From the Deckplates

By Senior Chief Jim Murphy, U.S. Navy (Retired)

It's easy to view these officers with shame and let the blame end there. It is considerably more difficult to admit that professionals rarely fail alone. It's painful to seek root causes and admit that past failures of the chain-of-command allowed some officers to advance beyond their abilities, as suggested in the case involving the former commanding officer of the USS Cowpens (CG-63), Captain Holly Graf.

Also difficult is an honest appraisal of the so-called leadership triad: commanding officer, executive officer, and Command Master Chief (CMC). In most cases when a commander fails, someone else failed to provide the support, advice, or course correction that leader needed. Rarely does anything happen at that level where suspicion or prior knowledge didn't exist. When a commander fails, it begs the question, where was the Command Master Chief ? In the case of the Cowpens , how was a commanding officer allowed to mistreat the crew for so long ? These situations confirm a long-held view of the CMC program—it turns crucial enlisted leaders into politicians.

The discussion on righting the course broached the idea of seeking CMC input before recommending an executive officer for command - a fine idea, indeed. Yet an unnamed CMC was paraphrased in a 14 May 2010 Stars and Stripes article by Erik Slavin as stating that he "most likely could not give an honest assessment of his boss, since retribution could adversely affect his future assignments." Blasphemy!

Providing honest input to all levels of the chain-of-command is the primary responsibility of a Command Master Chief. This CMC clearly stated he is unwilling to do his job, and confirmed the long-witnessed politics of the CMC program.

The hallmark of any good Chief Petty Officer is the willingness to provide honest feedback—requested or otherwise—even while putting one's career at risk. It is the most important trait of a good Chief, bar none.

The anonymous CMC was very likely a good Chief, but the politics of the CMC program made him lose his way. By its very nature, the program provides a disincentive for one to speak freely by creating a quasi-promotion system where one did not exist. CMCs like the one quoted here don't rock the boat for fear of negatively impacting ascension to Fleet and Force Master Chief billets.

In the January 2010 issue of Proceedings , retired Captain Kevin Eyer reviewed the Chiefs' Mess and pointed to the "loss in the sort of charismatic leadership" that used to be prevalent among CMCs. He provided an opportunity for reflection in many areas, including the CMC program. The U.S. Fleet Forces Master Chief rightly posted the article to his own blog. Unfortunately, while he encouraged discussion of the Chiefs' Mess, he silenced debate on the CMC program with his characterization of Captain Eyer's points as but a "few mis-aimed shots" at the Chief Petty Officer and Command Master Chief selection process.

Just as CMCs are not reviewed by the Career Status Board, the program is apparently too sacrosanct for honest debate. What a missed opportunity to point the finger inward on this and other topics. This reaction to a promising debate was unfair, counterproductive, and an indication of what's wrong with a well-intended program.

Senior Chief Murphy transferred to the Fleet reserve on 31 December 2008 after 21 years of active service. He served his entire career in the cryptologic community and was a qualified submariner.

Senior Chief Murphy will transfer to the fleet reserve on 31 December 2008 after more than 21 years of active duty.

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