[ This story is embargoed until 11:30 tonight, unless we get the identity confirmed independently before then].

HAMPTON, Virginia. — Only one spot was missing in the ranks as the 44 chief selectees with the future carrier Gerald R. Ford marched in Wednesday for their long-awaiting pinning ceremony.

That spot was reserved for Chief Engineman (SW/AW/EXW) Anthony Tuff.

Tuff had survived six weeks of rigorous chief training but he collapsed Tuesday at the start of a run with fellow chief selectees and died later that day in the hospital, in a shock to his shipmates and family.

The morning of Sept. 15 started early for the 45 chief petty officer selects assigned to the pre-commissioning unit of the aircraft carrier Gerald Ford .

It was the final day of their CPO-365 Phase II, just a day away from being pinned as the newest members of the Ford's chiefs mess and they were forming up at Fortress Monroe, an Army base on the Chesapeake Bay in Hampton, Va.

A few short yards into what was expected to be a 1.5-mile run, Chief Engineman (Select)  (SW/AW/EXW) Anthony "Tony" Tuff collapsed and later died at a local hospital, leaving his fellow chief selects stunned and the command is investigating the exact cause of death.

"Tony Tuff always gave his full effort in everything," said Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Donnie Novak, the Ford’s top enlisted.  phone interview. "He was a very personable guy and a great sailor, never giving less than 100 percent."

Tuff was posthumously advanced to chief petty officer in a bittersweet ceremony before an audience of 1,500 at the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton, Virginia. A friend of Tuff's acted as a stand-in for shipmates to ceremoniously pin on Tuff's anchors and to don his chief's combination cover. Tuff was then piped in as a chief petty officer.

"Chief [ENC (SW) Robert] Fuller honored Tuff, standing up in his place when his [Tuff’s] name was called," Novak said in a Wednesday phone interview. "They were best friends on the ship and by coincidence, they made chief at the same time."

A shipmate and fellow chief select, ENC Robert Fuller, served as a stand-in for his deceased friend at the ceremony. As with all other new chiefs, Tuff was ceremoniously advanced by receiving his chief's cover and being piped into the mess.

Photo Credit: MC1 Joshua J. Wahl/Navy

Novak said the bitterAfter Tuff's death, Ford's leadership closed the pinning ceremony to media, but Novak spoke to Navy Times afterword today in a phone interview moments after the ceremony wrapped up in Hampton, Va.

ENC Anthony Tuff, 35, went by the nickname "Tuff Enough." The New York native enlisted July 27, 2000, and had served aboard the carrier Carl Vinson and as an individual augmentee in Iraq. He became an engineman first class on June 16, 2007. Previous duty stations included Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command, in Virginia Beach, Virginia; Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center, in Iraq; and aboard the carrier Carl Vinson and fast combat support ship Sacramento. His awards and decorations included two Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medals, four Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and the Iraq Campaign Medal. He had earned warfare Surface Warfare, Aviation Warfare, and Expeditionary Warfare designations. 

Only a A day before the pinning ceremony, Tuff had collapsed at the run during their final day of CPO-365 Phase 2 training. The Ford's corpsmen immediately responded and he was taken to the hospital. His fellow chief selectees opted to push on through their  As Tuff collapsed and was cared for by Ford’s corpsmen, his fellow 44 selects pushed on — by their own choice, Novak said, electing to continue theirfinal day and night of training, even after they’d later heard about their shipmate’s death. 

"There was some time, right after it happened that we sat and talked about it," Novak said. "The rest of the chief's mess immediately gathered around the selects. I heard them talking among themselves that they needed to continue on and not quit — because that is what Tony would have wanted them to do."

Novak credits his mess of 215 with helping the 44 remaining selectees to push forward with their training, the day forward and stay focused on their goal — while still keeping in mind the memory of their fallen shipmate with them

"It was not easy, it was a challenge," Novak said, "But they kept on through the all day capstone event and excelled in the problem solving — once they made up their minds they would continue on, you could feel the momentum growing as they moved through events and navigating teamwork event. We all felt Tony there with us." — and the rest of the day went off without a hitch." 

But Novak said the decision to continue wasn’t an easy one to make, but that it was made by all without hesitation

"Yes, some of the selects were probably struggling with their own emotions," Novak said. "But they pressed on anyway." and their attitude 

Engineman 1st Class Anthony Tuff, who died during a training run Sept. 15, was advanced to chief at a Sept. 16 ceremony.

Photo Credit: Navy

Their final night concluded exactly at midnight, Novak said, as required. The command reworked the 10 a.m. pinning ceremony to pay tribute to Tuff. But, by 10:00 this morning, when the pinning ceremony started at the Hampton Convention Center in Hampton, Virginia —  the command had reworked the program, slightly,  to pay tribute to Tuff.

With family members, which including his son in attendance, along with nearly 1,500 others, the Ford selects marched in just as the'd rehearsed, days before, but they as they marched in, they'd left Tuff's space vacant.

"It was the marching in ranks equivalent of a ‘missing man formation,’ " Novak said, describing the traditional aviation tribute to fallen comrades in arms.

Though Tuff was no longer present physically, he was pinned anyway and Novak said as far as anyone on the Ford is concerned, Tuff is a chief petty officer today.  During the ceremony, Novak said, a fellow selectee presenting himself to be pinned in shipmate's stead.

Chief’s pinning ceremonies start with the chief petty officer selects marching out in the fresh khakis, but without their collar devices. Those are pinned on by collared and during the proceedings they are pinned by family, friends and often other chiefs of their choosing. 

Once that’s done, their sponsor, a genuine chief from the chief's mess places their new chief’s cover on their head. It wrapped up The ceremony concludes with the that new chief presenting themselves at a set of sideboys buoysand being piped into the mess.   

Tuff And Tuff got it all, Novak said. From Pinning, to piping, and salutes and took his place as a Navy chief petty officer.  He took his place as a Navy chief petty officer with the help of his shipmates, even though he was no longer present. 

[Ford has promised to get me full details about this guy, but I have not gotten them, yet."

Novak said all the motions were gone through for Tuff, just as for any other new chief.

"When [Tuff] was announced and then piped aboard the mess, the entire audience of 1,500 came to their feet in a standing ovation," Novak said. "It sure was a moment that raised goosebumps on everyone who was in attendance and though it's not normal, it was completely warranted today."

Staff writer Lance M. Bacon contributed to this article.

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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