Chief: A household name for any U.S. Navy Sailor. A name whose origin dates back to April 1, 1893, when the first 57 Sailors were promoted to one of the nine chief ratings created, and Sailors took on their new responsibilities.
It was 123 years ago when the rank of chief was created, but as the Navy pushes for a more resilient, professional workforce, the rank of chief petty officer (CPO) continues to expand upon the Navy’s expectation of professionalism to ensure excellence.
The earliest reference to the title chief dates back to 1776 aboard the USS Alfred when Jacob Wasbie, a cook’s mate, was called chief cook. The title was informal and used to denote him as the foremost cook aboard.
Many stories of the earliest chief initiations consisted of throwing the newly pinned chief over the side of the boat and then going out for a drink afterwards. However, throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s chief initiations started growing out of control and became humiliating and hazardous to many Sailors due to hazing.
In 2013, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Mike Stevens put his foot down on the growing issue and mandated a new professional transition that eliminated alcohol from all formal events and ended chiefs initiation practices. Instead, Sailors who make the rank of chief take part in CPO 365, a relevant program in developing leaders.
“The mission, your Sailors and yourself; CPO 365 gives you an in-depth look on those three aspects,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class Joeffrey Mamaril. “They show you what a chief looks like, and where chiefs came from.”
CPO 365 consists of two phases. All first class petty officers, whether eligible for promotion or not, take part in phase one.
“I’ve seen people who never made chief and they went through CPO 365 and it made them better Sailors,” said Chief Machinist Mate Jerome Wrenchey. “People who were more involved in CPO 365 do better than people who weren’t.”
Phase one is designed to enhance a Sailor’s ability to lead, develop teamwork, become a more efficient work center supervisor and be more effective as a leading petty officer.
Phase two begins when CPO selection results are released and is designed to prepare selectees for their entry into the Chief’s Mess.
“CPO 365 Phase two is an opportunity for our first class petty officers to display to the chief’s mess the skill-sets that they learned during phase one,” said Stevens. “The ultimate goal of CPO 365 is to train our relief to the best of their ability.”
After a first class petty officer completes phase two of CPO 365 they become a chief and they are pinned with a fouled anchor with the letters U.S.N. attached to it.
The fouled anchor represents the trials and tribulations that every chief must face on a daily basis. The ‘U’ stands for unity, the ‘S’ stands for service and the ‘N’ stands for navigation, all key elements making up the integral leadership position of a chief.
Some Sailors spend years trying to become a CPO, and for those who are chosen, it can be an emotional day.
“When you are standing there and your anchors are getting pinned, and your combination cover is getting placed on your head, everything goes through your mind,” said Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Greg Piazza. “Particularly, why you’re proud to be a chief. It starts with you’re proud of your family, and they’re proud of you. You’re proud of all the Sailors who got you there, the people who trained you and groomed you at all the commands that you served at previously.”
Every chief’s experience is different in the Navy and there are countless different stories of what being a chief means to them, and why they strived to be a chief petty officer.
“I grew up in a family where it was a bunch of women, and all we did in that community was take care of people,” said Chief Logistics Specialist Latissa Burgos.
“It’s the same with being a chief. We are a community, a brotherhood, a sisterhood. We take care of each other, we take care of our Sailors and we also take care of the people who came before us.”
As a member of the chief community, helping other Sailors will always be an important and essential part of developing the next generation of leaders.
“It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a chief, even if you put it on yesterday some young Sailor will come up to you and have a question that you need to know the answer to,” said Senior Chief Hull Technician Aaron Lyon. “To be a chief means you are the subject matter expert.”
As the Navy becomes more sophisticated and advanced, the call for deck plate leadership is one that will continuously need to be answered. Through redesigning the tools used to shape modern-day chiefs, the Navy is creating more professional, resilient and engaged leaders. Ultimately, the training given to chiefs trickles down to the Sailors under their leadership and leads to a better Navy as a whole.
Story by MC3 William Blees