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Sailors can prevent Navy's service record errors

Jul. 10, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Members of the chiefs' mess aboard the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman help petty officers first class evaluate their service records in April. Sailors should check for inaccuracies on a regular basis, especially before a selection board.
Members of the chiefs' mess aboard the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman help petty officers first class evaluate their service records in April. Sailors should check for inaccuracies on a regular basis, especially before a selection board. (MCSN Chase C. Lacombe / Navy)
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As part of a recent probe identifying widespread problems with the Navy’s online service record systems, there was one particularly confounding issue: Many sailors are simply unaware their records are wrong.

While sailors have help within their command via personnel support detachments, their record is ultimately their responsibility.

But there are steps sailors can take to get smart about their service record, identify mistakes and get them fixed:

Since 2011, when the Navy eliminated paper service records, every service member has two online records, the Electronic Service Record and the Official Military Personnel File.

The ESR is an online portal where sailors can view their data, including honors and awards, quals, next of kin, security clearances, test scores, completed training and education.

OMPF, while containing much of the same information, includes electronic images of paper documents produced over a sailor’s career. This includes evaluations, re-enlistment forms and a retirement plan. Paperwork submitted for their command is supposed to be scanned and added to their OMPF, but that isn’t always the case.

With poor communication between the two online systems, it’s incumbent upon sailors to play fact-checker. Navy officials recommend that they read their ESR at least twice a year and check the OMPF at least once a year.Both should be reviewed when prepping for a selection board. The Navy has created an 18-page, step-by-step guide for verifying records; it can be accessed at navytimes.com/record/review.

One of the most common problems, sailors say, is that while their ESR info is correct, the necessary backup documentations in the OMPF are absent, incorrect or incomplete.

Using the Navy’s guide linked to above, sailors should go step by step through both records. Are all evaluations listed in the ESR and are the documents of each in the OMPF? The same goes for awards, warfare quals and duty assignments. For awards, there’s a new step: They must be listed in the Navy Department Awards Web Service, available at https://awards.navy.mil.

Anytime PSD or command informs sailors that their record has been updated, they should ask for copies of any document produced for either record and ensure the digital and paper files match.

If something doesn’t match, sailors should contact their PSD immediately. Officials say it’s easy to fix something early — waiting until they are up for chief five years down the road only to find their last command has lost or destroyed their copy could blow advancement chances.

Smart sailors maintain paper copies of all their critical documents. Anything that’s signed and submitted to personnel is worth saving at home in a safe place, such as a fireproof file box.

At a minimum, sailors should retain copies of their evals, awards and administrative remarks. If online records become incomplete or contain errors, the original copies could be crucial to a sailor’s career.

Most commands will maintain an “unofficial” small folder with some info, but it would be limited. When sailors transfer or get discharged, they’re either handed over the docs or they’re destroyed within 90 days.

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