The U.S. Navy’s decision to scrap its 240-year-old enlisted ranking system has roiled service members and prompted tens of thousands of dissenters to petition the White House to reverse the change.
The Navy announced last Thursday that it would do away with its 91 enlisted ratings titles, unveiling new rules under which sailors are no longer identified by their job title and are instead subject to job classification similar to the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
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The decision ignited immediate backlash on social media and led over 47,000 critics to petition President Obama to restore the retired enlisted ranking system.
"For 241 Years Navy personnel have been identified by their Job specialty, known as a ‘Rating.’ The oldest rates such as Boatswain Mates, and Gunners Mate predate the founding of this country. Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment," said the petition, which faults Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, for "senselessly" erasing the centuries-old tradition.
"One by one current leadership continues to erode the very things that set the Navy apart from the other services," the petition said. "Mr. President, I and the others signing this petition request you use your authority to restore to our Sailors what they have earned."
The petition, which had accumulated over 47,500 signatures in less than a week as of Tuesday morning, needs only a few thousand additional signatories by the end of the month in order to garner a response from the White House.
The Navy is billing its "enlisted rating modernization plan" as an effort to give sailors greater flexibility in translating their skills to the civilian workforce after retiring from the service. The new classification system was the result of a comprehensive review of Navy rating titles completed this year.
"In modernizing our enlisted rating system we are not only giving our sailors increased opportunities within the Navy, such as a higher level of flexibility in training and detailing, but also increasing their opportunities when they transition out of the service," Mabus said Thursday. "In aligning the descriptions of the work our Sailors do with their counterparts in the civilian world, we more closely reflect the nation we protect while also making it easier for our Sailors to obtain the credentials they’ll need to be successful in the private sector."
Critics have taken to the Navy’s Facebook page to characterize the decision as ludicrous and a blow to tradition.
"Our Navy is going to hell in a handbasket," Donnie Ward Jr., a self-described hospital corpsman, wrote. "Tradition in the Navy is gone forever."
"Can you fix the boats that don’t go, the Cats that don’t launch, or the aircraft the Marines don’t have, retirements that are getting removed and uniforms that don’t need to change instead of messing with 240 years of honor and tradition?" wrote Steve Stockwell, a firefighter at the Defense Department.
"Today the Navy has done something to me that I trusted them never to do. They took something from me they didn’t have, and now I don’t either. My rate is as much a part of my identity as my birth name," wrote Flinten Jones. "I worked extremely hard for it, and protected the Master-At-Arms honor as my own every day I stood the watch, and my rate gave me pride in my work. I will forever remember this as the day the Navy wronged me."
"This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. As a veteran who proudly served in the Navy [I] find this on the like of disrespect to those who came before me," wrote Dale Hart. "You’re single handedly ruining hundreds of years of naval tradition. PC [Politically correct] is going to kill the Navy."
"With any new initiative incorporated in our organization, we expect to receive response and feedback, said Lt. Jessica Anderson, the Navy's chief of naval personnel spokesperson. "Fleet involvement and feedback was solicited in the working group and will be continue to be solicited during each phase of the transformation."
"This cultural change will not happen overnight – it will take a measured approach to make it the norm," said Anderson. " he feedback from the sailors – be it positive, negative or neutral – is crucial for us assess and evolve this transformational change and push it forward."
Mabus has been widely panned by service members in the past for pursuing what many describe as politically correct policies.
At the start of this year, the secretary directed the Navy and Marine Corps to review job titles to ensure that they are gender-neutral, after the Pentagon opened up all combat jobs to women. News broke in June that the Marine Corps would remove the word "man" from 19 of its military occupational specialties. Basic infantryman, for example, was replaced with "infantry Marine."
Update 5:03 P.M.: This article has been updated to reflect comment from the U.S. Navy.