ARLINGTON, Va. — Suspending enlisted high-year tenure for two years aims to keep experience in the fleet — but the service must simultaneously find ways to prevent it from obstructing younger people from advancing, according to the Navy’s top enlisted sailor.
The previous high-year tenure policy required active duty sailors to move into the Fleet Reserve if they didn’t advance within certain benchmarks. But the new High-Year Tenure Plus pilot program prevents commands from separating or involuntarily transferring active component sailors to the Fleet Reserve.
This allows sailors who have surpassed their high-year tenure threshold to apply for new jobs or extend and complete another full-length tour. It is expected to impact at least 1,600 sailors and improve retention.
“It came around as a necessity to retain as much of our talent as we can, to keep our combat teams as strong as possible,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea said Wednesday at the annual Surface Navy Association conference. “We always want to keep the higher tenure gates as open as long as we can so that we maintain a healthy organization that gives everybody a good, healthy career.”
Honea said he supports opening the high-year tenure gates for as long as possible to allow more sailors an opportunity to fulfill a 20-year career — provided the Navy can support such a policy.
“Right now, the policy is we’re going to allow for another tour,” Honea said. “Once that tour is executed, we’re going to see what we look like in the coming years, and we may need to continue to retain our best and most qualified and strongest talent to keep our combat teams as strong as they’re going to need to be to face any competitor. That’s what it comes down to.”
On the flipside, Honea said the ramifications of keeping sailors past their high-year tenure markers must be managed carefully to prevent stifling advancement opportunities for first class and chief petty officers (E-6 and E-7).
“If we’re going to keep somebody on, we got to figure out how that doesn’t mal-effect the advancements and promotions inside those ratings,” Honea said. “It’s going to have to be carefully managed because we have some rates that are really, really tight already.”
As a result, Honea said the Navy should find solutions for a more “transparent and objective” promotion process so sailors can navigate a “clearer path to advancement.”
The high-year tenure pilot program policy took effect Dec. 22. Enlisted active duty sailors, along with Selected Reserve sailors in a drilling status, are impacted.
The effort is one of several aimed at improving retention and recruitment. For example, future sailors or veterans who re-up right now can combine the maximum enlistment bonus with a maximum student loan repayment to cap out at $115,000 — if they ship out before March. The Navy first introduced the policy last year, but extended it to FY23.
“We’ve got to continue to be efficient,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told Defense News while on travel Dec. 8. “We’ve got to continue to provide incentives for our sailors to want to serve at sea … motivate them. Not just from a financial perspective, but from a mission perspective and reward them in terms of promotions and things of that nature.”