creative writing

Any enlisted member of the military has undoubtedly encountered three styles of writing: one style encompasses instructions. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Department of Defense (DOD) Instructions, and a unit’s Plan of the Day (POD) are just a few of these that provide the boundaries of behavior we know as “military bearing”. Another involves “creative writing”, that is, the personnel evaluation, used to qualify a member for advancement.


Periodically, an enlisted member is required to submit a summary of his or her performance, which provides in short concise bullet format, a skill or achievement, and it’s value to the evaluating senior NCO or officer. There are some individuals who may actually perform far superior to her peers, but without some “inside” information on what a superior in command, or a merit board is looking for, may not stand out. While experience is a good teacher, a mentor in the service provided needed polishing in the specific language the military uses.


As the Navy has embarked on a “radical overhaul” ( per Navy Times) of the enlisted evaluation system, I thought it would be worth reminiscing about writing as practiced in the U.S. Navy. The last time the Navy overhauled the evaluation system, it was to refine a grading system that was less objectively-based and more subjective. As anyone from the period of the 1970s to 1990s can attest, there were certain Sailors who were deserving of promotions, but only the “4.0” Sailor was the rare crow who would get advanced. The grading scale rated on a scale from 2 and below, to 3.0 to 3.4 or 3.6 in several areas that were broken down on the evaluation form. In the passing years, more and more candidates learned “how” to write their evaluation, and their superiors learned “how” to get their sailors advanced.


As a result, beginning in the late 1990s, a “5.0” scale was implemented to refine the process. Another period of ranking creep, and failures of subjective grading (combined with Congressional-mandated manpower levels) probably resulted in this 2017 revision.

My favorite excerpts from the Navy Times article explains this:

(Vice Admiral Robert) Burke says the system created “unwritten rules” and “grade creep” that have eroded the system’s effectiveness.

The Navy has developed an unofficial “code” for writing performance assessments. If you are a supervisor, “you have to be able to write in code,” Burke said. “If you are sitting on a [promotion] board, you have to be able to decipher the code. And each of our tribes — for example, surface warfare, submarines, aviators — each one of these individual communities has a slightly different code.”

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