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Tougher screening rules for CO hopefuls

May. 25, 2013 - 09:11AM   |  
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Getting a shot at command used to be hard. Now, it's even harder.

Getting a shot at command used to be hard. Now, it's even harder.

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Getting a shot at command used to be hard. Now, it’s even harder.

Many of the Navy’s communities have upped their command screening rules after the Navy’s top officer ordered an overhaul last year that requires boards and leadership school for every future commanding officer.

These steps are all part of the latest effort to pick better skippers.

Some of the new hurdles come after the officers already have been selected for command. For instance, all officers training to be COs must attend the Command Leadership School in Newport, R.I., where they now take a case study-based exam that tests their knowledge and judgment in essay-style answers.

There is no failing the exam, but those whose responses are found lacking get more help. It’s an extra step that’s rarely required: Fewer than 10 of the 450 officers who’ve taken the test have needed extra help, a Naval Education and Training Command spokeswoman said.

Surface COs also have a test requirement. Starting in June, black shoes must pass a multipart assessment once they’re recommended for command. This includes a written test that quizzes them on management, materiel readiness, shiphandling and combat at sea.

Officers must correctly answer at least 75 percent of the questions to pass — 90 percent in the “rules of the road” section. Since December, when officers were limited to two chances to pass it, the pass rate has risen to 73 percent for each test, said Capt. Richard Brown, the head of the Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, where the test is given.

Surface warriors also must tackle a virtual trainer, safely steering the type of warship they served aboard on their most recent department-head tour through a scenario designed to test their skills and judgment.

Brown said the scenario will assess issues like, “What’s the officer’s command presence? Is he or she listening to what their watch team is telling them? And what kind of decision-making process are they going through?”

Prior to being chosen for squadron command, brown shoes will have to pass a new board made up of current and former skippers. Board members will gauge that officer’s grasp of topics ranging from aviation combat and decision-making to their personal behavior and ability to handle the stress of command.

The system aims to “enhance the candidate’s preparation” for command, states the April 19 Naval Air Forces instruction implementing the board, which starts in June. “It also serves as a mechanism ... to identify candidates who are not yet ready.”

While some communities have changed their rules and other small, specialized fields have standardized their command track, other branches haven’t changed anything.

Submarine skippers, for example, are already selected via a board of senior officers, a setup that will continue. They’ll also go through the same process at CLS as their peers.

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