Chief selects sing cadence and march across base in this file photo. The Navy's top enlisted leader has called an end to the frat house-like shenanigans some units have incorporated into the lead-up to the advancement ceremonies. (MC1 Allison Pittam / Navy)
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When it comes to the age-old tradition of putting on chief's anchors, your top enlisted leader has a tough new message: Cut out all the shenanigans — for real this time.
Leaders have tried before to rein in the questionable antics often associated with chief petty officer initiations, but none has gone as far as Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens' new orders.
Alcohol is no longer permitted during any interactions with chiefs and first class petty officers — even during social events. Profanity is outlawed. And during those final hours before pinning, when selectees face initiation rites shrouded in mystery, good order and discipline must especially be maintained.
"We will respect and treat those that have been selected to become chief petty officers in the same way we treat each other and that is NOT open to interpretation," Stevens wrote in his new guidance.
Not only that, Stevens has eliminated all use of "chief petty officer induction," the term used to describe the lead-up to promotion.
"‘Induction' is hereby officially and respectfully sundowned," Stevens said in the message.
In its place, Stevens said, is the yearlong CPO 365 professional program introduced by his predecessor, MCPON (SS/SW) Rick West. The goal of CPO 365 is to prepare first classes to assume the role of the chief on the deck plates. It's not about initiations or anything that could approach hazing.
Stevens said his changes will make the process even more professional and finally rid the system of what many think are sophomoric pranks.
Stevens was poised to push his expectations to the fleet master chiefs Jan. 7, just as the fleet readies to take this year's chief petty officer exams this month for active duty and February for the Reserve.
The ‘Final Test'
The transition from the petty officer ranks to the chief's mess in the Navy and Coast Guard is unlike anything else in military services, and with it has come years of tradition.
Though the process has also been secretive, those final hours often contained everything from mock courts to cross-dressing to men in diapers.
Alcohol has been banned from these final-hours events for years, but Stevens said fatigue often brings the same dangers and leads sailors to compromise safety and good judgment.
Those final hours will now be taken up by what Stevens describes as the "Final Test." He described this as a "capstone event focused on the critical relevance of teamwork and resilience."
He likened the spirit and intent to the "Battlestations 21" event that recruits must pass through to become sailors.
"Battlestations is a professional rite of passage and not a fraternal rite of passage," Stevens said. "When you put on that fouled anchor, you should feel like you've gone through a rite of passage."
By design, he's only given a few overall rules about the conduct of this event, saying that it can't be more than 18 hours long and will "conclude no later than midnight on the evening before pinning."
Exactly what will happen in the event will vary, he said, from command to command and even by community.
"The kind of event you'll have in Afghanistan will necessarily be different from what you would do on the [aircraft carrier John C.] Stennis," he said.
Only active, reserve and retired chiefs can participate, Stevens said, the only exception being that commanding and executive officers and officers in charge can be invited.
Another new rule: Senior enlisted from other services or other nations are no longer allowed. Stevens felt this was distracting to the purpose: to train first classes to be chiefs.
He reiterated that no "shenanigans" will be tolerated in any part of the training, including the Final Test.
"Remove members from the events who are not following established guidelines and, when necessary, hold them accountable," Stevens wrote in his guidance. "It must be understood by all participants that the Final Test is strictly a professional training event. There is no room for conduct or actions contrary to good order and discipline."
While changes in the initiation process may be most shocking to sailors, Stevens also is refining the CPO 365 program.
In the past, all first classes — even those not eligible to compete for chief — would participate in command-level CPO 365 training and events designed to make them better leaders and to work more effectively as a team. That will stand.
But in the past, when the list of chief selectees was announced, only those selected could proceed to Phase Two, the roughly six weeks between selection and pinning.
Those not selected effectively stopped training until right after the mid-September pinning ceremonies, when the CPO 365 process picked up again for everybody.
"That was really counterproductive to what we were trying to do and put a gap in the training," he said. "Now everyone continues on, though there will be some events that are only for existing chiefs and selectees."
Those events will include mixers, mandatory leadership training and the new Final Test.
Some things won't change under the new guidance. Selectees will still carry charge books, those large ledgers selected chiefs are required to carry with them during the Phase Two process, right up to pinning. In the books, current chiefs and sometimes other senior leaders write entries for the new chiefs related to professional knowledge, as well as history and heritage. The idea is a chief will keep adding to that collection of knowledge throughout the rest of his career.
Not a new issue
Leaders have wrestled with chief's initiations for at least two decades.
Like many long-standing traditions, it's gotten an even closer look in recent years as the culture of the Navy and the nation have gradually changed.
That churn and scrutiny were often spurred by negative events, such as the 1991 Tailhook convention, where bawdy behavior and hazinglike events ended the careers of many.
Stevens stressed that his changes were "natural and evolutionary," and were not an indictment that all sailors were misbehaving.
"I knew two years ago that this was the direction we were heading," Stevens said. "It just so happens that on my watch [as MCPON], the next step in this evolutionary process needed to take place."
Each of the last four MCPONs, Stevens said, gradually changed the philosophy and intent of the process from a largely fraternal event to a professionally focused one.
Still, he knows this won't happen without some controversy. He asks that everyone look at the bigger picture.
"Training your first classes to be chiefs is a constant process," Stevens said. "That's what the CPO 365 program is all about, and the fleet recognizes that and by and large, a majority in the fleet [is] already doing these things. What I'm doing is formally recognizing that fact in formal policy."