After months of withering criticism from rank and file, officials on Wednesday announced a course reversal from an earlier decision to scrap the storied tradition of calling enlisted sailors by their naval occupations.
The contentious move in September was supposed to unite sailors under a simple ranking structure to remove the baffling array of titles — known as ratings — and make various job names sound less gendered.
Whereas other troops in the military have relatively easy-to-recognize ranks, such as private, corporal or sergeant, the Navy had stuck to its own system dating back centuriesIt currently has 89 different ratings, many going back to America’s youngest days.
For instance, boatswain’s mate and gunner’s mate formally started in 1794, though the titles are borrowed from Britain’s far older Royal Navy. A boatswain (pronounced bosun) is responsible for the handling of equipment and cargo on a ship’s deck.
More modern titles include cryptologic technician and aircrew survival equipmentman. When Navy Secretary Ray Mabus first announced the changes, he said it was to help expand sailors’ opportunities so they weren’t pigeon-holed by rating titles. He also argued sailors leaving the Navy would find it easier to explain to land-lubber civilian bosses what their rank and responsibilities were.
Reaction could hardly have been more negative.