Perform To Serve: Short Term Solution to a Long Term Problem
Amanda L. Marron
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
July 17, 2012
Due to the floundering economy of recent memory, the United States Navy, among other branches of the military, has had to downsize the working force of enlisted sailors. The Navy’s means of doing this was through a program called Perform To Serve, which pitted sailors against each other for coveted reenlistment quotas. Perform To Serve was meant to be used as a way to keep the “right sailor”; however, contradictory results have occurred to suggest that the best sailors are not being kept onboard. The effects of the program, itself, as well as how the Navy has handled the attrition is to be discussed.
Perform To Serve: Short Term Solution to a Long Term Problem
The United States Navy has changed quite a bit from the beginning of 2000 to the present day. The all-volunteer force is decreasing due to an entity called Perform To Serve (or PTS) introduced in February of 2003 (NAVADMIN 03-050, 2003) as a force reshaping tool. This program was originally implemented as a means of retaining sailors. This was to be accomplished by using a method called cross-rating to train and place them in jobs that had deficient manning while trimming the Navy of its less desirable and sub-standard personnel. Unfortunately, this is not turning out to be the case as fully qualified sailors have been sent home, and the undesirables kept.
In order to aid in this process, Navy rates (or jobs) are given a CREO designation. Published twice per year, the Career Reenlistment Objectives categorize the rates of the Navy in one of three levels - undermanned (CREO 1), manned at desired levels (CREO 2) or overmanned (CREO 3) (NAVADMIN 08-263, 2008). CREO levels are not a baseline but are determined by the current state of manning within the rate, thus, the CREO level of one rating does not directly impact the CREO rating of another. The listing is intended to provide information for retraining possibilities but can also serve as a reference for promotion opportunities.
The goal of Perform To Serve was to aid in leveling manning between overmanned and undermanned ratings ("Milpersman," 2006). Originally, it was only applied to first-term, or Zone A sailors, but as time went on and the economy grew worse, more sailors were opting to reenlist (NAVADMIN 03-050, 2003). It was then extended to second-term or Zone B sailors, in January of 2009 (NAVADMIN 09-017). This was followed by the addition of Zone C sailors, or those with more than ten but less than fourteen years of service, in May of 2009 (NAVADMIN 09-161).
Within the Perform To Serve program, sailors compete against their peers within the same Year Group, which is defined by the fiscal year that the sailor entered Recruit Training (BNPCC, n.d.). Each sailor is allowed a grand total of six “looks” in PTS. If, after six “looks”, a sailor is not selected for reenlistment, they are involuntarily separated under honorable conditions from the Navy.
A sailor must receive a Commanding Officer’s recommendation to be included in the Perform To Serve process. After this approval is verified, the Sailor is entered into the pool. A mathematical computation referred to as a “stacking algorithm” (BNPCC, n.d.) is then performed. This algorithm factors in specific performance indicators. A ranking is then created based on these aspects and determines whether or not a sailor is eligible for a coveted enlistment quota. The number of available quotas is different per rate and will change every month as dependent on the needs of the Navy.
The Perform To Serve criterion contains a sailor’s basic identification data, but the “meat” of the application is the sailor’s overall performance materials. The items that determine the algorithm in step-by-step order are as follows: (1) the retention recommendation from the Commanding Officer, (2) the sailor’s pay grade, as the highest stacks to the top, (3) recent promotion (otherwise known as being “frocked”), (4) an average of the promotion recommendations from a sailor’s last five periodic evaluations, (5) the obtainment of a critical Navy Enlisted Classification code, (6) the number of times a sailor has failed a Physical Fitness Assessment, and (7) proximity to end of service (BNPCC, n.d.). Once the algorithm is complete, the Enlisted Community Manager gives a final review. The ECM looks for accuracy to ensure that the “right sailor” secures a quota. Consideration in this area goes towards recent non-judicial punishment (otherwise known as Captain’s Mast), loss of security clearance, and non-obtainment of warfare qualifications (BNPCC, n.d.).
There are a number of issues that have arisen for the Navy due to the implementation of Perform To Serve and its subsequent algorithm. A sailor’s performance directly impacts his or her determination in Perform To Serve, lately; this has not seemed to be the case. Although non-judicial punishment is supposed to be taken into account, some sailors who have received such negative marks have been able to squeak by on the Perform To Serve process and reenlist. Questions begin to form when a number of sailors without any negative performance indicators are being sent home.
A person is not physically going over these applications to decide who is best for the job. The only time a person is looking is at the very end of the process when the focus is not on who is best, but who has the most negative detractors. The periodic evaluation that sailors receive each year is comprised of information about their work ethic, dependability, and various other reasons as to why they should be retained. The evaluation portion of the Perform To Serve algorithm does not look at this, but only takes into account what can be quantitatively proved. A sailor could have an excellent evaluation but end up with a lower ranking just for having a Commanding Officer that is new in his or her position. The effect on the sailor is that the CO is only given a certain range of ranking. These kinds of circumstances are beyond the sailors’ control, but yet they are the ones that are feeling the pain.
Another issue of leaving this process solely dependent of a computerized program is the lack of knowing why. Sailors are not given any reason for being denied a Perform To Serve quota. Perform To Serve results are released once a month with a simple “denied” or “retained” per each sailor. No other information is given, thus leaving sailors without an answer as to why they are being let go. This is causing a severe lack of a personal touch which is felt across the fleet and is having an impact on morale.
Ever since the start of Perform to Serve, the Navy has never cut back on recruiting and has had a near constant turn-around of sailors although roughly 40,000 have been separated under PTS (Steele, 2012). The exchange of fully qualified and trained sailors for unqualified and yet-to-be trained sailors is something that this author still has a hard time understanding. This is further explained by U.S. Fleet Forces Fleet Master Chief Michael Stevens (2011):
For the Navy to maintain the correct balance of pay grades, ratings, and promotion opportunities, we have typically recruited about 40,000 sailors a year and have had a retention rate of about 45%. Look at it like this, for every sailor who steps onto the conveyor belt one Sailor must step off.
Shortly after the American/World economic downturn and the rise in unemployment, sailors stopped separating from the Navy at the normal rate, and retention has reached and maintained a level of 70%.
Congress provides the Navy with an annual budget of which about one third of this budget goes toward the cost of personnel. The total cost of paying for a sailor determines how many sailors the Navy is authorized to keep on the books during a given year and currently that number is about 326,000 sailors (officer and enlisted).”
The Navy’s annual budget is something that is often discussed, and sailors are even offered rewards for establishing ideas to save money or helping the Navy “go green”. When a sailor is constantly barraged with messages of saving money, FLTCM Stevens’ explanation is hard to swallow, and there is debate on both sides. Some support the rapid turn-around while others believe the opposite would be easier to re-train the current sailors that are already in place. This would involve using Perform To Serve as it was meant to be used, as a medium to cross-rate sailors from one area of expertise to another.
The adverse side effect of this is when sailors cross-rate multiple times in their career, with some sailors cross-rating two or three times due to ratings melding together or the abolishment of a rate all together. While this could be looked upon as a sailor being versatile, it only harms in the end when, for example, a second-class petty officer (or E-5) cross-rates from the aviation field to the ship or to the military police. The sailors become literal fish out of water reporting to a new command with no experience or qualifications required for the job that they are now tasked to perform.
Cross-rating is even more difficult once a sailor reaches the rank of E-5. As an E-5, the sailor is expected to be a leader. When sailors are reporting to a new command as an E-5 or E-6 without any experience in their job, the first impression is not usually a good one. There is more of a difficulty, particularly in aviation. Enlisted sailors are constantly changing platforms or the type of aircraft on which they perform maintenance. Aviation rates can be left with obsolete training due to the decommissioning of aircraft or the establishment of new technology.
On the subject of money, there are a number of items that the Navy could cut down on as a way to save. The Navy just spent an atrocious amount of money on new uniforms when there was no reason to be rid of the old. Another spending issue is the cost of ceremonies, specifically change of command ceremonies. Most commands change hands once every two years. These events are usually over the top with elaborate pomp and circumstance. While sailors respect time-honored traditions such as crossing-the-line (equator) or having a retirement ceremony, the amount of money and time that goes into a change of command ceremony could easily redistributed to better means.
The most unfortunate effects of Perform To Serve occur to those that are not selected for reenlistment. FLTCM Stevens (2011) admits to the dysfunction of PTS: “When Perform To Serve was first designed, it was not designed to be one of the primary methods of attrition, but due to the current situation, the Navy has been forced to use it for more than it was meant for.” Sailors are plagued with a multitude of stressors when verification of dismissal is received. The Navy is a way of life, and from the moment sailors enter boot camp, they are inundated with jargon, principles, and a completely new lifestyle. The Navy has its own culture. Just as culture shock is experienced when visiting a foreign country, the same can be said for entering or exiting military service.
A sailor’s last “look” on Perform To Serve should occur approximately six months prior to their departure from the Navy. Sometimes it does not occur this way, and a Sailor is only given two to three months to prepare for the civilian world. This is the scenario that this author experienced. It not only adds to the stressors of a sailor’s situation, but an overall sense of sheer uncaring as the sailor is rushed through processes that should not be taken lightly such as the military’s Transition Assistance Program. In this author’s personal experience, the command looked down on Perform To Serve-denied sailors as if they were being punished for doing something wrong, not as victims of a ruthless system.
Change is emotional for many people. Change in a setting where a person feels that he or she have no control over what is happening is worse. Many sailors join the Navy planning to make it a career, and when that does not pan out, it can be heartbreaking. Sailors that have been in the service for quite some time definitely experience emotions that could easily be related to the grief process. Scenarios of what could have been become the norm, such as thinking about what could have happened if the sailor chose to go to college or to a civilian career versus enlisting after high school. It is not uncommon for some sailors to become depressed. With what is awaiting Veterans on the outskirts of the Armed Forces, it should not come as a surprise that many sailors go through these kinds of emotions.
In 2011 alone, 6,700 sailors were discharged despite a desire to reenlist (Steele, 2012). With the economy as it stands and unemployment reaching high levels, the influx of the unemployed sailors is adding to a prevailing desperation across the country. Veteran sailors are having a difficult time finding jobs. Although many companies advertise that they are looking for Veterans, the outreach is minimal. In this author’s personal experience, it seems as if Veterans are either overqualified, under-qualified, or did not serve in a rate that is hankered for in the private sector. Most military personnel have versatile resumes and do not have steady experience in one area, which is a key item that recruiters are looking to see.
Despite the Navy’s best efforts such as offering the Blue to Green program which offers Naval personnel to transfer to the Army, or offering the Navy Reserve as an option, many Veterans are ending up in dire situations. With their finances at a minimum, many are forced to use government assistance such as unemployment, food stamps, and Medicare. The savings that a sailor has built up over years of being in the military is depleted due to household expenses. Perform To Serve-denied sailors receive a severance pay depending on how long they served, but it does not last forever. Veterans do not deserve to be put in a situation that could bring or does bring them to the brink of homelessness.
It is difficult to see a positive side to Perform To Serve when it has caused an abundance of negativity. The men and women of the United States Navy have sacrificed too much to be treated in such a manner. They have missed countless holidays, birthdays, and other family events that most take for granted. They have faced unimaginable hardships, yet all these men and women of the United States Armed Forces receive is a detached goodbye when being unceremoniously sent out the door. It is a complete and utter disgrace to see sailors, who count on the assurance and security of the Navy, be stripped of all they have achieved.
Attrition happens in a variety of ways. Separation can occur after a sailor’s initial enlistment, after a few enlistments but before retirement, medically, legally, because of hardship, and retirement (Stevens, 2011). The decision to use Perform To Serve as a means of speeding up attrition was a bad move on the part of the Navy. The separated and Active Duty personnel show a lack of confidence now, in the Navy as a whole.
Perform To Serve was promoted as a restructuring tool, but ultimately the program is a short term solution to a long term problem. Disguised as a positive element and a means to help sailors “Stay Navy”, it has really been used as an impersonal way to deflate the overmanned fleet. Over the next few years, the Army and Marine Corps will be decreasing in strength as well (Steele, 2012). One can only hope that they find a better way of doing so than the Navy’s Perform To Serve program.
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