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Six Questions With Reserve Force Master Chief Hunt on the Operational Level of War for Enlisted Sailors

10 March 2023

From Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Robert Zahn, NR PACFLT Public Affairs

Navy Reserve Force Master Chief Tracy L. Hunt gives his thoughts on the importance of the Operational Level of War mission in the Navy Reserve, particularly for enlisted Sailors.

Q1: Force, can you start by defining what the Operational Level of War (OLW) is?   

A1: Doctrinally, the term Operational Level of War connects military strategy with tactics. Said another way, it’s the middle echelon across the Joint Force that operationalizes strategy into action.  


Q2: When did OLW become a priority to the Navy Reserve and to mission readiness? 

A2: While not new to the Navy Reserve, Chief of Navy Reserve Vice Adm. John B. Mustin put an emphasis on OLW in his Navy Reserve Fighting Instructions.   
For twenty years, during the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), Navy Reserve Individual Augmentees (IAs) were a backbone to our nation’s Operational Level of War manning, particularly in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  As we shift from GWOT to the new global security environment where international players like China and Russia challenge our way of life, Vice Adm. Mustin recognizes that we can employ that capability and capacity to become the OLW expertise for the Navy.   


Q3:  We often think of OLW as officer centric.  How do enlisted Sailors impact OLW?  

A3: In the Navy, OLW billet are often concentrated in flag-level Maritime Operations Centers (MOCs).  For clarity, a MOC is a process, not a place.  It is a process that OLW-level commands execute internally to ensure a commander’s operational intent is fulfilled by the supporting force. 

True, MOCs are staffed mostly by officers. However, there is an essential need for functional and technical experts on these staffs. That’s where enlisted Sailors shine. Our enlisted across ratings are needed in the OLW planning process, as watch standers, and to synthesize information and provide recommendations up the chain.   

The perspective of every enlisted Sailor is important to any mission. Working in a fast-paced OLW environment is challenging, but our enlisted Sailor’s experience provides valuable input into the Commander’s decision-making process.   


Q4: How do OLW billets differ from other enlisted Navy jobs? 

A4: Mostly the type of work you will be doing is at a different echelon and physical environment.   

Often, instead of supporting a unit or a squadron, you may be at that next echelon up providing your technical insights into planning for current and future operations and/or monitoring these activities on a watch floor.  You might be helping to determine what ships get underway at a specific date…when we need planes ready to fly…or why subs go to a particular depth and speed.   

And you will more likely find yourself in an office setting or on a watch floor in a fleet concentration area rather than on a ship, submarine, air field or elsewhere.   


Q5: How will working in an OLW unit affect my career and advancement? 

A5: There are many benefits to being in an OLW unit. OLW units are typically larger and more diverse increased opportunities for mentorship. The diversity of ratings and designators is beneficial to broaden your understanding of the Navy. There may be unique qualifications, AQDs and NECs you can obtain from that unit that will set you apart for advancement. Also, if you’re interested in submitting a package to lateral rate transfer, Warrant Officer or Limited Duty Officer, an OLW unit can provide for growth in these areas. 

There are fewer enlisted than officer billets in OLW units, so plan to apply for the open billets as soon as they are posted. While you are in the application process, also reach out to your command and have them guide you in the right direction by providing recommendations to fill those billets. If you can get into an OLW unit and gain that experience, it will enhance your career.   

But know, joining an OLW unit isn’t difficult and it's not only about the Fleets. You can apply to a billet the same way you would for any other billets within My Navy Assignment. You can search for Numbered Fleet units, or expand further to other units such as NATO, CNFJ, CNFK, OPNAV, or Joint Staff. I always encourage sailors to reach out to the points of contact listed on the billet description. This way you have a better understanding on what qualifications are specifically preferred for the job, what your role would be, and areas for professional growth, qualifications, and leadership compared those with other billet opportunities you’re considering. 


Q6: Do you have any other advice for enlisted Sailors who are thinking of applying for an OLW unit? 

A6: I say go for it! It’s a great opportunity to expand your skill sets in line with current RC and AC priorities. Working these jobs, you will have the ability to impact real-world operations through a unique experience. 

First, research what is required for you to get into an OLW unit, such as what training, security clearances, and schools that are needed so you can become a valuable asset to the team. 

Second, consider what region of the world you’re interested in or if you have any foreign language or travel experience. You can choose a unit to deepen those existing experiences, or you can choose a new region to build new experiences. 

Third, as I’ve already mentioned, the importance of reaching out to your new potential command point of contact so you can better understand what your role could be and what leadership opportunities are available.  

Finally, once you’re in your OLW new unit, do not be intimidated by having senior enlisted and officers in your command. Remember, they are there to help you. Find a mentor to sponsor you. Manage your career and be sure you’re completing the requirements for your rate during your time in the OLW billet.


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