Rep. Ron DeSantis, a former Navy lawyer who advised a SEAL commander in Iraq, is criticizing the Navy's decision to jettison its centuries-old tradition of referring to sailors by job titles, arguing the move will likely damage enlisted morale.
The Florida Republican on Tuesday voiced deep concerns about the Navy's decision, announced last week, to strip every enlisted sailor of their "rating" title, or specialty, in favor of a code for that position similar to other branches of the military. So job titles such as boatswain's mate, yeoman and master-at-arms will be replaced with seaman, petty officer and chief.
The change has its roots in the military's decision to open all jobs to women, which prompted reviews of job titles to see if they should be made more gender-neutral. The Navy's review prompted a follow-on "deep dive" look at the entire system, and personnel officials say the ratings change isn't directly connected to the original gender directive.
The move to drop the job titles sparked a social media firestorm from critics who argued the action would scuttle hundreds of years of tradition and strip the titles that had defined sailors' jobs and identities throughout their Navy careers.
"The practice of using ratings for enlisted personnel specialties is a centuries-old naval tradition that predates the founding of the United States," DeSantis said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. "These ratings are a source of pride for enlisted sailors, who represent the backbone of the U.S. Navy."
In announcing the change, the Navy last week said the move was the beginning of a career overhaul that would give enlisted sailors more career flexibility within the service and could lead to better chances to land civilian jobs after leaving the service.
DeSantis, a Harvard Law graduate who served as a Navy lawyer from 2004-10, argued that the ratings system isn't broken, "but this change tosses tradition out the window and will likely hurt enlisted morale."
"The Navy's justification for making the radical change has been, at best, underwhelming," he said. During his years as a Navy lawyer, DeSantis worked directly with detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and in 2007 deployed to Iraq with the troop surge where he served as a legal adviser to a SEAL commander in Fallujah.
Over the weekend, a critic launched a White House petition asking President Obama to overturn the decision, which over the past few days quickly racked up more than half of the 100,000 signatures required for a presidential response.
The White House launched "We the People" on whitehouse.gov in 2011, allowing citizens to petition the executive branch in an effort to help create a more open and responsive government. Petitions must reach 100,000 signatures in 30 days in order for White House staffers to review it and issue an official response.
Neither Obama nor the White House has said whether the president knew about the Navy's decision to dump the job titles or whether he signed off on it.
A White House official referred the Examiner's questions about the decision-making process to the Pentagon for comment.
Along with widespread outrage from current and former sailors on social media, the Fleet Reserve Association National Headquarters, a nonprofit that represents the interests of enlisted Navy, Coast Guard, Marine veterans and active duty personnel, promoted the White house petition on its Facebook page Tuesday.
"For 241 years, Navy personnel have been identified by their job specialty, knows as a 'rating.' The oldest rates such as Boatswain Mates and Gunners Mate predate the founding of this country," the post said. "Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment. #FLEETRESERVE."