Sailors have a love/hate relationship with spot promotions.
They’re an opportunity for hard-chargers and sailors who are poor test-takers to make rank outside the normal advancement process. But many complain that it smacks of unfairness, with the commanding officer picking his favorites. Others say it is a tool that allows mediocre sailors to dodge high-year tenure rules.
The chief of naval personnel is weighing wide-ranging changes to command advancements, which can be bestowed by COs in the fleet, at recruiting commands or at recruit training commands.
Some sailors believe the program should be canned, while others feel the criteria should be changed, expanded or, in some cases, made more difficult to ensure only the best sailors get these coveted instant promotions.
Navy Times asked sailors what improvements they’d like to see to CAP and boiled down the few hundred ideas into a short list. Capt. Karan Schriver, the head of enlisted plans and policy for the chief of naval personnel, reviewed your ideas and responded. Here are the six best:
1. Expand CAP
The only sailors who can get spot-promoted ashore are field recruiters and recruit division commanders. Many believe that’s unfair, saying CAP should be extended to everyone on shore duty.
CAP promotions “should really be able to be given to anyone at any command,” said Fire Control Technician 1st Class (SS/SW) John Dees. “To just limit the CAP opportunity for some is wrong because sailors, whether on shore or at sea, work hard. The CO should have the ability to give that instant promotion to show other sailors that the Navy still rewards for hard work and dedication, and not just from a test.”
Schriver wouldn’t comment directly on expanding the program beyond sea duty, but left the door open to it.
“Since program inception in 1978, CAP has been designed to reward performance in a rigorous sea duty environment,” Schriver said in a June 5 phone interview. “Final details for the revised CAP program, including command eligibility, are still in development.”
CNP sources say it’s unlikely that the number of eligible commands will increase this go-round, but could do so in the future.
2. Two CAP 'windows'
The planned overhaul calls for a three-month time frame during which COs can spot-promote sailors. Some questioned why personnel officials settled on one, not two, opportunities to advance — similar to the spring and fall advancement windows for E-4, E-5 and E-6.
The decision to change the CAP opportunity from year-round to a three-month window was carefully researched and will be best for managing opportunities for everyone, Schriver said.
“We researched the option of having two CAP seasons a year; however, one annual CAP season satisfies the need to protect community health by aligning CAPs with the fall advancement planning cycle while also placing the least amount of administrative reporting responsibility on commands and their immediate superior-in-commands,” she said.
“Our 2012 study indicated that 86 percent of CAPs are concentrated immediately after the release of advancement exam results, with the majority during the summer months.”
3. Choosing hard-chargers
CAP generates a lot of heartburn.
Many contend that the wrong sailors are being advanced instantly. Some say COs tend to choose brown-nosers. Others claim they’ve seen COs advancing sailors simply to save them from automatic discharges at high-year tenure gates. For example, E-5s can only stay on active duty until the 14-year point: A bump to E-6 can all but guarantee them retirement benefits.
“I think it’s one of the worst-kept secrets in the Navy that sometimes underperforming sailors are CAP’d to save them from HYT while I’ve seen sailors that go above and beyond that and genuinely love being in the Navy go unnoticed and are forced to leave the service,” said Information Systems Technician 2nd Class (IDW/SW) Andrew Gardiner.
Saving a sailor from HYT isn’t what the program is for, said Schriver, who didn’t go into any specifics about how the new guidance could forbid this.
“The overarching principle of CAP is that commanding officers should award the advancement to their best performing sailor, regardless of advancement exam score or HYT considerations,” she said.
4. Raising the bar
Sailors had varied ideas on tightening the program to make sure only the best are picked. One way: making a warfare pin a requirement to be selected.
“I don’t think any sailor should be rewarded with a CAP if they are missing the warfare pin from their current command,” said Gardiner.
Another option: setting minimum performance mark averages for eligibility. This would restrict CAP to top performers who received “early promote” or “must promote” recommendations on their evaluations.
Others felt a minimum test score or final multiple should be the benchmark.
“I think it should be a minimum percentage score on the rating exam to get CAP’d,” said Logistics Specialist 1st Class (SW/IDW) Courtney Montgomery. “At least 80 percentile on the raw test score, and a sailor should not be CAP’d if they are scoring 25 percentile in rate knowledge compared to their peers that advanced.”
Officials say they have assessed ways to limit eligibility, but they aren’t able to specify those until the review process is complete.
“We did examine various options for sailor eligibility, to include evaluation performance and other criteria,” Schriver said. “Final details for the revised CAP program, to include eligibility criteria, are still in development, and the goal is to preserve command authority and allow COs to choose their best performers.”
5. Valor counts
The criteria for picking sailors for spot promotions should include awards for battlefield exploits, said retired Senior Chief Gas Turbine Systems Technician (SW) James Vaughn, who believes these should not be limited to the separate, combat meritorious advancement program.
“I feel some of the changes to the program should include earning awards like Medal of Honor, Silver Star, Bronze Star or Navy Cross would be an automatic advancement and count for the command’s allowance,” he said.
Schriver disagreed with making it a formal part of the rules, but she isn’t opposed to using such honors as CAP criteria at the command level.
“A Combat Meritorious Advancement is, in itself, a large accomplishment and reward for a sailor who has demonstrated uncommon valor and extraordinary deeds,” she said. “Individual commands can certainly choose to recognize the sailor with additional awards, such as the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, if they believe the award is warranted.”
6. Make chief
Skippers get to pick the top sailors to move into or up the petty officer ranks. But why can’t they pick chiefs?
This would magnify the CO’s power to choose the top first classes to join the chief’s mess.
As it is, only the extremely selective Sailor of the Year program mints new chiefs outside of the chief’s test. A board is required for everyone else.
Schriver said the chief’s board is the best means to pick chiefs, suggesting CAP would open the aperture too far.
“We plan to maintain only capping to E-7 for the Sailors of the Year for the fleets, shore, Reserve and recruiters of the year,” she said. “We feel the board process is the best method to select future CPOs.”