Attrition: Mustang Bait

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July 19, 2008: The U.S. Navy is trying to increase the number of senior NCOs who are willing to switch to officer rank. In the navy this means becoming either an LDO (Limited Duty Officer) or Warrant Officer. The LDO is a commissioned officer but, like Warrant Officers, are technical specialists who tend to stay in their specialty (electronics, nuclear power, cryptography, whatever) for their entire career.

The navy is going this way because they have been having problems hanging on to highly skilled, and costly to train, technical experts. Selecting exceptional Chief Petty Officers (E-7 to E-9 rank) for promotion to warrant officer rank has long been a solution. For generations, warrant officers have been a way to retain highly skilled specialists in engineering, maintenance, aviation and administration. The warrants have five pay grades, which correspond, in terms of money and benefits, to the four commissioned ranks (O-2, or Lieutenant JG, through O-5, or Commander.) Warrants are not used as commanders, but just take care of their technical jobs. The system has worked quite well. In most job areas, experienced NCOs are promoted to warrant rank. One major exception is some navy non-combat pilots, who get promoted to warrant as soon as they successfully complete flight school.

Warrants, of course, get paid more than lower ranking enlisted men doing similar work. But when you spend a million or more dollars to train someone, who does not stay in uniform after their 4-8 years, it becomes cheaper to make them warrants. Other proposals, like offering large re-enlistment bonuses, are nearly as costly, but often don't work because the sailor still does not have the rank, and thus "respect", they feel their hard earned technical skills deserve. Making them warrants solves the problem, partly because warrants are not addressed by their rank ("Warrant Officer Jones"), but as "Mister (or Ms.) Jones". A minor point, but important, to warrants.

The LDOs are addressed by their rank, like any other commissioned officer. In some cases, LDOs are even being allowed to command small ships. This recognizes that officers who have come up through the ranks have an extra bit of experience and confidence.

Each year, the navy seeks to obtain 400-500 qualified NCOs for promotion to LFO or warrant officer. Only about ten percent of those who apply are accepted, because the standards are high. Over the years, 5-10 percent of navy officers have been obtained in this way, and the navy would like it to be closer to ten percent. That extra experience pays off at sea and in combat, and the navy wants more of it.

 


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