National Security

White House Backs Navy’s New Enlisted Ranking System Following Protest

U.S. Navy
U.S. Navy sailors wear full dress white uniforms / AP

The White House is standing by the decision of U.S. Navy leaders to "modernize" the service's enlisted ranking system after thousands of individuals petitioned President Obama to roll back the changes.

The Navy announced in September that it would eliminate its 91 enlisted ratings titles, subjecting sailors to job classification similar to the the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force. The review of the service's job titles was ordered by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who wanted to ensure that the Navy and Marine Corps titles are gender neutral.

The new enlisted rating system sparked massive criticism from current and former service members on social media, with more than 100,000 individuals signing onto a White House petition demanding the Obama administration restore the 240-year-old enlisted ranking system.

The White House responded to the petition this week, standing by the Navy's argument that the new system will allow sailors to more easily enter the civilian workforce after retiring from the military and describing the outrage as "friction" typically caused by cultural changes.

"Modernizing this system provides many benefits within the Navy, such as increased flexibility in training and assignments," the White House said in a statement. "It also affords our sailors opportunities when transitioning to the civilian workforce by aligning their specialties with civilian occupations. This administration believes that providing widely-recognized credentials will improve service members' chances of success in the private sector."

"Organizational changes that require a cultural shift can cause friction during transition periods, but the president has confidence in the decisions made by U.S. Navy leaders and agrees that the benefits in future years will outweigh growing pains in the next several months," the statement read. "Whether one's Navy career occurred under the former rating structure or today's modernized system, the president maintains his steadfast pride in sailors who have sacrificed and worked hard to serve with distinction."

Upon announcing the "enlisted rating modernization plan" on Sept. 29, Navy leaders said it would allow sailors more flexibility in training while in the service and more opportunities when they choose to retire. It was immediately met with criticism on social media.

The petition, created the day of the announcement, accused Navy leaders of "senselessly" erasing the centuries-old tradition of sailors identifying themselves by their job specialties.

"Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment. The secretary of the Navy and chief of naval operations just senselessly erased this tradition," the petition stated. "One by one current leadership continues to erode the very things that set the Navy apart from the other services. 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 accumulated more than 47,000 signatures in under a week and easily reached the 100,000-signatory goal to receive a response from the White House.

Mabus ordered both the Navy and Marine Corps to make job titles gender neutral in January, after the Pentagon opened up all combat jobs to women. He defended that decision last month, telling an audience at the National Press Club that the services needed to "quit segregating women."

"We change these things all the time, and I thought that it was important to be gender neutral," Mabus told an audience in Washington, D.C.

"We've gone one step further in the Navy. My first direction was to make them gender neutral," he said later. "At the recommendation that came back to me from the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, we’re changing our ratings structure."

Mabus, who previously announced plans to retire, is expected to be replaced when President-elect Donald Trump's administration takes over in January.