Messing with sailors’ technical identity

Michael Raffety


Among the harebrained schemes from officials associated with President Obama’s administration was one cooked up by his Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.

Mabus thought it would be a wonderful idea for all 265,000 sailors in the Navy to drop their ratings. He thought sailors should have job titles like other military services.

If sailors wanted to look like the Air Force with just a bunch of stripes and only a piece of paper distinguishing a dog handlers from a sous chef they would have joined the Air Force or the Army.

For the general public it may seem mysterious as much as it may have to Mabus. But to sailors the rating insignia on the shoulder is a point of pride and also an important identifier on a ship. Everyone who achieves the rank of Petty Officer 3rd Class is entitled to display his or her rating with above his stripe and below an eagle.

The important ratings on a ship are Hull Maintenance Technician, Damage Controllman and Engineman. The elite ranks on a ship are Boatswain’s mate and Quartermaster. Boatswain’s mate is the senior rating in the Navy and Quartermaster helps steer the ship and plot its course.

Other ratings that are recognizable and unique are Musician and Journalist.

I was an Aviation Electronics Technician. My insignia featured electrons circling a bunch of protons with wings attached.

The Antarctic Development Squadron I was attached to my last two years in the Navy had an unusual collection of ratings. We had a Journalist’s mate, a whole photo lab full of photographer’s mates and a crew of parachute riggers.

The parachute riggers sewed colorful parka shells for all the officers and enlisted men. I don’t think there was anyone in our squadron below the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class (E-5). The parachute specialists prided themselves on making the highest altitude drop over Antarctica and over the South Pole. Anyone one brave enough to make 10 jumps could get their parachute wings. I was not among group of daredevils. But the supply officer made 10 jumps out of a helicopter to get his parachute wings added to his aviator’s wings.

There were two contingents in Antarctica – the air crew and aviation mechanics who worked on the ski equipped C-130 Hercules. They lived in canvas Quonset huts down on the ice. I was with the group assigned to “The Hill” since I worked in the electronics shop doing bench repair work on equipment. We also maintained the H-34 helicopter, which was primarily used to drop off and pick up scientists.

On the hill we lived in metal Quonset huts. All the petty officers lived in the “Lifer’s Lounge.” The Chief petty officers had their own quarters. One of them was in charge of banging on frozen piss barrels at the back of the hut to see if they were full and needed to be replaced.

Not part of our squadron but part of the scene on the Hill were Naval Construction Battalions. Their rating insignias were everything from a bulldozer for an equipment operator to a hunk of steel on a hook for a steel worker.

Not that we saw any of their ratings in Antarctica. Everybody was bundled up in parkas, specialized sunglasses and big “bunny boots.” Later in the summer it got warm enough that the snow melted on the Hill and produced little rivulets and a water shortage.

Electricity came from a nuclear plant. It was run by an Electronics Technician with a nuclear specialty. Within each rating there are often specialties. Mine was ATR, meaning Aviation Electronics Technician Radar. I also was trained to work on communications equipment.

When I was sent to learn a specific kind of radar, which required a secret clearance, I was kind of surprised to find some of my fellow classmates were Jordanians and Israelies. I guess that airborne radar wasn’t that secret.

The order eliminating naval ratings was issued September 2016. By December 2016 they were reinstated by popular demand.

President Trump has not successfully nominated someone as naval secretary yet. His appointees for Naval and Army secretaries have withdrawn due to the difficulty of disposing of their wealth in a way that would satisfy the Ethics Office. Whoever wins appointment to naval secretary, it’s a good bet he or she won’t mess with naval technical ratings.








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