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In about face, Navy restores traditional job titles after objections

In this Sept. 15, 2016, file photo, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

December 21, 2016

In a dramatic about face, the U.S. Navy announced Wednesday it would dump a plan to eliminate dozens of job titles for enlisted sailors – some ending in “man” – after thousands complained.

Navy Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said in a statement that the proposed removal of rating titles “was unnecessary and detracted from accomplishing our major goals.”

“We have learned from you, and so effective immediately, all rating names are restored,” Richardson said.

In September, the Navy had said it would shelve hundreds of years of tradition and follow the practice of the other armed services which call enlisted servicemembers by their rank, such as petty officer or sergeant. The Navy has long used more specific titles such as “corpsman” and “chief yeoman,” which are steeped in tradition but difficult for the public to translate or understand.

The initial decision to drop traditional titles and refer to sailors by their rank had signaled a sharp cultural shift for the Navy. Efforts to change titles that ended in “man” also were in response to the Pentagon decision to open all combat jobs to women.

In a memo, Richardson said that modernizing the job ratings or titles was designed to give sailors more flexibility in training and assignments. Switching to names more understandable to the civilian world, Navy leaders argued, would make it easier to get jobs once sailors left the service.

But after hearing angry reactions from thousands of sailors, Richardson said Navy leaders believe they can find a way to provide better job flexibility without dropping the titles.

The memo was released Wednesday morning, and Richardson and Master Chief Petty Officer Steven Giordano, the top Navy enlisted officer, announced it in the Pentagon.

Richardson outlined what he called a “course correction” in the memo, saying the Navy will continue to review ways to update the names.

“Modernizing our industrial-age personnel system in order to provide sailors choice and flexibility still remains a priority for us,” he said. “We will need to tackle the issue of managing rating names.”

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who pushed the original plan, said at the time that he wanted titles to better convey the job a sailor is doing.

For example, few civilians know what a hospital corpsman does, Mabus said in June. A corpsman could be called a medic or an emergency medical technician, much like “messman” was previously changed to culinary specialist, he added.

Sailors opposing the decision launched a White House petition and gained some support from Capitol Hill. They said that while they liked the idea of more flexibility, they wanted to hold onto their traditional titles.