I often joke with my kids that I took the long, hard road to my current rank. Truth be told, I have had the distinct honor and pleasure of serving as both a Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) and Limited Duty Officer (LDO), prior to my lateral transfer to 1810. Looking back, I wouldn’t change the road I took for the world! Looking forward, however, it is increasingly difficult to understand the Cryptologic Community’s vision for our Limited Duty Officer cadre.
The Role of the Limited Duty Officer
To begin, it is important to understand the role of the Limited Duty Officer (LDO). For this, we’ll go right to the source. From the BUPERS LDO/CWO website:
“As officer technical managers of the line or staff corps, LDOs progressively advance within broad technical fields related to their former enlisted ratings. They fill leadership and management positions at the Ensign through Captain level that require technical background and skills not attainable through normal development within other officer designators. LDOs serve as, but are not limited to serving as, division officers, department heads, OICs, XOs and COs, ashore or afloat.”
Let’s unpack that for a minute — technical managers, advance within broad technical fields related to their former enlisted ratings, fill leadership and management positions, Ensign through Captain, Division Officer through Commanding Officer. Got it.
Now, take a look around the Cryptologic Community for a second and think about the LDOs with whom you currently serve. Technical managers? Maybe. Working in fields related to their former enlisted ratings? Sometimes. Leadership and management positions? Maybe. Ensign through Captain? Commanding Officers? Here is where we start to get into trouble.
Our LDO cadre is dying a slow death, with limited opportunities for advancement, a shrinking billet structure, and no chance for command. Yet, we continue to select and commission Cryptologic Technicians as LDOs.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Selecting Cryptologic Technicians for commissioning as LDOs is good. In our highly technical field, we can leverage their enlisted expertise at all levels. Not only do they bring a wealth of knowledge to the Wardroom, they help bridge the gap between leadership and technical expertise. They also add an immense amount of credibility to our community throughout the Fleet.
Unfortunately, we have no vision for their long term service. As a proud Mustang, I often find myself mentoring potential LDO candidates. These days, my first question to the candidate is typically related to progress towards an Undergraduate Degree. Why? Because our current model forces them to “off ramp” to 1810 if they want to have any future in the Navy and the community. In essence, we hire them as LDOs then force them to compete as 1810s from day one — breakout in traffic, STEM graduate degrees, leadership roles, etc. Their “off ramp” from LDO leads to an “on ramp” into the 1810 career path at 65 MPH! This isn’t to say they can’t, and don’t, compete. But we certainly aren’t setting them up for success.
Finally, to my knowledge, we haven’t had an LDO billet base for years, and plans for “billet purity” never really materialized. Instead, we toss them into the pool and have them fill whatever billet is available. Essentially, we aren’t using LDOs as they are intended to be used — technical managers, experts in their fields, leaders and managers, Ensign through Captain, Division Officer through Commanding Officer. There is no career path. There is no plan. They are simply another accession source.
The Way Ahead
Like any good military plan, I propose three Courses of Action (COA):
COA1: Cancel our LDO program outright. Cease new accessions, shift the billets accordingly and move on. If we don’t see value in the program — employing LDOs as intended — then this shouldn’t be a hard decision.
COA2: Establish a plan! Employ our LDOs in a way that best leverages their technical knowledge and expertise. Carve out billets for them in technical areas, such Signals Analysis Labs and Language Programs. Provide them with opportunities to train other Officers, or manage training of Cryptologic Technicians. Ensure they have leadership opportunities and future opportunities to excel. Assign them as the Officers in Charge of small detachments and provide them with the chance to serve as Commanding Officer of our training units.
COA3: Maintain a small number of LDO accessions each year, with clear guidance that the “program” is simply an alternate commissioning source for the greater Cryptologic Warfare Officer community.
Do you see value in continuing our LDO program?
Is it OK to maintain the status quo?
Are there better ways to leverage our LDOs?