My uniform tells a story.
I was a Machinist’s Mate Second Class Petty Officer that served for at least 4 years as indicated by the markings on my left sleeve. The tabs on my shoulder show the ship I was on, the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). The ribbons tell more. I received National Defense due to being in the military on or after 11 September 2001. My 2005 deployment to the Persian Gulf authorized me to wear the Global War on Terrorism and associated expeditionary ribbon. During that deployment, I was out to sea longer than 90 days so I got the sea service deployment ribbon. My ship received a Battle E so I got that ribbon. I never went to Captains’ Mast during my enlistment so I was awarded two good conduct medals. The second award is noted on my official discharge certificate, the DD-214.
The Navy recently announced that they are doing away with ratings and instead will go by a numerical Naval Occupational Specialist code in identifying sailors’ jobs.
Many people I served with were clearly not happy with that announcement and took to social media to express their outrage.
Myself, I am more sad than angry.
Sad because the uniform I wore is a connection to many sailors that previously served and it is the end of a long proud era the Navy has that differentiated itself from the other services.
The rating identification has been around since the establishment of the Navy on this day in 1775 and specialty marks were not added to enlisted men’s uniform until 1866. Ratings have come and gone throughout the Navy’s history. Aircraft carriers introduced a whole new aviation rating system. In 2005, the Navy merged the now obsolete Dental Technician rating with Hospital Corpsman in an analysis of personnel power. The rise of social media turned the Journalist rating into Mass Communication Specialist.
These rating symbols told you what a person did during their Naval service career. In my case a very brief 6 years. Others if they had more rows of ribbons and more service stripes that mine, a bit longer. I wore the rating of a Machinist’s Mate, meaning I worked primarily in the engine room. Since I was nuclear power trained, I served aboard an aircraft carrier.
For those that are upset, I empathize. Especially if you got a sweet tattoo of your rating.
The thing is that the Navy changes once you leave. Believe me, there have been LOTS of changes in the Navy since I left active service eight years ago.
“My Navy this, my Navy that.” Well, it was your Navy for a period of time. For me, it was from August 2002 until August 2008. And since then, it has been someone else’s Navy.
The sailors on watch right now are telling their own stories, and it will be different than my story. That’s something I will embrace as part of our tradition and heritage.