WASHINGTON – In the Navy, a corpsman will still be a corpsman.
Navy leaders are dumping a plan announced in September to eliminate dozens of enlisted sailors' job titles, some ending in "man." They said sailors' anger over the changes had become a distraction and they will look for other ways to modernize the system.
"The bottom line is, we're going to preserve all the good, we're going to throw all the distractions overboard and we're going to move on, stay on course," Navy Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, told sailors gathered in the Pentagon on Wednesday. "You showed us the way forward. ... Thanks for teaching us that lesson."
The decision to drop long-held traditional titles and instead refer to sailors by their rank had signaled a sharp cultural shift for the Navy. Efforts to change titles that ended in "man" were in response to the Pentagon decision to open all combat jobs to women.
In a memo, Richardson said that modernizing the job ratings or titles was designed to give sailors more flexibility in training and assignments. Switching to names more understandable to the civilian world, Navy leaders argued, would make it easier to get jobs once sailors left the service.
But after hearing angry reactions from thousands of sailors, Richardson said Navy leaders believe they can find a way to provide better job flexibility without dropping the titles.
The memo was released Wednesday morning, and Richardson and Master Chief Petty Officer Steven Giordano, the top Navy enlisted officer, announced it in the Pentagon.
Giordano said the focus on titles had become a distraction from "our missions, our operations, our warfighting efforts."
Richardson outlined what he called a "course correction" in the memo, saying the Navy will continue to review ways to update the names.
"Modernizing our industrial-age personnel system in order to provide sailors choice and flexibility still remains a priority for us," he said. "We will need to tackle the issue of managing rating names."
The Navy called for a review of the titles in January, shortly after the Pentagon ordered that all combat jobs would now be open to women. The idea was to eliminate titles such as "chief yeoman," ''corpsman" or "boatswain's mate" — titles steeped in tradition but difficult for the public to translate or understand.
Under the plan, sailors would have been known by their ranks, such as petty officer or chief. And job titles would be made more gender-neutral.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who pushed the plan, said at the time that he wanted titles to better convey the job a sailor is doing.
For example, few civilians know what a hospital corpsman does, Mabus said in June. A corpsman could be called a medic or an emergency medical technician, much like "messman" was previously changed to culinary specialist, he added.
Sailors opposing the decision launched a White House petition and gained some support from Capitol Hill. They said that while they liked the idea of more flexibility, they wanted to hold onto their traditional titles.