Chief petty officers-select wearing 'CPO Pride' T-shirts participate in a 5K run aboard the future aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford in August. The shirts, which were banned during training under last year's CPO 365 guidance, will be allowed this year. (MC1 Joshua Wahl/Navy)
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YOUR TURN: NEW CHIEFS SOUND OFF ON LATEST TRAINING SEASONThe overhaul of chief’s season last year was controversial. But not for many selectees who went through it.
They said it was tough, exhilarating, grueling, rewarding — everything they had expected in their transition to the chief’s mess.
“We were not hazed, injured or demeaned this year, but you can bet we were tried, tempered, tested and accepted just like any chief who have gone before us,” said one chief fire controlman, who asked for anonymity to publicly discuss his chief’s season.
Navy Times asked chiefs who went through Phase II of CPO 365 in August and September to provide their take and received nearly 70 replies via Facebook and email. Some said the training had been “fun” while others took potshots at Navy Times for even asking, saying: “What happens in the mess stays in the mess!”
But the unnamed FCC and the others who participated in the training say it was arduous and professionally fulfilling. And they aren’t fazed by old-timers who say they had it easier. Here are some comments from those who went through it. They have been edited for space and clarity.
‘WE WERE TRIED, TESTED’Many times this year I received feedback from CPOs from the past that CPO 365 Phase II would not teach me the true values I would need to be a chief.
I don’t believe we missed out on anything. We went through everything that our [command master chief] fit within the [master chief petty officer of the Navy’s] guidelines without anyone becoming permanently injured or hazed.
Does it really make you a better chief to dress up in a diaper and eat rotten cheese while the CPO mess stands around throwing food at you, like the initiations of the past? Or does it better serve the Navy to humble every CPO selectee through methods not considered hazing and make us stronger through physical and mental training sessions?
I think old, salty retirees or CPOs who are overdue for retirement believe that this year was just classroom training for everyone who went through it. Not true at all — and if it was for some commands, then the mess didn’t deliver a creative product within the very broad guidelines.
We were not hazed, injured or demeaned this year, but you can bet we were tried, tempered, tested and accepted just like any chief who has gone before us.
— Chief fire controlman at a New York state-based shore installationJUST AS TOUGH THIS YEARChief’s season is all about what you, as the leader, make it — what you want to take on board, whether it is being taught to you or not.
At the end of the day it is about being accepted, as with any brotherhood or sisterhood. You have to want to be a part of a time-honored and great tradition. The things in the past we never knew about, aside from what we may have seen in passing during the “season.” At the end, you knew that there would be a pinning, and you knew that you would shake the hand of that chief on that one day in September. That is how I felt this year.
Through it all — and I do mean all — I knew that along with the tests would be a reward, and the reward would be the honor of being called a chief. So to all those first classes looking to advance, all of the rhetoric and questions about what may or may have not happened in the past have no bearing on what you as a future chief may need to expect when you are selected.
— Chief Yeoman (SW/AW) Coby TurnerBACKBONE OF THE NAVYI have personally participated in CPO 365 Phase I as a mentor and in CPO 365 as a co-sponsor. In my opinion, the process affords future chief petty officers ... the training needed to be future CPOs and to build 21st-century sailors. With that being said, I also feel that the future chief petty officers need to take the training seriously and understand that we as leaders are empowered to lead as well as take care of sailors; we are entrusted by parents [and] families to help sailors grow personally [and] professionally and that we are depended upon to produce good citizens who will be productive in their lives after the Navy. A change in a process, rank, command or uniform doesn’t change who a sailor is.
I am not ashamed of the CPO season, nor would I be embarrassed to be a part of or have my name attached to any of the evolutions that were [or] are conducted during CPO 365. I can also say that I am 100 percent confident that regardless of how “watered down” the process may seem by some — CPOs are, and will always be, the backbone of the Navy.
— Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW) Maria Teresa Decena-TaylorNONSTOP TRAININGI found the training this year challenging, well thought out and conducted in a professional manner at all times. Every evolution had a real-world application.
I can’t speak for any FY ’14 CPO but myself, but I can say that from my perspective, every chief that conducted training took the MCPON’s guidance seriously, and the training I received would be equally relevant to a civilian employer as it is to the Navy.
I say that as a reservist with a strong understanding of acceptable corporate culture as well as Navy culture. It is clear that Navy leadership intends the chiefs’ mess to be fully qualified to participate in leading a professional organization — one that recognizes the difference between relevant team-building and the anachronisms of sophomoric hazing.
Since the Reserve board results came out [Aug. 26], leaving us mere weeks to complete Phase II, many of us were concerned we wouldn’t get the training we needed or would be viewed as second-class citizens of the mess because “induction” was retired. Our concerns were laid to rest with near nonstop training and a mess that has welcomed us with open arms and ears. My only thoughts now are to get as many of my sailors selected as possible for fiscal 2015.
— Chief Electronics Technician (SW) Justin SmithWhat do you think of MCPON’s rule changes? Make your voice heard at
; include your name, rate/rank and hometown/duty station and your letter may appear in an upcoming edition of Navy Times.
The Navy’s top sailor revamped the chief-season rites last year, a controversial move that shook up many chiefs, old and new.
Now,after the first season under the new rules, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens is ordering some course corrections to build on the new direction — many of them changes suggested by his chiefs.
Stevens is bringing back “CPO Pride” T-shirts and again allowing outsiders to become honorary chiefs, but is beefing up the requirements for how he expects nonselected first classes to participate during chief season’s Phase II, the preferred name for the weeks-long initiation process previously known as “induction.”
Stevens said the changes to the CPO 365 training regimen — broken into Phase I of daily training and Phase II, which begins when the selectees are announced — are the result of feedback from his fleet master chiefs after the 2012-13 season wrapped up in September.
“Overall, I was extremely pleased with CPO 365 in 2013 and how the CPO mess embraced it and the great work they did,” Stevens said in an exclusive interview Jan. 8. “For the mess it was a pretty significant change, but the one thing that I’m so proud of is their ability to accept that change, embrace it, and make it work.”
Last year’s chief season was eventful. It began with Stevens’ official removal of the word “induction,” which provoked a backlash. Many argued he was stamping out traditions, while Stevens said it was time to give sophomoric rites the heave-ho.
Then, Stevens ordered a two-day forcewide standdown in August, a week into Phase II, after verbal abuse allegations arose. Days later, a dozen chiefs-select were hospitalized after undergoing grueling physical training at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Stevens believes the existing rules are about right and expects to improve the program through more tweaks.
“We’re in a good place, though [I] don’t think we’re there yet — you have to be careful when you get an attitude that says you’re comfortable where you’re at, then there’s a tendency to stop seeking improvement,” he said. “I think in our CPO mess, we’re our own toughest critics because chief petty officers are never completely satisfied — they’re always striving for that next level of excellence.”
Pride shirts are back by popular demand, Stevens said.
Stevens said there was an “outcry” from the fleet last year when he banned the shirts and admits that he “got that wrong.” The new rules allow the chief-designed and printed “pride” shirts as a substitute for the yellow Navy physical training uniform shirt.
“My intent in doing away with them was to create uniformity,” he said. “But I didn’t fully appreciate or recognize just how important those shirts were to the CPO mess. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have done it.”
Allowing the custom-designed shirts, he said, brings “a sense of pride to the unit and allows the individuals to show their creativity.”
These custom-designed shirts often feature inspiring messages or images, from muscled goats wearing chief covers to crossed cutlasses alongside the logo “the chosen few.”
The new guidance states that chief petty officers should “always present a proud and professional appearance” and that pride shirts should “provide a well-fitting, professional military bearing.” It also reiterates the blue Navy PT shorts are the only shorts authorized for wear during CPO 365 PT sessions.
But Stevens stopped short of dictating any further details about the pride shirts.
“We don’t specify what they should look like or try to dictate anything about them,” he said. “I trust my CPO messes to do this right so I don’t have to get into the do’s and don’ts about pride shirts.”
Minting honorary chiefs
Stevens also approved the practice of creating honorary chiefs via the CPO 365 program — a reversal pushed hard by many in the fleet.
The new rules allow for senior enlisted in the other U.S. military branches, E-7 and above, to participate and become honorary chiefs. But Stevens upped the bar for those who want to earn their honorary anchors.
Under the old rules, the members only had to go through Phase II of the process to get the honorary designation. But the new rules require them to participate for an entire year — through both phases of the program to earn honorary anchors.
“The mess as a whole agrees that being made an honorary chief petty officer is an honor and a big deal, and that we should set standards if people are going to be made an honorary chief,” Stevens said.
“It isn’t something you can just do during the last five or six weeks of the training or just during Phase II. You must do both phases. And everybody agrees this is the right way forward.”
Who's in charge
Stevens is trying to clarify some of the rules for next season to ensure that as many sailors as possible take part in the training.
Last year, Stevens said he wanted as much participation as possible from first classes in Phase II — even those who weren’t picked up for chief. That caused some confusion.
“I got a lot of questions as to what exactly that meant,” he said. “My original guidance made it sound to some like they were to participate with the selectees all the time, but my intent was for messes to determine which parts of training that was possible for and when it was not.
“I didn’t clarify this in the guidance, though I did talk about it during all-hands calls and we’ve fixed that this year.”
And for sea lawyers out there, he also made it clear who will be held responsible for the proper and safe conduct of the training, year-round.
“I didn’t clarify very well who’s responsible — who is in charge,” Stevens said. “We use the phrase command master chief — CMC — throughout the guidance, but this year, we make it clear [that the] terms ‘command master chief’ and ‘senior enlisted leader’ are synonymous.
“If you’re the senior enlisted leader ... wherever you see CMC throughout the guidance, this means you,” Stevens said, adding: “You are singularly accountable for the safe conduct of the training.”
The clarification, he said, was necessary just to ensure everyone is on the same sheet of music and that there’s accountability for how the training is conducted.
“I’ve got units out there that have chiefs and senior chiefs running the show as the senior enlisted leaders and if someone wanted to play with words, they could very well say, ‘I’m not a CMC and so this does not apply to me.’”
The final test
Last year, Stevens put restrictions on the final 24 hours of training and asked that commands come up with “BattleStations-like” events for their selectees to complete during their final day as first class petty officers.
“I’m amazed with what we have learned traveling around the fleet and learning different ways commands and communities have used their individual assets and needs to put together very meaningful training events,” he said.
Chiefs and officials are keeping mum about the specifics of the final tests, meant only for those chosen. Stevens would only say that most take on the flavor of the community giving them.
“What the submarine sailors do in Groton won’t necessarily match exactly what the Seabees do in Gulfport,” Stevens said. “But other than staying in the guidelines we provide, they are only limited by their imagination to make this a tough but meaningful experience these new chiefs will look back on as probably the significant moment in their careers.”
Here, too, Stevens is short on any mandates, stating only in the guidance that “it must galvanize the basic attributes of trust, teamwork, dedication and endurance through practical application of knowledge, skills and abilities acquired throughout the year.”
The events should build “trust, teamwork, dedication and endurance” and “use a serious tone that conveys the gravity of this milestone,” according to the rules.
Stevens said his goal is that new chiefs will “look back at CPO 365 as the most rewarding experience of their careers. It’s up to you to ensure they do.”
Now that he’s set the wheels in motion, don’t expect Stevens to shake up the process much in the future. Such moves have met with plenty of resistance in the past.
“The changes you see in this guidance is probably now going to be consistent with what you’ll see from me for the remaining time I’m in office,” he said. “I have no intentions of making any more major changes, though we’ll continue to look for ways to improve it and make those refinements as they come up.”
But that doesn’t mean he won’t be watching, either.
“The No. 1 message I want people to take away from this guidance is that we’ve proven that we can make this challenging and we can make it hard, and we can do all those things while treating each other with dignity and respect throughout,” he said.