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Education and Learning, an Operational Imperative

By John Kroger, Chief Learning Officer and Vice Adm. John Nowell, Chief of Naval Personnel

Learning, innovation, and personal and professional development are part of our Naval heritage and continue to be important in enabling the warfighters of today.

Our service is moving forward in recording and recognizing educational and learning achievements in our formal fitness reports to ensure it is viewed as a strategic priority, alongside our ships, aircraft and weapons systems. 

This will give our Navy a warfighting advantage and allow us to thrive and win against any competitor in this rapidly changing and complex global environment.

Education and a commitment to continuous learning is an operational imperative and, through our enhanced talent management processes, we will empower and reward officers who accelerate their intellectual development and improve their performance through education and learning opportunities.

To support these goals, and in conjunction with MyNavy HR’s efforts to integrate education effectively into Sailor 2025 talent management initiatives, fitness reports (FITREPs) will include specific comments regarding education, learning, and support for a learning culture. This requirement will allow us to identify, select, and reward those officers who have demonstrated the commitment and ability to learn, as well as those who encourage and support the learning of others, by placing them into positions of influence at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.

NAVADMIN 137/20, released May 7, brings together key elements of the Navy’s Education for Seapower Strategy 2020 and the MyNavy HR Sailor 2025 initiative to better align and integrate naval education into warfighting development and talent management. From selection boards to detailing, those officers with a proven commitment and ability to learn, and who encourage others to learn, will thrive, and this must be formally documented and considered in Fitness Reports.

As acting Secretary of the Navy James E. McPherson has said, “To deter and outfight potential opponents in a great power competition, our force of professionals is going to have to outthink them, and we can only do that through continual learning and education. Our action today will ensure that our talent management system rewards officers who advance warfighting effectiveness through intellectual development and represents an important milestone as we implement our comprehensive “Education for Seapower Strategy.” 

Education and continuous learning will hold greater value within the modernized and enhanced talent management system – promotion boards, selection processes, and detailing decisions. To enable this, we must have all of the right information available through our performance evaluation system.

According to the message, documentation in FITREPs must include personal achievements in education and learning that contribute to a culture of continuous learning, improved knowledge, and warfighting effectiveness at both the individual and unit level. Education and continuous learning progress, achievements and contributions will also receive greater emphasis during statutory and administrative selection boards.

The value that education and continuous learning brings to our Navy team’s quest to maintain overmatch against any threat is undisputed. It is imperative to document an individual’s commitment to intellectual growth so that our warfighters have a benchmark to strive for in bettering themselves year after year across their career.

BUPERS Instruction 1610.10E reflects the policy changes and provides guidance to reporting seniors regarding the documentation of professional military education, off-duty education, and other educational and learning achievements pursued during a reporting period. Additionally, personal achievement in education and learning, and support of the education and learning efforts of others, will be linked to block 1.0, 3.0, and 5.0 performance trait content in existing FITREP assessment criteria.

Additionally, reporting seniors are directed to document all education and learning whether Professional Military Education, Navy, civilian, or unit level education. The reporting senior should also consider the degree to which the member performs self-assessment and improvement, pursues professional development and education, improves current skills and knowledge, and acquires new skills.

Specific examples of continuous learning that should be documented include: resident and non-resident professional military education coursework, professional and academic qualifications and certifications, civilian education coursework, personal reading program that includes (but is not limited to) selections from CNO’s Reading List, participation in discussion groups and military societies, writing in national security or military journals, and involvement in learning through new technologies.

Instructions and guidance on filling out the applicable areas of a FITREP can be found in the message.

As the chief of naval operations detailed in FRAGO 01/2019, our nation expects a Navy ready to fight today and the policy updates announced in NAVADMIN 137/20 actively moves the Navy forward in terms of the modernization and transformation needed to ensure we are ready for tomorrow. We will instill continuous learning behaviors to broaden and deepen warfighting knowledge, which will enable adaptation, improvement, and strengthen mission command to outthink and outfight any adversary. The changes to the FITREP system ensure that we, as a Service, keep sight that learning is the ultimate warfare enabler and intellectual development a critical warfighting capability.

In closing, we hope leaders at all levels see the importance in this change – and support every member of the team’s pursuit to learn, develop, and ultimately become better warfighters.  

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