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From Khaki to Blueshirt

One officer's journey back to the his roots

by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Noble
26 July 2016 June was a bittersweet two-year anniversary for me. After spending 11 years as a commissioned naval officer, I found out I was no longer going to be Lt. Noble. Seven months later, I reenlisted (or is it enlisted again?), wearing the rank of petty officer 1st class.

My career has definitely taken a long and winding road. I first enlisted Sept. 1, 1994 as an undesignated seaman and struck for photographer's mate (PH) while assigned to USS Denver (LPD 9). As a PH2 aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65), I was selected for the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) program and received a Navy ROTC scholarship in 1999. I earned a commission at the University of Southern California, and left for flight school in 2004 as a newly minted ensign and student naval aviator with five years of active duty enlisted time.

During Advanced Flight School (for the P-3 pipeline), the Navy was making drastic cutbacks in aviation and offered hundreds of us the opportunity to go home with no obligation, transfer to another community, or stay in the aviation pipeline and take the chance against arbitrary cuts. I knew right away that I wanted to go into the intelligence community, and a year later, graduated from the Naval Intelligence Officer Basic Course as a lieutenant junior grade.

I served as the intelligence division officer aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), intelligence watch officer at U.S. 3rd Fleet, and the intelligence department head at Coastal Riverine Squadron Two.

One of the worst days of my 17-year career was the day I saw the 2013 O-4 promotion list, and my name was not on it. It was almost as bad in 2014, when my detailer called me to tell me that I had been passed over again. He then mentioned a program that would allow me to revert to my previous rank plus one (E-6) in order to reach 20 years and retire.

I had never even considered failure to select for Lt. Cmdr. a possibility. I thought I did it right; challenging operational commands, deployed as an individual augmentee, hard work, and the desire to serve. Looking back, I know I could have done things differently as a junior officer to be more competitive, but those changes go against my character.

It took a long time to decide on this choice, and I looked into every possible alternative. I had a couple of civilian job offers making about the same as I had been earning. But I was not ready to say "fair winds" to my naval career. I still like what I do and think I have something left to give to the Sailors I get to work with.

I had several months as a lieutenant. to come to terms with my change in circumstances, and staying navy was the only option that made sense for my family.

Even a year after reverting, I sometimes still fight against a feeling of failure. But then again, I am lucky: I was able to stay in. I know a lot of people that were passed over and let go - at least I had an option. Now, just like every other 1st class, I am motivated to make chief and put on khaki (once again). That will make for an even more interesting tale; going from blueshirt to khaki ... twice.
I find that the hardest habit to break is not answering the phone, "Lt. Noble." I have to consciously think about my rate every time a phone rings and each time I sign an email.

However hard it has been for me, it has been just as hard for my wife, who has supported me through so much over our 13 years together. There is a reason family members are thanked when a service member retires, they have all been asked to sacrifice for what we do out here. I am grateful to have been able to rely on her during a rough few years.

One silver lining: I now feel like I have the time to pursue my master's degree. I could never balance my job requirements as an officer, so that school would not take away from the limited time I had with my family.

Interacting with any superior is a lot easier now than the first time I was enlisted. I have come to understand that we are all just people doing a job and in terms of respect, you mostly get back what you give to others, mostly.
VIRIN: 160726-N-GZ277-002

Since I earned my scholarship, I have always run into friends in the chiefs mess. Now, I have a lot of friends in the wardroom and I consider them friends and peers ... but will still render a salute.
I have no issue with being enlisted again; the first five years of service were integral to forming my character. I have always strived to take care of my Sailors and the mission. It has actually been an easy transition back in that regard. My real struggle has been against the feeling that I have been busted down.

I will retire in three years, receiving 50 percent of my O-3E pay (high three). All the other privileges I have lost have been easy to live with, and I have no problem or saying "sir" or "ma'am" to an ensign. (Okay, the racks are a little wider in O-country; I do miss those extra inches.) It helps to understand that all members of the armed forces have someone they call "sir."

Everyone who discovers my past tells me that they have never heard of this happening before; I can say that was true for me as well. Once I learned about the option, I also learned that it was the third year in a row a Riverine intelligence officer had to revert after failing to promote.

When I was first told about my situation, my detailer directed me to CNO Policy Decision 27-132-90. It lays out a policy for officers who do not promote and have 16 to 18 years total service (I had 16 years and five weeks) to be offered enlistment in order to complete 20 years. By law, officers must be discharged no later than seven months following the second pass over. These officers will be offered an opportunity to resign their commissions, enlist in their former rating, one paygrade higher (except E7-E9, who will be offered their previous paygrade) and transfer to the Fleet Reserve at 20 years.

My reversion process took about three months to complete, with a few inconveniencing hiccups along the way. BUPERS had to rebuild my enlisted record, recreate my DEERS account, transfer pay records, leave balances and detail me to a new command. After all that, here I am, providing expeditionary public affairs support on my sixth deployment at my fifth sea-duty command, excited about returning home after my first real Western Pacific deployment, as every other ship deployment has involved a majority of time spent in U.S. 5th Fleet.

So, for all of the prior enlisted lieutenants eagerly awaiting (or dreading) the 2017 O-4 selection message, know that you may have a parachute. I cannot promise that it will be easy, or even right for you, but you may have another option if you fail to select for your second time.

I will leave you with a piece of advice I have come to embrace over the last two years:
You never know what will happen; stay professional.

*** Editor's Note: ***

It was brought to our attention that some of the information in the above blog is incorrect.

Retirement will be based off of High-3 enlisted pay based on 10 USC 1407, paragraph (e):

(e)Limitation for Enlisted Members Retiring With Less Than 30 Years' Service.
- In the case of a member who is retired under section 3914 or 8914 of this title or who is transferred to the Fleet Reserve or Fleet Marine Corps Reserve under section 6330 of this title, the member's high-36 average shall be computed using only rates of basic pay applicable to months of active duty of the member as an enlisted member.

Member would have less than 30 years of service and would transfer to the Fleet Reserve based on Title 10 USC 6330, therefore based on para (e) his high-36 average shall be computed using only rates of basic pay as an enlisted

Once he has 30 years of active duty service and time in the Fleet Reserve, he can apply for highest grade held. If approved, he then would be able to receive retired pay as an officer.

VIRIN: 160726-N-GZ277-001