According to folklore, goats were kept aboard Navy ships during the days of the wooden sailing ship. They were highly valued for their ability to provide milk and cheese for sustenance and to do the work of consuming shipboard refuse. When the rank of chief petty officer (CPO) was established, no ships had separate berthings for senior enlisted personnel. The newly-minted chiefs gladly accepted the same quarters as the ship’s most invaluable crewmember, the goat, leading to the term “Goat Locker.”
After a month of being tried, tested and proven to be true, Makin Island’s Chiefs Mess made room in the goat locker for 27 newly frocked chiefs, Sept. 15.
Before they don the combination cover and the gold fouled anchors symbolizing the rank of chief petty officer, the selectees must be tempered like the steel hull of the ship’s they sail.
Part of this initiation into the mess is a six-week training period known as CPO 365 Phase II, which began when the CPO advancement results were officially released. During Phase II, senior enlisted leaders introduced the chief selectees to a myriad of challenges designed to strengthen their leadership skills and to provide a better understanding of what it means to be a Navy chief. Phase II also included training on the history and traditions of the chiefs mess, physical challenges, and mentorship.
“Throughout the training cycle, chief selects will be put through physical training, leadership scenarios, and be involved in daily CPO activities,” said Command Master Chief Larry Lynch. “The goal is to give them the opportunity and foresight on what they will encounter after donning anchors and how to face adversity while handling their responsibilities as ‘the chief’ on the deck plates.”
Chief Gunner’s Mate Rachel Maestas added that through each event they took part in, there was always a lesson to be learned and applied.
“Whether it was a team building exercise, an evolution at work or something happening in our personal lives, there is always something we can take from that to learn from and pass on to our Sailors,” said Maestas.
Chief Legalman Shanna Todd said that although the training is aimed to emphasize humility and honoring the traditions and legacy of those who came before them, it goes beyond the personal development of the new chief.
“Even though we work on building the chief selects into minted chiefs, we also stress the importance of using their new rank and responsibility to continue to work for their Sailors’ successes,” explained Todd. “They also learn that they are never alone in these endeavors. They now have the combined experience and trust of the Chief’s mess to lean on when they need it.”
To help bring the chief selects into the folds of the mess, they are assigned sponsors after their initial selection.
“A sponsor is tasked as a guide for the six-week ‘chief season’ to aid in the transition from chief select to chief,” said Todd. “They also continue to mentor the newly frocked chief for their first year in the mess with the purpose of offering an outlet for guidance from someone with different career experience outside of the select’s chain of command.”
Lynch explained that there is a method to selecting sponsors. They are selected by not only seniority and experience in the mess, but also by their strengths and how they complement each individual selectee.
“Sponsors are responsible for guiding the selectees by being involved in each evolution,” said Lynch. “They are there as a guide, mentor and counsel in every scenario that the selectee would need help piecing together.”
Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Dustin James said that having a sponsor was pivotal during the process.
“One of the biggest things I was able to take away from my sponsor and the mess was how to see the big picture and prioritize,” James explained. “When you’re a first class or a second (class), you may be expected to prioritize based on certain specializations, but as a chief, you have to step back, see the big picture and evaluate every outcome of every possible scenario. You then need to use this foresight to prioritize tasks or even events in your personal life that you may have overlooked before.”
Maestas added that, throughout the training cycle, whenever times were tough, her sponsor helped her to keep a positive attitude.
“During one point in the training, I was really struggling, but that struggle was met with nothing but encouraging words and their belief in me which helped me persevere,” said Maestas. “Through that encouragement, I discovered that my will to fight and strive were much stronger than I previously had thought.”
Despite the challenging road to making chief, the newest members of the chiefs mess acknowledge that this is an incredible milestone, but not the final destination.
“After serving for 13 years, I still have plenty of gas in the tank to refocus my attention on my Sailors and those around the command,” said James. “Now that I’m at this level, I can use my experience to guide them in the right direction and ensure that they have all the opportunities to succeed in the Navy and in life.”
Maestas noted that her success was not only her own and that they all owe their ascension to chief to the supporting casts around them. She emphatically expressed, “There is no way that I could have gotten to this point without the help of my junior Sailors and my supporting family. I just want to continue to make them proud and use my new position to continue mentoring and developing any junior Sailors and officers who come to me for guidance and even those who don’t.”
Lynch expanded by saying that as soon as they put on their anchors, the expectations and responsibilities only increase as they move forward in their careers.
“At the end of the day, chiefs are expected to lead Sailors,” expanded Lynch. “After the trials, ceremonies and celebrations are complete, the new chiefs are expected to do what every chief petty officer is charged to do: lead their Sailors by being true to themselves and effect change at any possible chance by showing Sailors what right looks like through their combined experience and the examples they set.”
Like the ship’s goat of old, the Navy chief embodies a being who is willing to act as a servant leader by doing the necessary work, no matter how thankless; to deliver the sustenance of experience and deckplate leadership invaluable for the growth of their Sailors, and to display the resilience and fortitude to work earnestly every day. For those who display the strength, dedication and perseverance of the Navy goat, there will come a time when they will earn their place in the goat locker.