From the Deckplates - How to Make a Chief Petty Officer

By Master Chief John R. Warrick, U.S. Navy (Retired), and Senior Chief Jim Murphy, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The ability and influence of chief petty officers as individuals and as a group have resulted in “Ask the chief” becoming a household phrase even for people who’ve never worn a uniform.

Many wonder just what it takes to become a successful chief. The answers to that question are as varied as the thousands of men and women who have worn the fouled-anchor rank insignia. There is no one perfect method, no magic formula, but there are some basic ingredients to making a chief petty officer.

The recipe starts with a base created from infinite amounts of history, tradition, customs, and courtesies. The base cannot be overlooked because from it everything else develops. It holds all the other ingredients together.

Next, add one ton each of integrity and credibility along with one barrel each of blood, sweat, and tears. Stir in equal parts understanding, compassion, and tolerance, being careful not to dilute the demand for excellence. Gently fold in the ability to comfort a shipmate who longs for home or to hold a yet-to-be-seen child. If time permits, add a pinch of the same for yourself.

Now add a splash of haze gray and a ton of salt. To give the mixture some character, add one barrel of rum—minus one shot—to celebrate missed birthdays, anniversaries, talent shows, Easter egg hunts, or any number of family events. Pausing now for a just a moment, or as long as necessary, consume the single shot while remembering and honoring fallen comrades.

With all ingredients combined, work the mixture into a strong, sturdy form. Work it gently so as not to cause the entire effort to collapse, but maintain a strong will, unwavering commitment, and steadfast confidence. Place the creation on a three-tiered platform of honor, courage, and commitment. Adorn with brass, Navy blue, and khaki. Sprinkle with heavy amounts of deckplate leadership, pride, sleepless nights, countless mid-watches, and cold showers. Illuminate with the flicker of light that burns brightly in the hearts of loved ones awaiting a safe return home and the pride of service that burns inside each sailor.

Once completed, let this mixture stand for 20 years or longer. Remove a piece of the finished product each year and add it to the next batch of chief petty officers.

The combination of qualities, experiences, and character traits that builds chiefs does not end when a sailor attains that rank. Quite to the contrary, these ingredients are continuously refined, meticulously monitored, reformed, and reheated with passion.

This is not a secret recipe even though some of the steps in the process occur behind the closed doors of the CPO Mess, but most of it takes place on deckplates throughout the world. Chiefs have been making new chiefs for decades, ever fine-tuning the process to continue and enhance a 119-year history of excellence. That history has proven this recipe yields great men and women, trusted brothers and sisters, one helluva Chief Petty Officers’ Mess, and the world’s greatest Navy. It creates some of the world’s best leaders, mentors, and counselors. It makes chief petty officers successful and enables the success of our entire Navy.

Senior Chief Murphy retired from the Navy after 21 years of service. He is a contributing author to Everyday Leader Heroes (Caboodle Books).

Master Chief Warrick served in numerous assignments throughout his 20 year career, including as a rating detailer, and as the Navy’s Senior Enlisted Leader, Red Team Operations, where his work was vital to creating the Cryptologic Technician Networks rating. He resides in Pensacola, Florida, where he serves as the deputy program manager and senior instructor for the Joint Cyber Analysis Course.




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