Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens speaks with chief petty officers in January in Groton, Conn. He ordered a two-day standdown in August after two allegations of misconduct related to chief-select training. (MC2 Thomas L. Rosprim / Navy)
Stevens warned chiefs that training can be shut down if problems persist. (Mike Morones / Staff)
Active-duty and retired chiefs have sparred over MCPON's decision. Read some selected comments here and share yours with us at email@example.com.
Barely a week into this year’s chief season, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens ordered a Navy-wide, 48-hour timeout.
He caught wind of two allegations of misconduct, and wanted to send a strong message to the leadership mess.
“If we think that CPO selectee training cannot be shut down — we are wrong,” MCPON said. “If we want to be responsible for training our future chiefs, then we must do it in a professional manner.”
After a two-day standdown, the chief-select training, known as CPO 365 Phase II, resumed. During the pause, chiefs were instructed to review the rules and the importance of treating selectees with respect.
Details of the misconduct cases are largely unclear. Stevens told Navy Times he reached out to one complainant but that the sailor wished to remain anonymous and would not name the command nor file a formal complaint. The other complainant, also anonymous, sent an email to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and forwarded it to MCPON’s office.
Stevens declined to share the emails with Navy Times. CNO spokesman Capt. Danny Hernandez also declined to share CNO’s emails, describing them as “private correspondence” between the admiral and the whistle-blower.
“That said, the exchange was enough for him to follow up, and in this case, that was done by passing the information to the MCPON,” Hernandez said.
“CNO has been very clear from the start of his time in the job that he feels strongly that shipmates must always treat each other with respect and dignity, regardless of circumstances and in everything we do.”
Sources familiar with the complaints said both cases involved verbal abuse, not physical. Chiefs were using profanity and demeaning selectees, the sources said. Such behavior is banned according to the rules for CPO 365, the process in which petty officers first class are trained up and prepared to pin on their anchors.
Whatever language was used, it was harsh enough for Stevens to issue the standdown and tell chiefs he suspects there are “some CPO messes operating outside of CPO 365 guidance.”
Hazing and high jinks, once common in the Navy, can no longer be tolerated, Stevens has said. As part of changes to CPO 365 that Stevens issued in January, he sundowned use of the term “induction” altogether because of its link to bad behavior.
“We will respect and treat those that have been selected to become chief petty officers in the same way that we treat each other and that is NOT open to interpretation,” Stevens wrote in his guidance, the foundations of which began under MCPON (SS/SW) Rick West.
Tough, meaningful and substantive training, Stevens told Navy Times, can be done without any negative behaviors. Those rules aren’t only for chiefs’ training and are in effect all over the Navy in training environments.
“The final training phase for training our new chief petty officer selectees shouldn’t be any different,” Stevens said.
'Old guard' sounds off
When Navy Times reported news of the standdown online Aug. 13, it garnered hundreds of comments, many of them critical of the decision to rein in chiefs.
Stevens acknowledged that social media erupted over his move, but was quick to note that the vast majority of detractors were retirees. While Stevens said he applauds their passion, and understands their complaints, he said they need the context of today’s Navy to fully understand the changes.
“I know it seems to many, and especially our alumni chiefs, that we’ve made a huge shift in policy and execution this year,” Stevens said. “That’s simply not the case. And since CPO 365 came online, we have been on this path. So what we did is formalize, Navy-wide, best practices developed in the fleet.”
He compared the standdown to something any chief petty officer would do when confronted with unacceptable behavior. He was “simply telling them to knock it off” and think about their decision-making. But he also wanted to impart that while he was “leaving them with a warning, they may not be that lucky the next time.”
Any formal complaints during chief season will be fully investigated, Stevens added.
“As the master chief petty officer of the Navy, I’m in charge of the Navy collective chiefs’ mess, and I’m running that just like I did when I ran my mess as a command master chief,” he said. “I stand by my decisions to take our CPO 365 training in a more professional direction, and I’m not wavering. This guidance is how I expect my mess to conduct business and everyone, including myself, is accountable to see we do this right.”
Stevens said his own chief induction, which involved whipped cream on mystery “food,” would be considered hazing by today’s standards. And while those practices “worked well for their time and solidly established the prominence of our CPO Mess,” Stevens believes they belong in the past.
Retirees decried an end to traditions, but some active-duty sailors fought back against the naysayers.
“Here we go again. ... The old guard is better than the new, we’ve gotten soft, weak, blah blah blah,” wrote Benjamin Wilson in a Facebook post on the Navy Times page. “Get with the times and embrace the future with its changing culture. Live in the past; get left behind.”
Wilson, who according to his public Facebook page is a Navy corpsman in Washington, D.C., stated that no one in the discussion knows exactly what the complaints were, and he’s choosing to trust MCPON on this one.
“I feel it would be a fairly safe assumption that the MCPON wouldn’t have ordered a Navy-wide standdown on this if they were not credible and serious,” he said.
Stevens’ message was reinforced by Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of Fleet Forces Command, who sent out an Aug. 13 “personal for” message.
“All CPO messes, Navy-wide, should review his guidance and ensure their respective plans to execute phase II are professional and beyond reproach,” he wrote.
Gortney reminded commanders that they are “ultimately responsible” for all training and events that happen at their command.
He also expanded the scope of the standdown. “Prior to the resumption of CPO 365 training, I am directing all commanders, commanding officers and officers in charge be briefed by your command master chief/command senior enlisted leader on your command’s plan for accomplishing the remainder of CPO 365 training,” he wrote in the message.
In addition, he said the conduct standards for this training should be “no different than those for other training evolutions.”
“I expect that our chiefs will lead by example, and they will treat one another and those selected to become chief petty officers with dignity and respect … and I expect your command master chiefs/senior enlisted leaders will lead this process and provide the necessary course correction if the situation warrants.”
While he began his message insisting that professionalism can’t be compromised in the process, he finished with a nod to how all sailors and their leaders — past and present — view the final transition to the goat locker.
“Becoming a chief petty officer is a career milestone that has no peer among our sister services. This monumental transition from petty officer to chief is something these sailors will remember for the rest of their lives,” he wrote. “We owe them a safe and meaningful training that produces ‘Tested, Tried and Accepted’ leaders who are prepared to lead our Navy into the future.”
The Navy’s latest crop of chiefs will be pinned Sept. 13.