It will, I know, be considered something of a presumption for a soldier to discuss questions of naval organization and discipline; especially so complicated a matter as the rating and promotion of petty officers. Yet fundamentally the problem in both services is the same; it has to do with the judgment and selection of men for positions of leadership; and much the same qualities are required of the final, tested product—the veteran first sergeant, the veteran chief boatswain’s mate.
In the Army, it is recognized that there are two types of such positions: those in which the noncommissioned officer exercises actual day-to-day command over others (squad leader, section leader, platoon sergeant) and those in which he fills a position of such responsibility and prestige that he must have appropriate rank to accompany it (sergeant major, supply sergeant, company clerk). It is not, however, assumed because a man has qualified as an expert mechanic, saddler, horse-shoer, cook, automobile repairman, or what not, that such qualification of itself entitles him to the chevrons of a noncommissioned officer. It may entitle him to additional pay as a specialist; it does not entitle him to higher military rank. For that, he must have the qualities of leadership; which do not always go hand in hand with technical ability.
In the Navy, however, this does not seem to be the case. The writer, who has in the past been greatly interested in the various problems of military organization, has ventured to make a study of the naval personnel problem from this viewpoint. It is a little difficult to understand why, in the Navy, all ship’s cooks, for example, or all painters, should be petty officers. Is it not possible that the lack of interest by the more intelligent and desirable recruits in the seaman-branch petty officer ratings, is because the “crow” of a petty officer, the prestige that goes with wearing chevrons, can be obtained so much more easily and quickly by entering other branches? And is it not also possible that there are too many petty officer ratings in the Navy anyway, and that the rank of petty officer is thus, to a considerable extent, cheapened in the eyes of recruit, seaman, and petty officer alike?
A chief petty officer remarked to the writer that the most disheartening incident of his naval career occurred when he reported on board a receiving ship after his first re-enlistment. He was still a seaman; not because of any lack of ability) but because he had had the misfortune to spend his first enlistment on two ship5 which were barren of vacancies for seaman-branch petty officers. Going up the gangway just ahead of him was a lumpish individual in new blues, worn in the lubberly fashion which proclaims the recruit from afar. This person neither saluted the colors nor the officer of the deck, whom he addressed as “Hey, mister”; and then on his arm there was descried the rating badge of a first-class petty officer. It turned out that he was a blacksmith, enlisted as such, and had been in the Navy exactly two days; but all blacksmiths being then first class P.O.’s, why, there he stood in all his glory: three grades higher in military rank than the re-enlisted man who for four long years had been trying t° attain a third-class “crow.” If wishing could have done it, right then and there the Navy would have lost a future chief quartermaster.
Why should there not be some adjustment of the present ratings, so that the technical specialist could have his pay for his specialist ability, while only those men who are real leaders, experienced and capable of commanding others or of assuming real responsibility, should receive the rank of petty officer?
In the Army, this situation is met by the establishment of six grades of specialist pay, granted only to privates and privates first class, as follows:
Specialist 1st class............... $30.00
Specialist 2d class................. 25.00
Specialist 3d class................. 20.00
Specialist 4th class............... 15.00
Specialist 5th class................. 6.00
Specialist 6th class................. 3.00
Thus a private first class, specialist first class, receives a total of $60.00 per month, $6.00 more than a sergeant. The matter could not, in the Navy with its multitude of ratings—many of them hallowed by tradition—be treated in this sweeping and general fashion. But it is thought that a great improvement in the petty officer ratings could be had by segregating leadership and responsibility from mere technical efficiency; and this without in any way injuring the technical ratings, which would still offer the recruit increased pay and the chance to learn a useful trade, for the type of man who prefers these things to military advancement.
The rating of petty officer should come as a result of selection by responsible officers, those officers who have to do with the man in his daily life and work aboard ship. It should not come merely as the result of having passed through a certain course, or attained certain marks in an examination, or even of having a consistently high average of quarterly marks on the service record. Petty officers should be men picked out from their fellows as leaders, recommended by division officers, confirmed by commanding officers; they should be selected for those qualities which every experienced officer can recognize, the qualities which mark the leader rather than the plodder. No black-and-white figures, no examining board of strangers, no system of bureau ratings can symbolize these intangibles.
Examinations are necessary, of course, to assure the possession of adequate professional knowledge; but they should be qualifying examinations only, both for original appointment in the lowest P.O. grade in each branch, and for subsequent promotions. In the higher grades, as at present, there ought to be some method of equalizing promotions throughout the service; but it should be a method which does not place too much emphasis on the examination, to the neglect of the personal responsibility of commanding officers.
This system should not apply to seaman-branch petty officers only. The rank of petty officer in any branch should be attained only by such a selective, competitive process on board ship, under actual service conditions, and not by a blanket issue ashore of acting appointments to the graduating class of the so-and-so school. Appointment as a petty officer should mean something—should mark a definite, clearly understood, and respected forward step in the career of a bluejacket.
Promotion cannot, therefore, be too closely bound up with the matter of pay. The Navy requires technicians of various sorts, and must offer them adequate compensation in order to attract competent men to the service and to induce a good class of recruits to enter the technical branches. But in a military service, the cream of the enlisted personnel should be found in the positions of leadership; and to insure that this shall be so, those positions must offer attractions to the intelligent, discerning recruit.
They cannot be made to offer more pay than the technical rates, or the technical branches will suffer. Therefore the conclusion is inescapable that the rank, the prestige of petty officer titles must be confined to those ratings which really represent leadership and responsibility, and that the technician must find his reward largely in increases of pay as his technical ability increases. The principle of “equal rank, equal pay” must be definitely abandoned; indeed it has been partially abandoned in practice at the present time. A fireman first class is not a petty officer, but he gets the same pay as a coxswain, a musician first class gets the pay of a second-class petty officer; there is nothing fundamentally wrong in thus compensating technical ability. There is, in fact, no reason why a topnotch workman should not receive—and fully earn—the pay of a petty officer first class. But there is every reason why he should not hold the rank of petty officer unless he has the military qualifications for it, and unless there is a sound military reason for a petty officer rating in his particular billet.
A detailed exposition of these ideas as applied to present ratings will, I believe, serve as a demonstration of their practicability.
(1) Boatswain’s mates and coxswains.—These men are the real leaders of the deck force. They should be carefully selected and every inducement offered to promising seamen to prepare for the rating of coxswain.
(2) Quartermasters.—This rating is one of such responsibility that the only suggested change would be the abolition of the rate of quartermaster third class. Coxswains, after actual experience in the duties of a petty officer and after having learned the meaning of responsibility, should be promoted according to vacancies, individual qualifications, and personal preference either to B.M.2c or Q.M.2c.
(3) Gunner’s mates.—No sound reason can be seen for giving the rank of petty officer to all men now performing the duties of gunner’s mates, some of whom are nothing more than ordnance repairmen, or armorers, rated for their technical ability and in many cases never required to exercise command or to instruct others. It is suggested that the old rate of seaman gunner be revived, established as equivalent in rank and pay to that of fireman first class, and that only such men as qualify and are required for leaders and instructors in this class be promoted from seaman gunner to G.M.3c. Seaman gunners qualifying for jobs requiring special technical ability could be granted specialist rates of pay, up to the equivalent of the pay of P.O.lc. Indeed, this remark applies to all non-rated specialists.
(4) Torpedomen.—Much the same situation as gunner's mates. A man whose principal job is the overhauling and maintenance of the complicated mechanism of a torpedo need not necessarily be a petty officer. If he qualifies himself as an instructor, a leader, that is another matter. There should be a specialist rating called, let us say, seaman torpedoman, analogous to that of seaman gunner. Promotion to T.M.3c should involve the possession of petty officer qualifications.
(5) Signalmen.—The rating of signal man should be of one grade only, similar to that of seaman gunner. Petty officers of the signal branch might be called “signal quartermasters," and only so many rated as are actually required for the duties of supervision and instruction.
(6) Fire controlmen.—No change is suggested in this responsible and numerically unimportant rating.
(7) Turret captains.—No change suggested.
So much for the seaman branch; and it is thought that a considerable reduction the number of petty officers has been indicated. But it is in the remaining branches that the greatest changes may be effected.
(8) Machinist's mates.—The development of qualified leaders amongst engine-room personnel is of great importance. Under the present system, however, most of the responsibility seems to rest on the C.M.M. and (occasionally) on certain M.M.1c. The average M.M.2c, it appears, might just as well never wear a "crow" for all the chance he gets to perform the duties of a petty officer. Why cannot the old rating of oiler be re-established, not as a petty officer second class but as an engineer specialist rating equal in rank and pay to fireman first class; and promotions be made from this rating to M.M.2c of men who qualify and are actually required for engineer petty-officer duties? Specialist pay equivalent to that of M.M.2c or M.M.1c could be granted to oilers qualifying technically for such increases.
(9) Water tenders—These petty officers are, of course, real leaders of men. No change suggested.
(10) Coppersmiths, blacksmiths (engineer), boilermakers, molders, patternmakers.—These men are technical specialists. There seems no sound reason for them to be petty officers at all. It may, of course, be urged that if the avenue of advancement to the privileged position of chief Petty officer is closed to these ratings, it will not be possible to obtain desirable men therein. But no man has any business in the uniform of a chief petty officer unless he has qualified for it in other ways than by calking a boiler. If men of these ratings are really anxious for advancement they will eventually qualify themselves for the rates of M.M. or W.T.; if they are satisfied to remain expert workmen and not petty officers, that is where they belong.
(11) Electrician's mates.—Much the same remarks apply as above under machinist’s mates. There should be a non- petty-officer rating for men possessing the qualifications at present required for E.M.3c; this might be called wireman. Promotion to E.M.3c, additional pay for technical qualifications, etc., should be much as suggested for M.M.
(12) Carpenter's mates.—Men in this rating should be the leaders of the deck artificer force. The rating of shipwright, equivalent to that of fireman first class, should take care of most of the technicians of this class; promotion to C.M.3c should be under the usual conditions for promotion to other petty officer rates.
(13) Shipfitters; blacksmiths (deck).— Specialists who need not be petty officers at all. The man in these rates who is ambitious can easily qualify for C.M. and thus open the avenue of promotion to C.P.O. or warrant rank.
(14) Radiomen.—An exception to the general rule. This responsible, confidential position requires the prestige of petty officer rank. No change suggested.
(15) Printers, painters, sailmaker's mates.—Technical specialists; no reason for petty officer rank, save perhaps where enough men of one class are within one command to require expert supervision.
(16) Yeomen.—In their character of personal assistants to commanding and executive officers and heads of departments, yeomen are entrusted with considerable responsibility and are frequently in most confidential positions. In their relations with other enlisted men, most yeomen are acting as the representatives of their immediate chiefs. They are also frequently responsible (under their superiors, whose responsibility is, of course, overriding) for public funds, property of various sorts, ship’s store funds, and the like. In general, therefore, yeomen should have the dignity of petty officer rank. There are some minor clerical duties, however, which can be performed by non-rated men; and for these it is suggested that the old rate of writer be revived. As far as possible Yeo.3c should be promoted from writers, though it is recognized that this cannot always be carried out in practice. It must be noted that in the Army company clerks are usually corporals, and the chief clerks of battalions and regiments are staff sergeants or master sergeants.
(17) Storekeepers.—Another rating in which responsibility is emphasized, rather than mere technical acquirements: as with army supply sergeants. These men should be petty officers.
(18) Bandmasters and first musicians.—No change suggested.
(19) Pharmacist’s mates.—Both in the Army and the Navy, it is recognized that the medical department requires a high proportion of noncommissioned or petty officers, not only for internal control and supervision, but because such men must exercise control over men of other branches attending sick call, and admitted as patients to infirmaries, sick bays, and hospitals. No change suggested, therefore, except that commanding officers and senior medical officers should make certain that there is a sound military reason for each P.M. billet.
(20) Photographers.—A numerically unimportant rating requiring a highly specialized personnel. There appears to be, however, no reason why all these men should be petty officers.
(21) Ship’s cooks.—A small percentage of ship’s cooks should be petty officers, sufficient for proper supervision of galleys under the general control of commissary stewards. These men might well be called first cooks, and be petty officers first or second class. All other cooks should be non-rated men, with the usual arrangements for proper specialist pay.
(22) Bakers.—Very few bakers need be petty officers; only enough for proper supervisory and instruction purposes in commands having large bakeries.
(23) Commissary stewards.—No change suggested.
(24) Aviation ratings—The principles above illustrated should be applied to A.M.M., A.C.M., A.O.M., and A.M.S. Because of the great degree of responsibility and high qualifications, no change is suggested for aviation pilots. Aerographers: No change suggested.
Changes of such fundamental character cannot, of course, be effected by a stroke of the pen. Petty officers now serving should not be rudely demoted, nor the reenlistment of valuable men denied. The new policy might well be limited to future promotions. In the cases of men in various technical rates now in the service, who enlisted and served with the idea that they were eligible to chief petty officer rank in due course of promotion, special provision should be made. It would probably prove best to promote these men to a chief petty officer rate which was to be retained, and restrict them to the performance of their specialist duties, rather than, for their benefit, temporarily to continue promotions to rates which were to be abolished; thus, a shipfitter first class entitled to promotion to C.S.F. might instead be promoted C.C.M. This would last only while such men were still in service, or re-enlisted under continuous service conditions. Their status would bear some resemblance to that of line officers “for engineering duties only.” They would naturally be “additional to complement” in their C.P.O. ratings, so as to work no injustice to first-class petty officers properly entitled to promotion; and every effort should be made to induce such men to qualify for retained petty officer rates.
It will be observed that under the plan above set forth, the rates of chief shipfitter, chief boilermaker, chief metalsmith and chief printer would disappear from the Navy. But it seems to the writer that these rates exist only because there is no other way for shipfitters, boilermakers, coppersmiths, blacksmiths, and printers to become C.P.O. It is contended that there should be no way for these men to become C.P.O. except by qualifying themselves for such rank in positions where they will exercise to a real and gradually increasing extent the responsibilities of leadership. It is just a question of the man himself; whether he wants to be a petty officer or, say, a blacksmith. The way to promotion should be open to every man in the Navy; but he should have to earn each promotion by proving himself in the next lower grade, and those men in whose spirit there burns the spark of ambition to command, those men who will, therefore, make desirable petty officers, will soon choose between ratings which are "in the line of promotion" and ratings which are not.
The result of all this would be to make the position of a petty officer more desirable, because more difficult to attain and more definitely associated with leadership and responsibility—both of which are attractive to every young American. The embryonic "command material" would direct itself into carefully marked channels, and be tested in positions of increasing responsibility until the rank of C.P.O. was reached. The process of selection would begin early, and be continuous—with leadership qualifications well to the fore instead of technical requirements—from the grade of P.0.3c onward.
The ambitious youngster would no longer be able to say to himself: "What's the use of trying for coxswain? I can go to this school or that school and get a 'crow' in a year; if I keep my nose clean I can get to be a first class P.O. while I'd still be scrubbing decks if I stuck in the seaman branch." Advancement to petty officer grades should be, both in theory and practice, about equally difficult, and require just about as much service in all branches; though in the case of yeomen and radiomen this may not be altogether practicable, the matter might be somewhat equalized by requiring longer service in the rates of Yeo.3c and R.M.3c before promotion.
Petty officers should be granted distinct privileges in the matter of liberty, etc.; and their position in every way dignified and given a superior status. No opportunity should be lost of impressing both on petty officers and non-rated men that the petty officer of today is the C.P.O. of tomorrow, the warrant officer, perhaps the commissioned officer, of days to come. He is on his way up; he does not stand still.
In a military service, the only avenue to military advancement should be qualification for leadership; for the command of others. Those who are ambitious to command should find none preferred before them because of this or that technical— which in the last analysis is to say, nonmilitary—acquirement.
Military rank should be inescapably associated with command, with disciplined responsibility; command should be exercised only by those who have first learned the meaning of discipline in the school of experience, and who have, in that school, displayed the qualities of leadership which fit them for command.
The rigid application of this principle to the petty-officer problem would, it is felt, tend to secure a uniformly high grade of personnel in all petty-officer ratings, and would further assure that only selected, tested, ambitious leaders of men would come within striking distance of C.P.O., or warrant rank.