FOREST HILL, NC, January 15, 2013 — The time honored rite of the U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer (CPO) initiation process has been eliminated. Political correctness has won out over more than 100 years of having gotten it right in the Chief’s Mess.
What has the U.S. Navy done? Will it prove harmful, or will it even matter in the grand scheme of things? My prediction is that this will exponentially increase the number of glorified managers in the Navy’s senior enlisted ranks.
In the aftermath of the “Tailhook” incident at the Las Vegas Hilton (1991), the Navy had a stand down in training to reassess its core policies & objectives. One result was a significant change in the Navy core values which were (at that time): Honor, Loyalty and Tradition. Because of the “tradition” of the Naval aviation convention in Las Vegas, and the fact that many officers were “loyal” and refused to snitch about the Tailhook incident, the core values were eventually changed to: Honor, Courage and Commitment. The new core values are excellent. But the unfortunate implication of Tailhook was that the Navy needed to get away from many of its former traditions.
The U.S. Navy CPO wears a unique insignia on his/her collar device, the fouled anchor.
Upon close examination of the device, you see that it is an anchor with a chain wrapped around it. A ship that cannot let down its anchor and have it safely dig into the ocean floor is in a state of distress. When a chain gets tangled around the anchor, it is “fouled.” That is, the anchor cannot be let down to hold the ship in place. That’s a very dangerous condition, especially when ocean or weather conditions are worsening.
The Navy CPO, as symbolized by the insignia of the fouled anchor (a nautical symbol of distress), is expected to go into a myriad of circumstances and conditions of trouble, i.e., distress, aboard the ship or command, and find a way to UN-tangle (or, unfoul) the anchor.
The fact that this responsibility is vested in the Navy CPO is a given.
But what does this have to do with the Navy CPO initiation process? Actually, quite a bit.
When competent technicians in a career field (First Class Petty Officer, or E6) demonstrate abilities that set them apart from their peers, they are recommended for promotion to E7. But there is a distinct difference between an E7 and a Chief Petty Officer.
The former occupies a rank or pay grade. The latter voluntarily takes on the mantle of leadership and responsibility in a way that is unparalleled in any of the uniformed services. The global recognition of the U.S. Navy CPO was so prestigious that officers and senior enlisted from all services (and many foreign countries) voluntarily participated in the initiation process in order to attain honorary CPO status. The late Hollwood actor Ernest Borgnine (who left active duty in the Navy as an E6) proudly stated that one of the most meaningful life accomplishments was his having received the title of “Honorary Chief Petty Officer.”
Without the initiation process, a First Class Petty Officer (E6) runs the risk of becoming a prima donna who wears the Cracker Jack bell bottom uniform one day, and dons the khaki and anchors the next day. Going from the latter to the former without a proper transition can be disastrous.
Really? What’s the big deal?
When U.S. Navy CPOs direct those under their charge, they wield tremendous power and authority just by virtue of their position in the chain of command. If the new CPO lets this new position go to his or her head, it can undermine unit cohesion and camaraderie, and possibly undermine the fabric of good order and discipline.
Consider how the CPO initiation process greatly minimizes, if not eliminates the problem of an ineffective transition from E6 to CPO.
Charge books: When a CPO selectee has to go through the inconvenience of having to locate and get the signature of current CPOs (on the base or within the command), they are reminded of the importance of getting to learn about those who will soon become their fellow CPOs. It also underscores the importance of respect for the authority that they will soon receive.
Initiation Activities: There are a multitude of seemingly idiotic and mindless things that the CPO selectee would be required to do upon demand. While selectees go through this process, it is reinforced in their minds that a CPO (who gives them the order during this ordeal) has tremendous authority.
When translated to the work center, CPOs can wield this power with reckless abandon (and demotivate a division or workcenter), or they can remember the initiation process and how their being jerked-around was a miserable state of affairs.
Team Building: The few hours of activities condensed in the initiation process actually helps the CPO selectees to find a way to work together. The CPOs running the initiation occasionally direct the selectees to do things to “win” an event or task. But the consequences of their winning individually will impact the other CPO selectees negatively, and the winner will watch the others penalized for not doing as well as the winner. In a work center, if a CPO looks to single out top achievers at the expense of others, team building languishes, and unit morale suffers greatly.
Induction/Pinning Ceremony: Without the aforementioned “process,” the induction (pinning ceremony) becomes a mere formality, absent of what was once a profoundly meaningful period of reflection, introspection, and significantly enhanced sense of accomplishment in this monumental career milestone.
Most of the CPO initiation activities have other objectives that are only realized after the process is over. Consider the following key excerpt from a CPO induction (pinning) ceremony:
“During the course of this day you have been caused to humbly accept challenge and face adversity.This you have accomplished with rare good grace. Pointless as some of these challenges may have seemed, there were valid, time-honored reasons behind each pointed barb. It was necessary to meet these hurdles with blind faith in the fellowship of Chief Petty Officers. The goal was to instill in you that trust is inherent with the donning of the uniform of a Chief.”
There will be many who are unpersuaded by this argument and will not support the CPO initiation process. “The process (say they) was a relatively dark chapter in our Navy’s history. We, in our technologically-advanced military, can ill-afford to revert back to archaic and backwards practices.”
Those pious remarks are hollow if those holding such sentiments have not participated in Navy Rights and Responsibilities training. The formerly mandated U.S. Navy Command Assessment Team (CAT) and Command Training Team (CTT) have gone by the wayside. The CAT/CTT curriculum outlined the necessary elements of good order and discipline, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), U.S. Navy Regulations, as well as the Standard Organization and Regulations Manual (SORM). The CAT formerly conducted annual Command Assessments to ascertain how well/poorly the command climate is maintained.
If there were problems with the CPO initiation process, the CAT/CTT process (ideally) would have been instrumental in helping to identify and rectify any and all shortfalls. But instead of correcting the problems, the powers that be have opted to take the more expedient road in dissolving/eliminating the CPO initiation process in its entirety. Implicit in this action is the notion that the CPO initiation process was just no worth it. So as it stands, U.S. Navy boot camp (at Great Lakes Recruit Training Command, Illinois), with its “battle stations” rite of passage, now pales the revamped CPO induction process by comparison. As my son would say: “That’s just wrong!”
Now that the modified CPO induction process is in place, should we now amend one of the long standing objectives of the Navy Chief: “Train junior officers” as a follow up? You have to admit that if all it takes to be a Navy CPO is leadership classes and a pinning ceremony, shouldn’t that task now be exclusive to the Officers’ Wardroom?
I will leave you with a shining example that epitomizes the role of the Navy CPO: Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handler) Gerald Farrier. Chief Farrier was the leader of Repair Locker #8 aboard the USS Forrestal in 1967 (off the coast of North Vietnam). He was 31, the father of four. When the fire broke out on the Forrestal’s flight deck, Chief Farrier was the first to run out to the blaze, armed only with a hand-held PKP extinguisher canister. If ever a Navy Chief led by example in attempting to unfoul a bad situation, it was Chief Farrier. Please watch the footage in this video. Chief Farrier’s actions are best described at the 12:00 minute mark in the video:
It is the hope of this retired U.S. Navy Master Chief that the Chief of Naval Operations, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, and all cognizant decision makers consider taking another look at this new policy to determine if it is possible to salvage and reinstate the valuable essentials of the CPO induction and initiation process. Battle Stations in Boot Camp should not be the crowning event of a Navy Senior Enlisted’s career. Rather, it should be the time honored and properly conducted CPO initiation process.
Bill Randall is a retired U.S. Navy Master Chief. He served at a variety of shore commands & facilities as well as a Navy Patrol Squadron Twenty-Three, Flagship Cruiser USS Belknap (CG 26), Battleship USS Iowa (BB 61), and Aircraft Carrier USS America (CV 66). His last tour of active duty was as Command Master Chief aboard USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), guided missile cruiser formerly with the USS Theodore Roosevelt Battle Group. Bill earned Master Training Specialist, Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist, Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist, and Naval Aircrewman certification. Bill donned the CPO uniform for 16 of his 27 years of active service, and transferred to the Fleet Reserve on January 1, 2002.
PHOTO: SAILOR OF THE YEAR - U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Andrew Jenkins, the 2011 U.S. Pacific Fleet Sailor of the Year, receives his chief cover during the Recognition Week pinning ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., May 19, 2011. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Danals
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