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Navy Secretary: Cyber Officers May Be Allowed in at Higher Ranks

A Marine major is pinned with his new rank during a promotion ceremony in 2014. More officers could join the sea services at higher ranks as leaders look to attract those in technical fields, such as cyber. (Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos/Marine Corps)
A Marine major is pinned with his new rank during a promotion ceremony in 2014. More officers could join the sea services at higher ranks as leaders look to attract those in technical fields, such as cyber. (Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos/Marine Corps)

To recruit and retain the best cyber officers, the sea services need to pull them in as mid-grade officers, rather than ensigns and second lieutenants, and allow them to move fluidly between military and civilian careers, the secretary of the Navy said this week.

The Navy and Marine Corps need to attract the right "brain power" when it comes to cybersecurity professionals, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday. To do that, the service secretaries could adopt new authorities recently granted by Congress that allow the military to bring in more officers at higher ranks.

"[We need] the ability -- when we talk about cyber -- to bring people in and say, much like during World War II, 'You are an amazing expert, you can come in as an O-4 or O-5,' " Spencer said.

Offering that rank and better pay might help in recruiting cyber officers, but getting them to stay is just as important. In hyper-technical fields like cyber, he said, officers need the flexibility to move between the Navy or Marine Corps and the private sector without hurting their chances of promotion.

"You have to have an active offense to have a great defense," Spencer said. "Cyber is not one or the other. It's a continuum and it's a process because, to stay current in defense, you have to know what's going on in offense."

Existing officer promotion rules saw some service members moved out of the military if they weren't promoted within a certain timeframe. Now the NDAA allows for the easing of those requirements and allows for outstanding officers to be promoted faster than their peers, regardless of time in grade.

Those changes could make it easier for the Navy and Marine Corps to send people into the private sector to refresh their skills and then bring them back into the military.

"This 'refresh concept,' in whatever the discipline might be, to have that ability and have that person not step off the promotion ladder is one of the benefits we see from the [Defense Officer Personnel Management Act] reform," Spencer said.

The Navy and Marine Corps are likely to adopt at least some of the reforms to the officer promotion system passed by Congress in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, though it might not happen right away.

"We're beginning to get some amazing authorities that they're giving us," Spencer said. "But I think you're going to have to see us grow into these authorities."

He added that the changes could help recruit and retain officers in other important communities, such as medical personnel and pilots.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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