The Navy has raised the bar for its skippers and needs them to catch up — fast.
Eligible officers will need to clear the new tests or risk missing the upcoming boards, thereby shrinking the pool of candidates from which the Navy picks its best.
Every command post now requires a board similar to what submariners and ship-drivers go through, where current and former COs question officers to assess their knowledge and ability to handle stress.
Surface warfare officers have a hurdle above and beyond the board: a multipart exam that tests them on leadership, sea combat and materiel maintenance. CO hopefuls must pass each section of this command qualification exam by 75 percent; otherwise, they’ll need to retake it. They’ll have to score at least 90 percent in the “rules of the road” portion.
Officers take this test on their own and must request a copy. Officials say only about half of the eligible officers have even requested the exam, so they’re putting the press on to boost the numbers before the screening board in December.
“We had over 100 exam requests” in August, said Capt. Richard Brown, the head of the Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, R.I., which distributes the tests. “I expect more than that here in September.”
Officers have only two chances to pass the test, which has a 62 percent pass rate, Brown said. Those who fail two sections must wait 60 days before taking it again.
Given that waiting period, Brown warned that candidates only have through mid-September to take the exam and still have time to re-take it before the December screening board for O-5 command positions, such as aboard destroyers. Candidates must get their paperwork in or risk losing one of their three chances to screen for command.
The test is only the beginning for SWOs. Those who pass must then survive a board of COs and be approved for the screening board by their type commander.
“We’re raising the bar for this incredibly important and competitive career milestone,” Brown said in a Sept. 11 phone interview.
As part of the surface Navy’s new process, candidates must also submit to a 360-degree review where their CO picks the sailors who rate them, and they must pass a ship-handling scenario designed to challenge their skills and judgment.
The rigors don’t cease upon selection. Chosen officers must also attend the Command Leadership School in Newport, R.I., where they must take a case study-based test. They must demonstrate their judgment in essay-format answers. Although there is no failing this test, those with problems get additional instruction.