Sunday, August 17, 2008

Award and Eval Gouge

Time flies.

I don't know what happened to February, much less June or July. How is it already halfway through August???

Things are winding down on the decommissioning of the Mighty MSP. Friday afternoon we had our final awards ceremony on the Lockwood Hall Lanai. Traditionally, when someone finishes their tour on a ship or submarine, they receive an end-of-tour award. Since we're decommissioning and the entire crew is transferring all at once, we had a LOT of end-of-tour awards to hand out. I managed to read through about 80 awards in a little over an hour by skipping the introductory and closing sentences that are the same on everyone's award and just reading the few sentences of real substance in the middle of the award citations. We also didn't stop to take a photo of each guy getting an award, and instead let everyone know in advance the CO would be available for photos afterwards.

As long as I'm on the topic of awards...

At no point during nuke school or SOBC did the instructors ever sit you down and say, "Hey, let's learn how to write an award." However, chances are, you got to your first boat and at some point your department head told you, "Hey, I need you to draft an award for Petty Officer Smith." Your first response was probably something like a dear-in-the-headlights stare.

For the sake of any those guys out there who are looking for some gouge on writing awards or evals, I thought I would offer some pointers here. Note that these are my opinions and by no means represent any official guidance or policy on behalf of the U.S. Navy. It is my hope that using these pointers will help you to write better quality awards and eval remarks and reduce the time it takes to have them reviewed and approved by your chain of command.

STEP 1. Get the Reference! You will make your dept head's, yeomen's, and XO's job a LOT easier if you submit your draft award already in the proper format.

For awards, there is a very well-written and actually very useful COMSUBPACINST 1650.2X. I'm sure there must be a similar instruction on the LANT side. It's only a few pages long and easy to read. This instruction lays out the policies for different levels of awards, provides the award format and sample awards. The COMSUBPACINST also has a useful "common errors" list and a checklist you can use before submitting the award. You should also check to see if your squadron has a local instruction that provides further amplification or guidance. I suspect every squadron has one.

For evals, the "instruction" is a little more complex. The Navy Performance Evaluation System Manual (BUPERSINST 1610.10A) is more of a book in a 1/2 inch binder. You can download all 19 chapters of it in pdf format right here. I would NOT expect you to sit down and read the eval manual from cover to cover before drafting your first eval. However (comma), if you haven't filled one out before, it would be useful to use the step-by-step instructions in Chapter 1 (pages 1-1 through 1-13).

STEP 2. What to write. Okay, so you've reviewed the applicable instruction mentioned above and you've got your draft in the correct format, but now what? What about the substance or the meat of the remarks?

The nine pointers that follow are my personal observations. If you find that you are having trouble fitting everything you want to say about some truly great guy in the limited space available on the award citation or eval remarks, these pointers will help you eliminate some of those extra words that don't really add anything to the substance of the award.

1. Write positive, active sentences about what the guy DID. For example:
  • "He repaired ___________ (...vital ship's equipment and enabled the ship to stay at sea on a mission vital to national security)."
  • "He managed __________ (...the ship's Radiological Controls Audit and Surveillance program.)"
  • "He planned __________ or better yet, "He planned and executed _________ (...a successful Pre-Overseas Movement upkeep that cleared over seven bajillion outstanding jobs in the Equipment Status Log.)
  • "He coordinated _________ (...the activities of the shipyard and outside contractors in the installation of this new high-tech super-whiz-bang system.)
  • "He supervised __________
If it's an eval and the guy didn't do a particularly good job at it, but got the job done, you could leave the sentences above as is. If it's an award write-up or if you want the guy to have a stronger eval, then you should add a little bit more praise to each of those sample sentences above. You can do that by inserting a positive adverb as the second word in the sentence. You will commonly see words like "superbly" or "flawlessly" or "expertly" in a lot of awards. That way, you're not just just saying he DID it, but he did it WELL. For example:
  • "He quickly repaired ___________ (...vital ship's equipment and enabled the ship to stay at sea on a mission vital to national security)."
  • "He expertly managed __________ (...the ship's Radiological Controls Audit and Surveillance program.)"
  • "He meticulously planned and superbly executed _________ (...a successful Pre-Overseas Movement upkeep that cleared over seven bajillion outstanding jobs in the CSMP.)
If you want to say he's a smart guy or say something about him being a technical expert, the way I usually do it is by saying, "He demonstrated his technical expertise in the way he repaired the ______________, a repair normally conducted at the depot level" or something like that.

2. Definitely include any praise the ship has received from outside the command due to this individual's effort, and use active voice. If you write, "He was recognized for his efforts," then that is passive voice and leaves the reader guessing WHO did the recognizing. His chief? His divo? Instead, rewrite it as, "_____ recognized him / commended him for ________________." Here are a couple of examples:
  • "The Nuclear Propulsion Examination Board recognized him for his superb management of training... or audits and surveillances... or maintenance and material history..."
  • "Naval Submarine Support Center Pearl Harbor commended him for managing the best Command Career Counselor program on the waterfront."
  • "Submarine Squadron THREE commended him for the flawless execution of the ship's post-deployment weapons offload."

: How can you spot passive voice in a document? Look for the words "was" and/or "by." Instead of "A valve-lineup was performed by the LPO," (passive voice) re-write it as, "The LPO performed a valve-lineup" (active voice). See the difference? It's more concise and eliminates 2 words that weren't necessary.
3. Use rank and name in the second and last sentences, use pronouns in between. Every sentence should not begin with, "Petty Officer Smith..." You should write the guy's name in the standard second sentence, "Petty Officer Smith performed his duties in an exemplary and highly professional manner," and in the standard last sentence, "Petty Officer Smith's professionalism and loyal devotion to duty reflected credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service." In the rest of the citation in between those two sentences, use "he" and "his" instead of "Petty Officer Smith" and "Petty Officer Smith's."

4. Delete the phrases like "was instrumental to" and "contributed to." One of my previous XO's told me these are words you use as filler when you don't really have anything substantial or specific to write about a guy. It's wasted words that just takes up some of your precious limited space in the award or eval format. Disclaimer: Please remember (1) this is feedback for future writers to improve the quality of future awards, and (2) this is my opinion and not anything officially written anywhere. These are actually very common phrases you will see in a lot of awards, so if you have a phrase such as this in an award or eval you have received, please don't take it as a slight against you.

5. Delete the phrase "during his tenure on board."
It's a statement of the obvious. The award already said that it was "for commendable achievement... while serving as a member of ___________ division in USS (ship name) from April 2003 to July 2007." That established that it was during his time on board. Besides, you wouldn't be giving him the award if it was for time he wasn't on board, would you?

6. Delete the phrase "provided watchbill flexibility." Qualifying a required in-rate watch station (for example, an nuke MM qualifying Engine Room Lower Level or an Nav-ET qualifying Auxiliary Electrician Forward) and providing "watchbill flexibility" are not reasons we give people awards.

On the other hand, it would be appropriate to recognize someone who demonstrated initiative and aggressively completed their qualifications AHEAD OF SCHEDULE. It would also be appropriate to recognize someone who demonstrated initiative and qualified additional watch-stations outside their rate (like a nuke MM qualifying Throttleman - a watch normally stood by an EM) or above their expected level for their rank (like an E-5 qualifying Chief of the Watch). Those are both examples of going above and beyond what is EXPECTED of them and are achievements worthy of commendation and praise.

7. Inclusive Dates of the Award. If you submit a group of awards as a result of some major inspection like a TRE (Tactical Readiness Evaluation) or an ORSE (Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination), the dates of the award should not be just the dates the inspection happened.

If a guy is commended by the NPEB (Nuclear Propulsion Examination Board - the inspection team) during the ORSE and you want to give him an award, don't write the award for "1 to 3 April 2007." The thing is, the guy didn't START doing a good job at managing his division or his program on 1 April when the inspection team stepped on board. He STARTED managing his division or his program (audits and surveillances for example, or training records, or material history or...) usually many months before that. So the award is really recognizing him for his efforts over that period of time that he was managing the program, and it culminated in the NPEB commending the program. I'm using ORSE and NPEB as an example here, but it is equally applicable to the TRE Team or to Squadron doing a Nav Eval.

Dates should be provided as month and year (except in cases of some specific heroic act or achievement), so put the beginning month and year that the guy took over in the job where he became responsible for the recognition the ship received during the inspection, and the ending month and year of the inspection itself.

8. Delete negative comments about previous personnel or programs. Your award write-up or eval remarks should neither initiate a report chit or JAGMAN investigation, nor should it be used as evidence in anybody else's Captain's Mast or Court Martial. Do not slander or otherwise implicate that the previous program manager was deficient or a lazy slug or a criminal. (Aside: EKMS comes to mind - it's always the previous EKMS manager's fault). Make positive comments about how much the guy you are commending has "dramatically improved" the program. You could also say the program improved by "two letter grades" from the previous inspection (be careful - actual ORSE grades are not allowed). Those are things that attribute the guy you are commending with doing a good job and improving the bag he was left holding without explicitly dropping dime on the previous guy who left him with the bag in the first place.

9. Spell out acronyms and use commonly understood terms. The guy's parents should be able to read the award without a Navy acronym dictionary. For example, instead of "he preformed vital repairs to the BQQ-5D", rewrite it as, "He repaired the ship's primary sonar system."

There you have it. Here endeth the unsolicited advice of the day. As always, I welcome your feedback on this.


Sam said...

You're such a wise mentor! :)

Joe and Samantha said...

I sent your advice to my husband.