Be Your Own Best Advocate - CIVMAR
by Bill Mesta, USN Military Sealift Command
May 10, 2022
The dedicated Civil Service Mariners (CIVMAR) who crew Military Sealift Command’s fleet of ships choose to sail for a variety of reasons; some seek adventure and travel in faraway lands, many heed the call of patriotic service to their nation, while others simply love the life at sea. One certainty is that from entry level CIVMARs all the way up to senior shipboard leadership, advancement and promotion opportunities are very important to career-minded mariners.
December 14, 2021 - Military Sealift Command civil service mariners, assigned to the Emory S. Land-class submarine tender USS Frank Cable, conduct line handling operations while mooring the ship at Naval Base Guam. Frank Cable has returned from patrol conducting expeditionary maintenance and logistics in support of national security in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. Frank Cable is one of two U.S. Navy submarine tenders that provide maintenance, hotel services, and logistical support to submarines and surface ships in the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet areas of operation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chase Stephens)
Many CIVMARs join MSC’s fleet by filling entry level positions because these positions offer the opportunity to embark on a new career path without the requirement to possess advanced maritime credentials or experience. These entry-level positions are where many of MSC’s senior level and most experienced mariners began working their way up the “chain of command.”
“Advancing from an entry-level position to Ship’s Master or Chief Engineer is very doable if a CIVMAR is committed to pursuing that goal,” said Andy Kallgren, MSC’s Supervisory Training Administrator. “Keep in mind, advancement isn’t easy and requires lots of work and dedication to your craft.”
MSC offers four entry-level positions; each with opportunities for advancement: Ordinary Seaman (OS), Wiper, Supply Utilityman (SU) and Radios Electronics Technician 2.
Ordinary Seaman is an entry-level Deck Department position.
“OS CIVMARs may advance to Able Seaman, Boatswain Mate or Boatswain,” Kallgren said. “CIVMARs who gain the requisite experience, training and U.S. Coast Guard credentials can advance to Third Officer, even if they don’t ever become a Boatswain Mate or Boatswain.
“From Third Officer, they can advance to Second Officers, First Officers or Master,” he added. “The Master is the commanding officer of the ship.”
Wiper is the entry-level position in the Engine Department.
“Qualified Members of Engine Department (QMEDS), are the journey-level positions,” Kallgren stated. “QMED positions include Engine Utility, Deck Engineer Machinist, Refrigeration Engineer, Pumpman, Chief Electrician and Unlicensed Junior Engineer.”
“Although Electronics Technician is not technically a QMED, it is considered one of the most technical unlicensed positions in the Engine Department,” he added.
“QMEDs with the training, experience and aptitude can work towards being promoted to licensed Engine Officers; which includes Third Engineer, Second Engineer, First Assistant Engineer and Chief Engineer,” said Kallgren. “The Chief Engineer is the senior most licensed Engineer aboard MSC’s ships.”
The Supply Utilityman is an unlicensed entry level member of the Supply Department crew. SU’s perform general hotel service work such as food handling and preparation, serving meals, busing tables and laundry. Supply Department mariners are also responsible for the cleaning and maintenance of the staterooms, bathrooms, passageways and common areas of the ship, and assisting the Chief Steward with daily provisions and manning underway replenishment rigs on all classes of MSC civil service crewed ships.
“It’s common for someone to start as an SU and then transfer to another department, and then work their way up in the new field,” said Kallgren. “If a CIVMAR stays in Supply Department, he or she typically advances along either a culinary path to Chief Steward, or a logistics path that leads to Supply Officer.”
The Second Radio Electronic Technician (RET2) is part of the Communications Department and stand watches under the supervision of the Chief Radio Electronics Technician. The incumbent operates and maintains the ship’s military communication suites.
RET2s can work towards promotion through the Radio Electronics Technician Advancement Program, which is designed to bring experienced personnel and apprentice participants together for up to 48 months of training and mentorship. Selected candidates will be placed in the Radio Electronics Technician Advancement Program (RAP) for job training, sea time, and work experience. RAP offers a career opportunity and promotion path for deserving RET2s. Candidates will receive online and classroom training, ship assignments and evaluations.
“Some of the reasons a CIVMARs seek promotion and advancement at MSC include job satisfaction, better pay, more responsibility, better shipboard accommodations, more training opportunities, opportunities on different ship types, and better pension benefits,” Kallgren said.
Entry-level position do not require advanced skillsets; however, there are a few criteria CIVMARs must meet when employed at MSC. For example, every CIVMAR must possess a U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Credential, Transportation Workers Identification Card (TWIC) and a U.S. Passport. All entry-level employees must also successfully pass Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) and MSC’s Basic Training curriculum which includes Basic Fire Fighting, Elementary First Aid, Personal Survival, Personal Safety and Social Responsibility, Damage Control, Helicopter Fire Fighting, CBRD-Basic, Occupational Safety and Health, Environmental Programs, and Replenishment-at-Sea Orientation.
MSC promotions are earned through a competitive process. Candidate must meet the basic qualifications for the position, compete for promotion, and also be selected for promotion.
“Advancement for CIVMARS is based on many aspects that need to be aligned perfectly,” Lesa Barbour, a Military Sealift Command Supervisory Training Administrator. The USCG International Convention on Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) provides advancement guidance for all Mariners.”
Additionally, the requirements for each position are described in the position duty statements, which are available through the Safety Management System and are also posted in the respective promotion announcements.
“In order to compete for a permanent promotion, you must apply to a promotion announcement,” Kallgren added. “When you apply, be sure to thoroughly address all of the requirements and questions asked. Your professional knowledge, skills and abilities will be considered for advancement. Past performance, credentials, training, and awards are also important.”
If the Mariner does not have adequate underway time on an ocean-going ship, they cannot advance to the next grade, Barbour added.
CIVMAR records information used for advancement consideration is managed with MSC’s Human Resource Management System (HRMS) and an update to one’s records can be requested from CIVMAR Management Placement Division.
“Keeping HRMS up to date with your newly acquired certifications is the key to success,” according to Barbour. “Mariners should also keep copies of all documentation and expiration dates for their USCG Merchant Mariner Credentials.”
“Keep track of the work that you have performed which could set you apart from other CIVMARs competing for promotion,” Kallgren offered. “Focus on work that demonstrates your knowledge, skills, abilities, craftsmanship, work ethic and ability to lead and follow orders. These are some of the things that evaluators are looking for. Be sure to highlight your attributes to your supervisor when it’s time for an evaluation.”
Barbour and Kallgren offered additional advice for CIVMARs.
“CIVMARs are their own best advocate for promotion,” said Barbour. “Keep your records up to date, know your next steps for advancement and request the training needed to help make your professional goals come true.”
“Be an excellent employee,” Kallgren added. “Report to work on time and ready, perform high-quality work, support your shipmates and be disciplined."
“Own what you are responsible for, learn new skills, obtain new credentials, and take advantage of training opportunities,” said Kallgren. Demonstrate you are interested and ready for advancement. Seek out promotion and continue to improve even if you aren’t promoted as quickly as you had hope.”
Sea-going CIVMARs should reach out to their Chief Mate for advancement information and shipboard training opportunities.
Additional information about advancement and promotion opportunities can be found on the Military Sealift Command site.
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