The Navy’s acting Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Fleet Master Chief (SW/IW/AW) Russ Smith, is calling on chief petty officers to “visibly lead” through the transition to the next MCPON and beyond.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson appointed Smith to temporarily take over the MCPON’s office after former MCPON (SG/IW) Steven Giordano’s resignation last week.

Smith’s signal of intent came quickly, as he sent a short but focused message to the enlisted leadership mess, a collection of master chiefs who work for the Navy’s flag officers.

The group, which also includes the fleet and force master chiefs, are the core advisors to the Navy’s top enlisted sailor and the engine necessary to help any MCPON impact enlisted issues in the fleet.

“While the timing and sudden nature of MCPON Giordano’s departure caught most by surprise, we are chiefs and we will rise to the occasion,” Smith said.

“As an institution we are strong enough to absorb this challenge, but we must visibly lead through it if we are to come out stronger on the other side.”

Navy Times reached out to Smith earlier this week for an interview, but was told he was currently unavailable, as he was not only stepping into the interim MCPON’s shoes, but still continuing his responsibilities as the senior enlisted advisor to the Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke.

“Fleet Smith is...familiarizing himself with his new duties and responsibilities, said Senior Chief Mass Communications Specialist (SW/AW) Hendrick Simoes, spokesman for the MCPON’s office. Simoes added that communication with sailors is a top priority of Smith’s and he’d start engaging with internal and external media very soon.

According to sources, Smith’s intent with this first message was to send a quick but calming message through the Navy’s collect ive chiefs mess and on to the Navy’s nearly 270,000 enlisted sailors.

Smith wrote that CNO Richardson didn’t want to leave the office, which has been filled continuously since it was formed in 1967, vacant as the search for the 15th MCPON was carried out.

“Master Chief Smith is an established leader and I thank him for accepting these important temporary duties until I select a new MCPON,” said Richardson in a press release. “He will represent our sailors and families well.”

Smith’s mandate from Richardson as the interim enlisted leader is simple, and that’s to “maintain the form and function of the office” during the transition, he wrote in the message.

This, he said, will give Richardson and the Navy’s leadership the time to properly vet qualified candidates and select a new MCPON.

“It is unclear how long the process will take,” said Smith. “This period should appear seamless to the Fleet...continued success for our sailors necessitates a truly collaborative effort in order to manage our way through this time effectively.”

Many in the leadership mess believe this transition will also give the Navy’s chief petty officers a chance to evaluate their own leadership styles.

“Judging from what I’ve seen on social media, the issues that brought this about have stirred some very emotional responses,” he said. “We need to carefully leverage our 3,000 master chiefs in communicating the way ahead to the Mess; this will be critical to binding up our wounds and re-establishing a laser-focus on lethality and war-fighting readiness.”

A native of Santa Barbara, California, Smith’s career will hit the 30-year mark on September 19.

During the past three decades, Smith has been no stranger to the fleet. He was selected for chief in 1998 onboard the aircraft carrier Vinson. Nine years later, he was selected to be command master chief.

He’s done four sea tours on three aircraft carriers, twice serving onboard the Abraham Lincoln, along with tours on the Enterprise and Vinson. He’s also served at sea with Seal Team Four, and as the command master chief of the guided-missile destroyer Momsen.

Smith’s career began as a non-designated airman. He served first as a weapons technician before cross-rating into intelligence specialist. As an IS, he served with the SEALs, as well as at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Before being named the fleet master chief for manpower, personnel and training, Smith was the command master chief at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“Our Navy, and especially the chiefs’ mess, is a learning organization,” Smith said to his nearly 30,000 strong senior enlisted leaders.

“Together we will continue to execute the plans and initiatives this group has been championing without missing a beat.”

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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