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Oceanography Warrant Officers to Make a Return

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STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. (NNS) -- The Navy is bringing warrant officers back to Naval Oceanography in 2018 after a 28-year hiatus.

In late March, the Navy Personnel Command released the message, NAVADMIN 079/16, reestablishing the program and at the same time disestablishing the Oceanography Limited Duty Officer (LDO) Program. 

"In order to meet the increasing demand for officers with specific technical meteorology and oceanography knowledge, skills and abilities, the Secretary of the Navy has approved the establishment of the Oceanography Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Designator," the message said. 

The first warrant officer candidates will be selected by the fiscal year 2018 board.

"The Navy wants to retain the technical expertise of the senior enlisted aerographer's mates and to give Sailors opportunities to pursue their interests in the technical aspects of our work," said Cmdr. Christi Montgomery, oceanography officer community manager. 

Montgomery said there are no commissioning programs available that provide advancement opportunities to allow continued focus on technical expertise within the community. Senior enlisted Sailors increasingly gain administration and policy responsibilities, while the technical aspects of their specialties are de-emphasized. LDOs with seniority are increasingly focused on officer/leadership responsibilities and less on the technical aspects of the job.

The revival of the CWO program also came partially out of necessity. The LDO/CWO Officer Sustainability Initiative, approved in 2010 and implemented in 2012, forced the information warfare LDO communities to become "off-ramp" communities, removing their control grade billets -- lieutenant commander and above -- and thus forcing those officers to either retire when eligible or laterally transfer into the IWC restricted line sister community, such as 1800 for oceanography.

In addition, the OSI lowered the time-in-service eligibility requirement for LDO. Projections revealed the LDO community would be composed largely of first class petty officers, who have been advancing at 100 percent, and the LDO program would essentially become a junior officer accession source for the oceanography community.

"This future scenario was not an optimal solution either for the oceanography wardroom or the aerographer's mate rating," Montgomery said.

But the new program isn't quite the same as the one discontinued 28 years ago. The former community CWOs were aerographer CWOs and focused on meteorology support, originally during World War II. 

"The original aerographer CWO community was created prior to the establishment, in 1975 of a single designator (18XX) which combined meteorologists and oceanographers/geophysicists," said Montgomery. "The new CWO community name is 'Oceanography CWO.' This matches the community name for 1,800 officers and supports our community's expanded role in supporting the fleet in ocean-centric warfare areas. It does not, however, imply that the new CWOs will be solely supporting oceanography mission areas. The proposed assignments for the new community span the same mission sets as our current officer and enlisted billet assignments."

The fiscal year 2018 In-service Procurement Board will select the first oceanography CWOs for a FY 2018 commission. Application deadline to Navy Personnel Command likely will be Oct. 1. To be eligible for the program, Sailors must have 14-20 years of service with waivers up to 22 years of service for master chief petty officers only. Applicants must be E-7 (select) or above and must have previously qualified as aerographer's mate forecasters (NEC 7412).

Montgomery said plans at this point call for approximately three CWO selections per cycle. The number of accessions will allow the program to grow slowly and allow the numbers to adjust as the program develops, but the phasing plan and billet locations have not yet been released. The proposed community structure ensures promotion opportunity up to CWO5. 

The LDO/CWO community managers have submitted a proposal for LDO and CWO statutory promotion by competitive category by FY 2020. If approved, oceanography CWOs will compete for promotion at statutory boards with only Information Warfare Community warrant officers. Oceanography LDOs compete with all LDOs in the Navy for promotion. Oceanography detailers will assign oceanography CWOs. 

How the existing LDOs fit into this new program has not been determined. BUPERS-3 is exploring the possibility for LDOs who do not yet have a permanent commission or are under a probationary officer status (O-1 to O-3) to revert to CWO if they desire to do so. Montgomery said there is currently nothing in law or policy to prevent this opportunity, but more work remains to ensure that all risks are mitigated and policy makers' concerns are assuaged.

In the meantime, the oceanography community will be able to take advantage of a higher level of technical expertise and will be able to retain that capability longer.

"This is a very positive change for the [Navy Meteorology and Oceanography Community] (METOC)," Montgomery said. "We want to keep the best technical leaders in our force in order to advance our support to the rapidly expanding naval mission set and platform base."

The METOC community is, with intelligence, information professionals, cryptologists, as well as cyber and space, a part of the Navy's Information Warfare Community, which is led by the Navy's newest type command, Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR). NAVIFOR's mission is to support operational commanders ashore and afloat by providing combat-ready information warfare forces, which are forward deployable, fully trained, properly manned and capably equipped. 

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