Yet that is exactly what we are now asking our first-class petty officers to do if they want to be chief petty officers.
The service record of John Doe, water tender, first class, will describe the present system. He enlisted in the Navy in 1917. After the usual number of watches and liberties, he became a water tender, first class, in the spring of 1928. In the fall of 1929 his division officer told him that he had a chance to be a chief water tender if he could pass the examination. Unfortunately, there was not then (nor is there now, fall 1932) a training course for chief water tender. So John Doe had no guide in preparing for his examination except the elusive ‘‘requirements” in the Bureau of Navigation Manual, and what he could learn from that ponderous work called the Manual of Engineering Instructions.
John Doe is no wizard at books. But his marks in proficiency in rating have always been 3.8 or above. And he has never been at mast. After much wandering study he appeared for his first examination for chief. He passed! But wait a minute. Out of one hundred candidates who passed, the seventeen highest were put on a waiting list to fill existing and prospective vacancies. John Doe stood thirty-six on the list. Too bad! Oh! well, he will do better next time.
But next time he still does not stand high enough on the list. Nor does he stand high enough on his sixth attempt in the fall of 1932. He is getting a little disgusted with the system and probably will not even show up for the next examination. He is resigned to transfer to the reserve after sixteen years—a first-class petty officer.
It must be very discouraging to be examined under the present system of local boards. In the first place the board has no particular guidance in getting up the questions. The field is so broad that almost any kind of examination can be given for any of the ratings. Just how much should the chief petty officer know about A to N? How deep should the chief radioman go into calculus? How good should a chief quartermaster be in navigation? Ideas differ. There is no uniformity in any of the examinations. A machinist’s mate, first class, may pass an examination in the scouting force one day and fail on an examination in the battle force six months later. The examinations are supposed to cover the same ground, but—there is the question of marking. With the essay type of question it is almost impossible for two officers to arrive at exactly the same mark for any one question.
Consider this: Question: Describe any type express boiler you are familiar with. While that question was not asked in the cruiser force this fall, there were questions similar to it. And at least three boards were called upon to grade papers in the cruiser force. The candidates before these boards were all in direct competition for the same vacancies. Each board must have had a little different standard for grading the papers. That makes it pretty hard for the best man to win.
Now, if you agree at this point that the present system is wrong, I ask you to bear with me for a few minutes longer while I suggest a remedy:
(1) The advancement to all chief petty-officer ratings will be made in the Bureau of Navigation
(2) An examining board for chief petty officers will be established in the Bureau of Navigation immediately, consisting of three qualified officers
(3) The board will prepare and correct all examinations. The examinations will be held twice a year throughout the Navy on a definite date and will be conducted locally by supervisory boards.
(4) Probable vacancies will be determined semiannually. Force commanders and commands ashore will be allocated a percentage of total vacancies based on complements. Unit commanders will be given vacancies equably within the force. Thus each commanding officer will choose his own candidates. He should be able to do this without any fancy elimination contest within his own command.
(5) Once a man passes the examination he is in line for promoted in due course if he behaves himself and stays in the Navy. His status becomes similar to that of an officer who has been selected for promotion.
In the actual preparation of the examination there is much room for improvement. The service is now committed to the objective type of questions in the lower ratings. That type of question is very well suited for the prospective chief petty officer. For competition, it cannot be beaten. Exact answers are given. The answer is either right or wrong. He gets a 4.0 or a zero on every answer. That type of examination is difficult to make up. It requires special technique, but the results are worth the extra trouble. And these examinations are easy to correct and grade properly.
The examining board in the bureau would have access to service records and could easily arrive at a final multiple for each candidate based on length of service, quarterly marks, and the examination mark.
There is some considerable dissatisfaction with the present form for reporting the result of an examination. N. Nav. 524(a) as now issued by the Bureau of Navigation leads one to believe that A to N is of equal importance with the duties of the specialty. And here it might be said that A to A is almost hopelessly obsolete.
The board would be in a position to see that there is absolute uniformity throughout the service in just what a man should know and be to become a chief petty officer. Until all training courses are completed, the board could advise candidates what to study in preparation for the examination. The board might even make it a bit harder to become a chief. But if every man knew that he would have an equal chance, he could then blame no one but himself for failure.
No attempt has been made to work out the details for this proposed change. That would require a lot more information than I now possess. I just want to show that there is something wrong which can be corrected easily.