Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
Turning Into Chiefs - The Journey from Blue Shirt to Khaki

More than 4,700 first class petty officers throughout the Navy received the big news, Aug. 8, that they were selected for the rank of chief​​ petty officer (CPO), widely considered the biggest milestone in an enlisted Sailor’s career. Less than 10 percent of all who enter the enlisted ranks are eventually selected. Chiefs not only are considered the subject-matter experts in their rates, but are also expected to effectively lead and train junior Sailors and even junior officers.

Before they receive their anchors and assume that level of responsibility, though, the CPO Mess puts the new selectees through CPO initiation, typically a six-week transition to becoming a chief.

During CPO initiation, chief selectees participate in group physical fitness activities, read deeper into naval heritage, participate in core values discussions, perform various civic and community projects, and receive intensive one-on-one mentorship from the CPO Mess. This year’s initiation ended with a formal pinning ceremony on Sept. 14.

“Watching the growth and progression is something you can see in the way that they carry themselves,” said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Owen Hondorf, CPO initiation FY-19 chairman for Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. “One of the coolest parts of initiation is seeing a selectee, starting off with a certain level of accomplishment and euphoria from being selected, evolve, grow and gain confidence.”

As our Navy’s newest CPOs donned their anchors of gold at ceremonies across the fleet, it was prudent for them and the collective chiefs Mess to briefly pause and consider how the CPO brand of leadership can have a positive and lasting effect.


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“Everything I ever learned about leadership, I learned from a chief petty officer,” said Senator John McCain during a 2008 U.S. presidential debate.

Many decades ago a chief petty officer somewhere, took a young Ensign McCain under his wing. Through personal example, good management, and moral responsibility – that chief made his mark and influenced a life.

Chief Logistics Specialist Jay Baker, of Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Chief Cryptologic Technician (Maintenance) Blake Phelps, of USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), then, mid-way through this year’s initiation, shared how the process was molding them into future chief petty officers.

“Before I started this process I wasn’t comfortable talking to people, but being around my fellow brothers and sisters, I’m learning that you need to step away from yourself and utilize others,” said Baker. “Things you thought you knew, you realize you don’t know, and things that you need to know, you are learning.”

Becoming a chief petty officer means something different to every CPO selectee during in CPO Initiation. To Baker it was reaching a dream that he had for more than 18 years in the Navy.

“Since I joined the Navy, I always looked at the rank of chief petty officer as a dream that I would one day achieve,” said Baker. “I’m pleased to say that this year [was] the year.”

During CPO initiation Phelps realized that all of the hard work senior enlisted, mentors and his junior Sailors did for him during his career got him to his moment of becoming a chief petty officer.

“I’m learning that I don’t know everything like I thought I did. I have learned how to humble myself and show some humility,” said Phelps during the process. “The teamwork aspect is really important, but honestly it’s more along the lines of showing us that we will be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves, something Navy wide, and we are learning to see the big picture.”

For the FY-19 chief selectees, the Navy introduced a new part of the curriculum called 'Laying the Keel.' The courses were short in duration, but high impact, adult learning experiences facilitated by trained and certified senior enlisted leaders. The courses focused on the topics of character, ethics, leadership, the profession of arms, self-awareness, and decision making.

“Laying the keel, being the focus of the training this year, [was] the most important change to the curriculum,” said Hondorf. “This year [was] focused on bringing the training evolutions in tune with the CPO creed.”

“This highly successful program has so much potential, not only to build future chief petty officers, but also to make our current chief’s mess and all Navy leaders better,” said Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John M. Richardson.

“This is a tradition that has been used for well over 100 years,” said Hondorf. “It is steeped in our tradition and is focused on allowing these newly selected chiefs the opportunity to see scenarios from different points of view and get them thinking in a different way than they are used to.”

Former MCPON Mike Stevens summed up why it is important to continue a strong legacy of chief petty officers.

“Our Navy trusts and follows the Chief not because of rank or position, rather because of the reverence that has been earned through a legacy of excellence.Surface Warfare Magazine

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