The Navy has embarked upon an ambitious program to change the way
it trains its sailors. Named Task Force Excel (Excellence through
Commitment to Education and Learning), this initiative is intended
to make Navy training more adaptable to new technologies and war-fighting
“You won’t recognize the Navy when we’re done
with this process,” the task force’s director, Rear
Adm. J. Kevin Moran, told National Defense. Moran—a naval
aviator whose previous assignment was commander of Amphibious Group
Two in Little Creek, Va.—took over Task Force Excel in August.
The task force, headquartered in Norfolk, was launched a year earlier,
after completion of an executive review of naval training. The review,
entitled “Revolution in Training,” declared that major
improvements were needed to keep up with technological advances,
retain experienced personnel and attract talented recruits. The
review, headed by retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, found that:
The Navy’s current training system, the review concluded,
is not set up to produce and maintain the trained force of sailors
that the service needs.
Navy training has changed enormously since the service’s
early days, when enlisted sailors were taught little more than how
to rig sails, tie knots, chip paint, fire cannon and polish brass.
Today’s training is far more sophisticated, but it relies
too much on 30-year-old methods “rooted in the Cold War-era,
when crews, their ships and squadrons had fewer missions, and conscription
ensured a constant supply of manpower,” the document said.
All too often, said the review, sailors still are sent to traditional
classrooms and taught basically how to operate and maintain specific
types of equipment—such as aircraft engines, computers, radios
and radar—rather than prepared to find their way through a
lifelong career, both inside and outside of the Navy.
Exceptions to this general rule do exist, the review said. Among
the examples cited as offering “effective, responsive and
flexible training” were the training programs for combat aircrews,
Aegis combat system operators, submariners and nuclear-power technicians.
For the most part, however, “the formal, schoolhouse setting
dominates Navy training today,” the review said. If the demand
for seats in those classrooms meets the forecast through 2007, however,
there will be between 7,634 and 9,366 more students than the Navy
Many of these students could be trained by taking advantage of
modern learning techniques and technologies—such as Internet
and simulation-based programs—that reduce the need to send
sailors to residency courses, the study found. Installation of Internet-capable
computers and simulators on ships makes its possible for sailors
to train even while at sea.
Reducing the need for sailors to attend classrooms, while improving
the quality of training would help the Navy—which is plagued
by an increasing shortage of qualified personnel—in a number
of ways, the review noted.
During the past decade, the Navy has shrunk from 595,000 to 375,000
active-duty sailors. Meanwhile, training needs have increased. E-5
sailors assigned to an Arleigh Burke DDG-51-class destroyer, for
example, require an average of 39 percent more technical training
than those aboard an older Spruance-class DD-963 vessel.
At the same time, more Americans are continuing their education
after they complete high school. When the all-volunteer force began
in the mid-1970s, 50 percent of high-school students went directly
to college, the report said. Today, nearly two thirds do so.
To put it another way, between 1974 and 1999, the number of non-college-bound
high-school graduates—the Navy’s traditional enlisted
recruiting market—decreased by almost 40 percent.
“The gap between what high-quality sailors and potential
sailors want and expect in their personal and professional learning
and what the Navy is prepared to deliver is too great to make the
Navy an employer of choice today,” the review said.
To close this gap, Navy training systems must do a better job of
improving the performance and enriching the personal growth and
development of the individual sailor, the document said.
The report helped convince Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark
to declare improved Navy training as his top priority for the year.
“We must have a commitment to education and training that
will arm our sailors to excel,” said Clark in a message to
Navy leaders. “We owe those who promise to serve the best
possible training throughout their Navy experience so they can succeed
and prosper in their professional and personal lives.”
To strengthen the training process, the Navy is establishing “learning
centers” at major bases around the country. These centers
will take over responsibility for all training programs currently
operated by the Naval Educational and Training Command, as well
as some run by other units, Moran said. The first six centers were
stood up in September. They included the centers for naval engineering,
in Norfolk; service support, in Athens, Ga.; intelligence in Dam
Neck, Va.; naval leadership, in Little Creek; cryptology, in Pensacola,
Fla., and aviation technical training, also in Pensacola.
The Navy is considering establishing similar facilities focusing
on construction, surface combat operations, personal development,
nuclear engineering, submarine operations and information technology.
Their locations, as yet, have not been determined, Moran said.
To support the centers, a Naval Personnel Development Command has
been stood up at Norfolk. It will be headed by Moran, who also will
retain his job as director of Task Force Excel.
The NPDC will include training-support commands at each of the
centers, which will provide centralized management for students
In addition, a human-performance center is being set up at the
Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, in Orlando,
Fla., to recommend new tools to improve the war-fighting performance
of sailors, their units and the entire fleet. At this center, a
highly trained group of psychologists is evaluating job-performance
aids, e-learning, structured on-the-job training, electronic performance-support
systems and adjustments in combat systems and personnel selection.
Detailed Career Path
The learning centers’ function will be to develop and maintain
a detailed training plan—called “the sailor continuum”—that
will define the knowledge, skills and abilities that service members
must master to achieve specific goals throughout their careers.
The continuum includes five “vectors,” or areas, Moran
explained. They include professional development, or occupational
training; personal development in life skills, such as financial
planning, health and safety, and college-level studies; professional
military education and leadership training; industry certifications
and qualifications related to Navy jobs, and performance assessment.
A continuum will be created for each occupational field, allowing
sailors to see exactly what skills and abilities they must possess,
and also the corresponding training that is available at any point
in their career, Moran said.
The continuum concept also provides sailors a greater opportunity
to earn college degrees, both undergraduate and graduate, Moran
said. “There’s no reason why any sailor won’t
be able to earn at least a bachelor’s degree during a 20-year
career,” he said.
The task force, in addition, is working to realign Navy training
so that sailors who successfully complete service-related courses
can receive certificates from established civilian programs.
By employing the same standards used by industry, the Navy is attempting
to make sailors more competitive with their counterparts in private
industry, Moran said. “We’re trying to offer training
that would be recognized in the civilian sector,” he said.
The task force envisions a 30-year career path for every sailor
that takes a raw recruit through boot camp, apprenticeship, journeyman,
and master’s levels and even into retirement. Under this plan,
a retiree would stay current and involved in Navy life, remaining
a source of experience and mentoring. Retirees would continue to
have access to Navy educational opportunity as a tangible benefit
To test these concepts, the task force is conducting a number of
pilot programs. For example, it is working with the Culinary Institute
of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y., to develop a new training program
for its mess-management specialists, or cooks.
Graduates of an introductory course can qualify for a certificate
from the American Culinary Federation. They can go on to earn associate’s,
bachelor’s or master’s degrees in culinary arts. They
can even become certified master chefs.
Mess Management Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Mayberry—assigned
to the USS Anzio, a guided-missile cruiser based in Norfolk—took
the introductory course earlier this year. The course included “a
lot of hands-on training with foods, spices and seasonings,”
“It heightened my skills tenfold,” the 10-year Navy
veteran said. “I’d like to go back. I only got a piece
of it. I’d like to get my hands on the whole cake.”
NBC’s “Today” show featured a segment on the
mess-management program. Mayberry and other sailors conducted a
live cooking demonstration with “Today” host Katie Couric.
“We stole the show,” Mayberry said.
Back aboard his ship, “I’ve been getting nothing but
compliments on my [food] presentation, Mayberry said. “People
tell me that they really look forward to eating now.”
Task Force Excel also is partnering with Cisco Systems, of San
Jose, Calif., to develop a similar career path for Navy technicians
in the fields of information systems, electronics and fire control.
Sailors who complete a Cisco Network Academy Program, can qualify
as a Cisco Certified Network Associate and earn 12 hours of college
The course, offered at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk,
consists of a Web-based curriculum provided by Cisco and classroom
“It’s excellent training,” said Electronics Technician
1st Class Mike Womack, another crewmember from the Anzio. “I’ve
had quite a bit of experience in networking, and this training was
a lot more in depth than anything that I’ve ever seen.”
Womack said that getting a chance to improve his professional credentials
is important to him. He has been in the Navy for more than 15 years
and plans to retire in another four years or so. He viewed the Cisco
training as something that he can take with him into civilian life.
“I’ve got a start on an information-technology degree,”
To help sailors manage their careers via the Internet, the Navy
has developed a new Web site, dubbed Navy Knowledge Online. It is
intended to give sailors instant access to all training and educational
information related to their chosen occupational fields, Moran said.
In addition, he said, each sailor will be issued an individual
Web page in boot camp. It can be customized and will remain accessible
to each, throughout his or her career.
The Web page will enable “sailors to access what is most
important to them—the information required to excel, both
professionally and personally—no matter where they are stationed
or deployed,” Moran said.
Some old salts in the Navy, however, are skeptical that Task Force
Excel and its “training revolution” will make much difference
over the long run. Even the review acknowledges that the Navy has
reorganized its training five times since 1971, and none of those
reorganizations has changed things very much.
But this time will be different, said a task force spokesman, Lt.
Cmdr. Gary Kirchner. For one thing, he said, the changes have the
backing of the chief of naval operations, and Clark has made it
known that he wants the new system in place within the next year
and a half. In March, Clark told the task force’s board of
advisors that he was “willing to commit any resource at my
disposal, and within my authority, to ensure the success of this
Another factor is the favorable reaction of the sailors who take
the new courses, Moran said. “I can see their eyes light up,”
he said. “They can see the potential. All we have to do is
refine the process, give them the tools and let them go.”