“It is now required that you be the fountain of wisdom, the ambassador of goodwill, the authority in personal relations as well as in technical applications.”
— The CPO Creed
In 1893, several hundred men were selected for advancement to the grade of chief petty officer (CPO). Since then, the rank of chief has been a respected position of authority in the U.S. Navy. Following the announcement of selection board results every August through September, the CPO mess engages in a process designed to challenge chief selects and bring them into the network of the CPO mess. During this process we:
- Explain and work to instill the unique values, beliefs, and expectations captured in the CPO Creed
- Test their ability to seek help from and collaborate with the CPO mess to meet command-wide objectives under time constraints
- Explain the tremendous CPO mess reputation they now are accountable for protecting and how it serves to hold individual members to the highest levels of professionalism and personal performance
- Gauge their reliability, loyalty, confidence, and humility
- Eliminate apprehension regarding
- the CPO mess, so they can contribute immediately and effectively once
- Look for personal liabilities that could affect the CPO mess reputation and provide coaching and feedback when deficiencies are identified
This initiating process is important because it helps selectees understand their new obligations to their command, the mess, and their sailors in the demanding and unforgiving profession of naval warfare. But it also provides an opportunity for us—existing chiefs and officers—to reflect on our roles in ensuring the CPO mess remains strong Navy-wide and can fulfill its duties of ensuring our ships and sailors are prepared to fight, win, and survive in high-end naval warfighting scenarios.
Officers and chiefs form key relationships that support and enable an effective chief petty officer. In this birthday month, I would like to highlight these relationships and their importance to our CPO mess.
Most naval officers understand that the CPO mess shaped the success of their commands and careers. The wardroom leans on the CPO mess for their solid management skills, technical authority, institutional expertise, and active communication. They know that without an engaged and fully functioning chiefs’ mess a command will not perform to its potential and is at risk of failure. In return, the chiefs’ mess expects to be empowered and supported by their officers. To quote one commanding officer:
Officers may have grand ideas, formulate strategy, and think tactics. But without a chief to carry the water for him, to take the rubber to the road, to see the tactics through to execution, everything he thinks or says or writes is so much finger painting, so much vaporing, so much ephemera. With the Chiefs’ mess on your side, all things are possible. If they turn against you, because you can’t live up to their expectations of an officer—these are, thankfully, much less stringent than their expectations for themselves—you will fail. It is exactly that simple.
These observations remain true today, so we should all pause and reflect on how well our CPO mess is enabled and supported by the wardroom. Do the tools of good order and discipline reside in the hands of your chiefs? When chiefs assert their authority in the best interest of the command or sailor, do you support them? Do you accept the chief’s input on nonjudicial punishment or evaluations as your own because you know the chief knows what’s best? Are you the executive officer who stands watch over the quarterdeck and monitors liberty call rather than accepting that the chiefs have things under control? Are you adding or removing administrative processes and bureaucratic obstacles that distract chiefs from managing material and sailor readiness?
I have been a chief for more than 21 years and a command master chief (CMC) for almost 14 of those. I have seen how poor officer leadership and management can cause the CPO mess to become resentful and disengage, as well as how great wardroom management and leadership can empower the mess, which then makes great things happen for the command. Chiefs will deliver results, but we need to know we are trusted, supported, and that the officers have our backs when the heat comes. Chiefs need room to maneuver with a variety of influence tactics. When they feel they will not be supported, they may hesitate or fail to engage when required.
But chiefs, we need to deliver. Don’t claim your power has been taken away without considering how effectively you use the ample power and influence with which you have been vested. Are you the fountain of wisdom, the ambassador of goodwill, and the authority in personal relations and technical applications cited in our CPO Creed? Are you taking full and honest ownership for your division’s, department’s, and command’s standards and performance? Do you hold effective quarters and walk your spaces? Do you train, educate, and advise your division officer, department head, executive officer, and commanding officer and guide their development into and sustainment as competent leaders? Do you invite them to the mess for a meal or a cup of coffee so you can build the trust and the commitment and support that follow?
CMCs must recognize that their role is to ensure this relationship remains healthy. When a CPO mess grows complacent or disengaged, the price is high and is paid with inefficiency, frustration, and rework—all of which are levied on the backs of our sailors. Be the linchpin that facilitates an ongoing and healthy dialog between your wardroom and mess. On occasion, it will be strained, but when the relationship is strong, the command and your sailors will benefit.
The CPO Mess
Chiefs are a force multiplier. To maintain the strength and effectiveness of our network, we must develop and nurture good relationships among ourselves. Our CPO Creed emphasizes the importance of trust and fellowship within the mess and explains that we have special responsibilities to each other.
Charting the Course to Command Excellence explains the characteristics of a superior CPO mess:1
In superior commands, the Chiefs quarters functions as a tight knit team. The Chiefs coordinate well, seek inputs from each other, help with personal problems, identify with the command’s philosophy and goals, and treat each other with professional respect.
A strong CPO mess develops and uses self-accountability to set the proper tone and example for the crew. Self-doubt and victim playing are not attributes of U.S. Navy chiefs. Yes, process, policy, and resources affect your ability to maintain readiness, but we have a history of maintaining readiness even in resource-constrained times. Don’t wait for permission or to be asked to do what you know needs to be done.
Together, the mess is able to overcome the shortcomings and mitigate the impact of the weakest chief, but we then must engage that struggling chief and get him or her back on course. If we do not or cannot, the credibility of the CPO mess slowly will erode. During initiation, we hold CPO selects accountable if they fail to live up to our standards. We must hold ourselves to those same standards each and every day.
In addition, to build the relationships, strengthen the bonds, and cultivate trust within our mess, we must pause from time to time and gather away from work. We have an obligation to each other to attend hail and farewells, promotions, and retirements. Not because the command master chief tells us to, but because it demonstrates loyalty and is the right thing to do. It is a privilege that comes with being a member of the mess; it demonstrates solidarity; and it strengthens our network.
CMCs and other senior members of the mess must encourage mess collaboration. You set the tone for your mess. Be firm but fair. Demand accountability and discipline within the mess but remain approachable. Within your mess reside our reliefs. Train and lead them well and the Navy will benefit for years to come.
From the time John Paul Jones issued his call in 1777 for “able-bodied landsmen,” the role of the enlisted force has remained consistent. We maintain, operate, and support naval warfighting systems and platforms. Our mission, and our focus, is to be prepared to conduct prompt and sustained combat incident to operations at sea and decisively defeat any enemy.
We all have had a first chief who impressed on us what a chief is and does. Some impressions were favorable and positive, others not so much. Our experiences shaped how we have acted and will act. Now our sailors learn what to do—and what not to do—from us. As chiefs, we transmit our culture through our daily actions and interactions with our officers and enlisted sailors.
Never underestimate the impact we have. We have been and will be many young sailors’ and officers’ first chief. Pause and evaluate the kind of impression you are making.
When chiefs are active and fully empowered to fulfill the charges laid out in our CPO Creed, our success is almost guaranteed and will help ensure our Navy is ready, willing, and fully able to fight, win, and survive. Happy 125th birthday U.S. Navy chief petty officers!
Author’s Note: Much of this content is taken from the draft for the 2nd edition of the Chief Petty Officer’s Guide, scheduled to be released by the Naval Institute Press later this year.\