Empowering Enlisted Sailors: The Imperative for Expanded Educational Opportunities in the U.S. Navy

Notes to the New CNO Series

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Rodgers

In the U.S. Navy, maritime superiority and the readiness of its warfighters have always been paramount. Admiral Franchetti acknowledges the importance of a culture of innovation and improvement to maintain our warfighting edge in an ever-evolving threat environment. However, it is imperative that the U.S. Navy extends these principles to enlisted Sailors by reinforcing and expanding their educational opportunities. Enlisted Sailors play a critical role in achieving and maintaining maritime superiority, and they must be empowered to become full, active, and informed participants in the U.S. Navy’s mission.

While the U.S. Navy rightly focuses on leadership and problem-solving, enlisted Sailors often feel left behind. Many struggle to complete even a few college classes a year due to underfunded tuition assistance and overworked scheduling. This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that officers frequently pursue numerous advanced degrees, only to leave the U.S. Navy and take their knowledge with them. This discrepancy in educational opportunities between officers and enlisted Sailors hinders the overall readiness of the U.S. Navy and diminishes the potential for enlisted personnel to contribute more effectively to the mission.

Education is not just a personal endeavor, it is vital for the U.S. Navy’s success. Enlisted Sailors are on the front lines, operating and maintaining complex equipment, and executing mission-critical tasks. To excel in these roles, they require a deeper understanding of their responsibilities, technical skills, and the broader context in which they operate. Furthermore, they must be able to adapt to new challenges and technologies as the U.S. Navy evolves. Educational opportunities can equip them with the knowledge and critical thinking skills necessary to do so. To reinforce and expand educational opportunities for enlisted Sailors, the U.S. Navy should consider several key steps.

Increase tuition assistance funding. The U.S. Navy should allocate more resources to tuition assistance programs, ensuring that enlisted Sailors have access to affordable education. By removing financial barriers, the U.S. Navy can encourage more personnel to pursue higher education.

Incorporate more flexible scheduling. Enlisted Sailors often face demanding schedules that make it difficult to attend traditional classes. The U.S. Navy should explore flexible scheduling options, such as online courses or partnerships with local educational institutions, to accommodate the availability of its personnel.

Integrate education with career paths. Educational opportunities should be integrated with the specializations and career progressions of enlisted Sailors. Enlisted Sailors should have clear pathways to earn degrees or certifications that align with their roles and responsibilities, helping them grow professionally and contribute more effectively to the U.S. Navy’s mission.

Improve knowledge retention and exchange. To address the issue of officers leaving the U.S. Navy with advanced degrees, the U.S. Navy could incentivize officers to share their knowledge and mentor enlisted personnel. This can be done through structured mentorship programs and knowledge transfer initiatives.

Reward and recognize educational initiative. The U.S. Navy should recognize and reward enlisted Sailors who invest in their education and demonstrate a commitment to self-improvement. This can include promotions, bonuses, and other incentives to encourage continuous learning.

In the pursuit of maritime superiority, the U.S. Navy must prioritize the education and empowerment of its enlisted Sailors. These dedicated individuals are the backbone of the U.S. Navy, and their success directly contributes to the U.S. Navy’s overall readiness and effectiveness. By reinforcing and expanding educational opportunities for enlisted Sailors, the U.S. Navy can ensure that they become full, active, and informed participants in the mission. This investment in education will not only benefit the enlisted Sailors themselves, but will also strengthen the U.S. Navy as a whole, ensuring its readiness for the challenges of the future.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Rodgers is a mass communication specialist in the U.S. Navy. He is currently stationed at Navy Public Affairs Support Element, the Navy’s premiere expeditionary public affairs command, where he has served as the Creative Director. He previously served as the Communications Director for Carrier Strike Group 10 Public Affairs and as a content developer at Defense Media Activity.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 24, 2020) Seaman Robert Wilmoth, from Cincinnati, handles the shot line aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) as the ship conducts a replenishment-at-sea.(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor DiMartino)

4 thoughts on “Empowering Enlisted Sailors: The Imperative for Expanded Educational Opportunities in the U.S. Navy”

  1. ” This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that officers frequently pursue numerous advanced degrees, only to leave the U.S. Navy and take their knowledge with them.” I’m curious whether or not this is an assumption or if it’s supported by data. I know many, many enlisted Sailors that have college degrees, including graduate degrees. I also feel like the Navy has always rewarded and recognized academic initiative, as long as it is not at the cost of operational expertise. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I’m not sure how much more educational opportunity the Navy can provide. The opportunities are myriad compard to just 20 or 25 years ago.

  2. As an Officer with a Bachelors, 2 Masters and a Dr. Eng, I think the data will support the author’s assertion. Any “due course” officer will be detailed to get at least one masters degree as part of their career progression. Many will get two. There is policy that requires utilization of those degrees, but they are often superseded by operational requirements in the detailing process.

    If the navy really wants, it’s Enlisted force to achieve higher education, time would have to be allotted in a career path to make this the norm – and not an exception.

    1. Yes, agree. I guess the assertion that I’m questioning is not the attaining of degrees (yes, communities have post-grad billets that they are REQUIRED to fill), but rather that they leave the Navy. I admit that I am ignorant of the officer retention rates as compared to enlisted retention rates, which is why I’m curious about the data. Also, it seems to make the assumption that an enlisted person with the same advanced degrees would choose to stay at higher rates than officers with the same degrees. It’s certainly an interesting discussion.

  3. Well said, as someone who had to leave the USN to achieve my educational goals, I agree wholeheartedly.

    I could not accomplish what I have done these past four years while serving in the submarine force, even on a shore duty. Even though I still work full-time, I have been able to get the flexibility to finish a BA, MA, write a book on Medal of Honor recipient Henry Breault (to be be released in 2024) and as of today, starting a 3-5 year journey as a PhD Researcher with the University of Portsmouth.

    A model might be the Air Force College, but I do not know enough about it to make a further recommendation. I wish you the best of luck in your personal academic journey as well.

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