When Force Senior Chief Chris Detje walked into the recruiter’s office 34 years ago, all he really knew was that he wasn’t ready for college — and the Navy had looks pretty cool.
“How about an electronics technician?” said the recruiter, when they talked about the kind of jobs Detje could do. “Working on electronics, radar, that sort of thing.”
It sounded good too, recalls Detje.
But he was much more deliberate recently, leading a team from the Office of Personnel to speak to some 170 new sailors on the USS John C. Stennis and USS George Washington who had yet to decide their vocation in the Navy.
“I shook everyone’s hand and said, ‘Tell me where you’re from, this is all about you and what you want to do,'” he said.
They were in the Professional Apprenticeship Career Track, a program for sailors who want to explore their options rather than immediately undergo specialized training in one of the Navy’s 57 core occupations.
Most had been in the navy for about a year.
Detje and his team make it a point to ask what sailors have seen so far on their ships.
“I heard a lot about being in the yard,” said Detje, who said he understood any commotion. “When I went on my first ship, we spent 19 months at the Long Beach shipyard.”
The program sends sailors who have not yet chosen a trade to spend time on ships to learn about different trades. It can be tough when your first ship is in a shipyard, as Seaman Matthew Chacon discovered when he checked into the USS George Washington, with months to go at Newport News Shipbuilding for a multi-year overhaul and refueling.
In addition to taking on a mission, PACT sailors join comrades from different departments on drills and in berthing spaces, bond with more experienced sailors – especially senior NCOs and chiefs – and , in many cases, quickly decide on a note to pursue.
“I’m mostly with a lot of other new sailors,” Chacon said. He was assigned to deck duty – seafarers who work on the surface, on a wide range of assignments, from standing bridge watches to working on small boat crews or handling lines or performing ship’s duties. maintenance.
Other new sailors wouldn’t be able to say much about what Chacon needed to know to decide on his job in the Navy. What the young sailor saw his more experienced shipmates doing on the Washington also didn’t help much, said Master Chief Petty Officer Doug Stevenson, a member of the Personnel Office team.
“But if you’re out in the yard and you see some crew mates busy painting and you think you don’t want to paint, you’re going to need to know a lot more about the job,” Stevenson.
“So I’ll say, maybe you’ll be part of a boat crew,” he said, telling new sailors about shipmates from his last service on an amphibious ship who rode the rigid inflatable boats. at high speed launched to hunt arms dealers or rescue a shipmate who has fallen overboard.
When a member of the Personnel Office team sat down with Chacon, it only took a few questions to learn that he had done office work as a civilian and loved it.
“They suggested YN or PS,” he said – meaning a yeoman qualification, dealing with ships’ paperwork or a personnel specialist.
“I knew I wanted to do something administrative,” he said. “I’m pretty happy.”
Stevenson, a farm boy from Amish country in Pennsylvania, knew he wanted to be in one of the engineering classes – “on a farm you have to fix all kinds of things in your machine shop” – and ended up as journeyman electrician.
“But I had never seen the sea, and I came from a small place, very homogeneous in this large and diverse navy.”
Making this change is something he often discusses with new sailors.
He draws on his experience at sea, eventually leading a department of 120 sailors with eight different levels, as well as living with deck duty sailors such as crew mates and quartermasters and the qualifications of the aviation that keep planes and helicopters repaired, armed and refueled.
“They might say I was an electrician or I was a welder, but then they might say they’ve had enough of that, so we’ll look for something else.” stevenson said
It’s not just what sailors want to do – sometimes they may not have all the qualifications for a particular qualification. But old timers like Stevenson know how to handle that.
It was a help to Seaman Zachary Kitchens, also on the Washington, who knew he was interested in a niche in aviation. He found shipmates who knew something about these positions, enough that his first choice was an aviation machinists’ journeyman ticket working on fighter jets.
For him, sorting out the educational background and the range of likely future positions was a big benefit of his time with the team.
During the team’s two days at Newport News, Stevenson said, he spoke to a sailor who wanted to be a lawyer — the paralegals who support Judge Advocate Corps officers and help shipmates with basic legal aid.
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But you need to score well on the writing, communication, and typing tests, and this sailor needed time to develop those.
The workaround that Stevenson knew, and the sailor thought logical, was to try to be a yeoman or personnel specialist, and in those positions, work towards getting the additional certifications that would allow you to move on. legal man.
“I usually start asking ‘where do you want to go,'” Stevenson said. maybe they like really complex tasks.”
The former might really like a niche with the Seabees – sailors who build ports, airfields and other shore facilities, the other might be more into the job of an aviation electronics technician, guarding radar duties and avionics equipment.
For Detje and his team, the goal is to match what the Navy needs with what sailors know and appreciate.
“We have amazing youngsters,” he said. “I know that I had 31 years in a job that I loved. I want them to have a chance for that too.
Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, [email protected]