Newly appointed Fleet Master Chief (AW/SW) Chuck Clarke speaks in his office at Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. (Mark D. Faram / Staff)
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Fleet Master Chief (AW/SW) Chuck Clarke reported to Fleet Forces Command in September and found himself in the middle of some major, ongoing Navy initiatives.
That includes the upcoming fleetwide alcohol screening program and new guidance on the proper wear of the Navy working uniform.
Clarke's also heard the complaints that the enlisted evaluation system is being implemented unfairly across the fleet, and he plans to continue to spread the word those practices are unacceptable.
You might say Clarke's goals closely line up with those of Master Chief Petty Officer (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens. They certainly do, and that's no coincidence.
Clarke sees a significant part of his job as helping MCPON's goals and priorities reach the fleet. Stevens was Clarke's predecessor as Fleet Forces chief before becoming the 13th MCPON.
Clarke came to his job after a tour as the top enlisted sailor for U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain. Before that, he did back-to-back tours as the command master chief of the carriers Kitty Hawk and Nimitz, so he's no stranger to high-profile jobs.
While helping MCPON, he still views his primary responsibility as taking care of enlisted sailors by serving as the top enlisted advocate to Fleet Forces commander Adm. William Gortney.
"Our junior sailors have reasonable expectations that those of us in positions of leadership will ensure that best interest is taken care of," he said. "And I am most motivated by that and doing what's necessary to make sure that that expectation is met."
Clarke recently sat down with Navy Times to discuss some of the hot topics in the fleet. Some highlights:
Don't call them ‘Breathalyzers'
The Navy is expected to announce details of its new alcohol screening program very soon. Initially forecast for the end of 2012, the random breath-testing rollout was delayed as officials continued to review lessons learned from a pilot conducted last year.
It's an issue that Clarke inherited from Stevens, but it's also one he feels strongly about.
Clarke, while not providing too many details of the program, said officials hope to stamp out use of the word "Breathalyzer," which is a brand name for alcohol detection devices.
It's like asking for a "Kleenex" instead of a facial tissue. But more importantly, Clarke said the term Breathalyzer is often associated with law enforcement and busting drunken drivers. Navy officials have tried to promote the breath-testing as an educational tool to reduce drinking, while downplaying the potential for punitive action.
"We're not going to use the word ‘Breathalyzer,'" Clarke said. "From this point forward, it's an A-D-D. Alcohol detection device. It's all about perceptions."
The Marines have implemented their alcohol screening program. Commanders have the authority to send Marines flagged in screening to alcohol counseling. In severe cases, they may be disciplined.
Details of the Navy policy were still pending as of Jan. 18. Clarke did say that, during the pilot, incidents of sailors blowing higher than a 0.02 blood alcohol level — the limit the Navy set for testing— were low.
"What we found is that 98 percent or more of our sailors are using alcohol responsibly," he said.
"The road ahead really revolves around not making this a stand-alone issue, but as a component of the overall responsible-use-of-alcohol awareness campaign that is ongoing in the Navy today," he said.
NWU wear rules
Clarke also shed some light on upcoming guidance to ensure sailors are wearing their NWUs properly.
This has been, and continues to be, a personal mission for Stevens, as well.
Enlisted leaders want sailors to know the proper way to blouse their pants over boots, roll their sleeves or wear the eight-point cover. Clarke said he's seen some interesting displays out in the fleet, such as a sailor wearing a Type III woodland NWU with the Type I fleece.
Last fall, Stevens solicited his fleet master chiefs for feedback on how the Navy could better promote the proper wear of the NWU. The goal will be an awareness effort among the fleet with a video and printed materials. It's expected over the next few months, Clarke said.
Clarke said he's well-acquainted with sailor complaints regarding the "unwritten rules" of evaluations — as featured in the Oct. 22 cover story of Navy Times.
One example of these rules: denying a star sailor an "early promote" recommendation just because he is new to a command. There's no place for these kinds of rules, Clarke said.
"We need to get good at writing evaluations and recording performance — strictly according to the existing rules in the governing instruction," Clarke said. "We need to stop any practice or local procedure that isn't spelled out. Stop trying to improve it locally. When you make these unwritten rules and execute them locally, you often create a plethora of unintended consequences that are not necessarily lined up with your intention."
If someone disagrees with eval policy and thinks they have a solution, Clarke said, "Write a proposal and send it up the chain of command and let us know about it."