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