Monday, January 19, 2009

Evaluations and Fitness Reports

Officers received fitness reports ("fitreps"), enlisted men and women received evaluations ("evals").

There were some similarities between the two. Ensigns and `JGs (lieutenants junior grade) received fitreps every six months, as did sailors who were third class petty officers or lower (E-4 and below). The early promotions came sooner and it was important for junior officers and sailors to build up a track record. Everyone else was evaluated on a yearly basis or when they were transferred to another command.

Evals and fitreps were both originated by the immediate supervisor, which is to say that the division chief wrote the first draft on evals and the department heads wrote the first draft on division officers. Eval grades were 4.0, 3.8, 3.6, 3.2, though once it got down below 3.0, I think the intervals got larger. Fitreps grades were top 1% top 5%, top 10%, top 30% top 50%, Bottom 50%, bottom 30%, bottom 10%. I didn't recall if they went lower than that, they could have. E-4 and below evals could be signed by a lieutenant commander. On cruisers, that usually meant that the department head could (and did) sign them. On frigates, where the department heads were typically lieutenants, the XO signed them. E-5 and above evals and fitreps were signed by the CO. The Captain signed all fitness reports.

To say that these were important is sort of like saying that the Sun provides useful heat to the Earth.

For sailors, there was a bit of a cushion, as up though PO1 (E-6), the selection for promotion was statistical-- the Navy promoted the top sailors in each rate (defined in this post) as determined by evaluation scores and by scores at rate schools and the required correspondence courses, so it was possible, by killing the schools and courses, to get a little bit of an edge. Sailors generally were not screened by a selection board until they were up for selection for chief petty officer.

For officers, it was all about fitreps. As long as one got through the schools, that was all that counted there.

First of all, the grades mattered. Fitreps and evals were done on scannable forms back as far as the mid 1970s and maybe earlier. The grades were X'd into blocks on the form, with "top 1%" and 4.0 indicated on the far left of the grading row. If you were receiving one and if you were ambitious, you wanted one that was "fully left-justified."

The next thing the CO had to do, and probably the hardest, was to rank his officers. If he had six ensigns, somebody had to be 6 of 6. If you were a middling officer in a wardroom loaded with outstanding performers, your career was in trouble. While BuPers{1} had the ability back then to use the computers to sort officers by grading, they did not have the ability to sort them by rankings within a command. So if a CO had three outstanding JGs on his ship, he'd sometimes rank all three of them "1 of X" and just hope that when the fitreps were reviewed by the selection boards, that nobody would catch that.

Then came the written evaluation. This was were the CO justified his grading and his ranking. The written evaluation portion was vital, as this was where the selection boards made adjustments for the grading. An officer who might have had a third-rate job and scored top 1% would not be regarded as well as an officer who had a really tough job and scored top 5% or even top 10%.

Awards also mattered back when both the Navy (and even more so, the Marines) had a reputation for not handing out medals and awards like Halloween candy. It was a point of real awe to say, about a naval officer, that "he has as many ribbons as an Air Force major."

Fitreps obviously mattered for promotion, but they mattered for assignments. The better the fitrep, the better the next job. Good fitreps meant that one got to advanced schools such as the Naval Postgraduate School or the Naval War College. Mediocre fiteps meant that one was sent to jobs nobody wanted.

Selection boards and the assignment process will be another topic.

{1} (BuPers stood for the Bureau of Personnel, which was renamed the "Naval Military Personnel Command" (NMPC) decades ago and then they dropped "Military" to make it the NPC, but almost everyone still refers to it as BuPers.)

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