Jose Rosario joined the Navy late, and at boot camp six years ago, the former cop didn't seem to be a standout. They call him "5.5." 

But last summer, while most of his boot camp peers were deciding whether to enlist, Rosario was shopping for new chief petty officer uniforms.

Rosario had earned his coveted chief's anchors in shorter time than anyone else in that advancement cycle, earning his nickname, "5.5," for the number of years it took him to make chief.

Rosario, a damage controlman, had made chief in less than half the average time it takes for a sailor to rise to E-7, nearly 13 years. No one from any rating has made chief faster in the past five years, according to Naval Education and Training Command data.

That's because Chief Damage Controlman (SW) Jose Rosario only had that many years in the Navy when he got the word he'd been selected for chief petty officer last summer.

While most of his boot camp peers in the Navy were deciding whether to reenlist last summer, Rosario, 32 [checking this] was shopping for new CPO uniforms.

Not only was he the youngest chief selected in 2015 in a rating where the average sailor put on anchors, on average, at 12.8 years in service after nearly five years as a first class, no one from any rating has made chief faster in at least the past five years, according to data obtained by Navy Times from the Navy Education and Training Command.

Rosario said his success comes down to playing the long game. He didn't standout at first and had to adjust afterlearned from a setback, focusing his attention on learning from shipmates, enhancing his study techniques and seeking out the toughest qualifications. He says making it is a team effort. Rosario has made mistakes along the way, learned from them and turned the experience into a set of chief’s anchors, he credits his success to a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work on his part combined with the help of a whole host of people at a supportive and mentoring command and deckplate leaders and he’s even overcome some adversity along the way. 

"Being a chief is tough and it doesn’t matter if you make it in five or 19 years," Rosario told Navy Times in a recentJan. 29 interview.  "I think it’s a tough job. but remember, you aren’t doing this yourself. You have your fellow chiefs who can give you all the support you need to keep learning and growing as a chief and make you successful — that’s the way I see it."

Rosario's is quite the accomplishment. Of course, some are going to be skeptical of anyone who can make it into the goat locker so early in their career. But the Navy's top chief says that hot-runners like Rosario are selected by their chief's mess via rankings and that wisdom and competence are by no means the sole preserve of old-timers.  In selecting for anchors at five and a half years after just a couple of years as a first class is quite an accomplishment in anyones book. And among the old salts, the argument often arises that making chief petty officers at such young point in a career isn’t good for the Navy.

It's an comment that I often hear while out visiting commands in the fleet," said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens the Navy's top chief. "What I have to remind those who complain to me and say that we as a Navy are making chief's too early is that they would not have been in front of the board without their CO's recommendation — and remember, the Chief's mess ranks our First Class Petty Officers.  Obviously the CPO mess thought they were ready or those that sit the board would not have selected them.

One of the things that make a chief's mess work and command ticks, Stevens said is diversity and a variety of ages and time in service is healthy.  He also believes other factors are equally as important, such as wisdom.

He feels that time in service is sometimes confused with wisdom.  It's important to remember, Stevens said, that wisdom doesn't come from time, it come from learned experiences.

Stevens says that always, the best formula is lots of experience that also equates to wisdom because he feels that you you can always gain more experience by sticking around longer, but that doesn't always equate to wisdom.

"I know some very wise old chiefs, but I also know some very wise young chiefs," Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens said. "We should have faith in our trusted selection process and be confident that, far more often than not, we will select the most qualified and ready chief regardless of time in service. If you can make chief in 5.5 years — good on you, you must be knocking it out of the park!"

In interviews, Rosario reflected on his route up the ranks and offered advice for how sailors can do it, too. Now With some time to reflect on just how far he’s come in such a short time Rosario discussed his quick climb through the ranks and gave some advice not only to sailors, but to leaders in how best to encourage their hot runners.

The road to chief

When Rosario joined the Navy at the age of 26 in 2010, he was late by most standards. But, he was, realizing a dream he’d had since high school, but one that proved a bit harder than he’d thought achieve. He'd worked three years for At the time, he was three and a half-year veteran of the San Juan, Puerto Rico, police force, and was inspired by two brothers already serving in the Navy. He visited a recruiter to see how he could be a Navy cop. but felt he wanted more out of life. With two brothers already in the Navy he visited the recruiter to investigate if he could be a cop in the Navy. 

"When I weant to [the entrance processing station], the only thing they offered me at the time was to be a DC-man — man," Rosario recalled. "That was my only choice. I’d taken the ASVAB a few times, it didn’t go well and I didn’t pass. I already had a family, my wife and son, and I wanted to make a better life for my family, so I took what was offered me."

Despite what you may expect, he didn't shine at boot camp. But his meteoric rise to the goat locker wasn’t evident during boot camp and he felt that was by design as he arrived on Feb. 16, 2010. 

"I was a 26-year old coming from three years as on a police force and now I was tangled up with a bunch of kids," "I’d talked to my brothers and as a result, I just kept quiet and did what I was told and left boot camp as an E-1.  I didn’t get any meritorious advancements as some did."

Staying in Great Lakes for It was at DC 'A' school in Great Lakes, Illinois, that  , it was here where the stars started to align.  

"I graduated as the top in my class and I got an automatic advancement to E-2," he said.

That started the climb.  but Before he headed to o the fleet and his first command, the Mayport, Florida-based destroyer Carney, he extended his deployment by one year, to a five-year commitment, earned him an automatic advancement to he was given the option to also extend his enlistment one year on the back end, which would give him a second automatic advancement to E-4 once at this command. 

Again, opportunity knocked and Rosario answered. When he arrived at the Carney his first command, he said his leadership already knew of his special status and the promise that he’s quickly put on E-5.

"I think it was the first thing my leading chief asked me for when I checked on board on July 31, whether I had a meritorious promote letter from school -- he already knew," he said. "He explained to me how it worked, and by December I was a third class." 

But here, Then he hit a pothole on his road to khaki. 

"In March, 2011, I was able to take the E-5 exam and I missed that test by five points but I took it again in December, 2011 and I made it that time."

Two years later, he was designated an early promote. He took the and allowed to take the first class exam a year early in September, 2013. 

Then , two years year later, I got an EP waiver and took the first class test a year early making it in the fall of 2013.

"I made it first time up," he recalled. "In November 2014, I again picked up an EP evaluation, this time was given a waiver to sit for the chief’s exam in January, 2015. " he said. "I passed the test, made the board and was selected for chief and was frocked last September."

He's still a frocked chief today and says he'll probably be one of the last to get paid for it, but that doesn't matter, he says he made nearly all on his first enlistment and all at this first command.

Now he’s an inspector at Afloat Training Group, Pacific Northwest — with a world of possibilities ahead of him as a chief. Still, he says he’s not changing a thing, he knows what got to this point and feels that those things will get him even farther in the Navy.

Seeking mentors

From the moment he stepped aboard the Carney, Rosario says he realized that his leadership cared about not only him, but all the sailors at the command.

But he says His road to the goat locker started the first day he checked on board, when his leading chief set him down for a talk. 

"That first day on the Carney, I had no idea that I would end up here — absolutely no idea, but it truly started that day," he said. "I was new to the command and the Navy and I didn't really understand the Navy and it was hard to understand everything they were telling me because it was all so new and I felt as if I was drinking through a fire hose."

While onboard, Rosario said he had many mentors, some formal and many others informal. He realized he could learn from just and he discovered that he could learn from must about everyone, if you took the time to listen and ask questions.

"Leadership matters and I had leadership who took an interest in me the day I checked onboard and that set the tone for my whole tour — by no means did I do this all on my own — I had great mentors who helped me accomplish what I did."

He encourages new sailors to find people they admire and get top know them and learn why you admire them, whether or not they formally strike up a mentorship relationship. He says that his first leading chief, just by asking him about the meritorious advancement letter, showed him that he cared and set him up for success

"I had a few formal mentors, but I considered everyone a mentor. You can learn from everyone above you and below you and even the guy who checked on board a few months ahead of you. You learn from people you don't like as well just as well those you do like.

"If you grasp that fact — that you can learn from everyone around you, it makes you a better person and a better sailor."

Learning from failure

It's often said that it's not a mistake if you learn from it and don't let it happen again. and as MCPON Stevens says, learning from your mistakes results in gaining experience.

In the fast-paced world of Navy shipboard life, sailors are asked to qualify in their jobs and watch stations in their first year and tackle their warfare qualifications after that. That doesn’t leave much time for other things during the work or duty days. 

Rosario came face to face with that reality after making third class in December, 2010 and being able to take the the E-5 test in March, just three month later. 

At that point, he only had eight months on board the ship and a little over a year in the Navy and in retrospect he said it showed. He missed advancing by the wide margin of five points.   

"Really, my first time up for second [class] was pretty quick after putting on third class," he recalled . "I didn't really have time to learn things — I just didn't know how about the Navy yet, let alone enough [about] my rating.

Having automatically advanced to third class, he’d never sat for an advancement exam. That's something he'd need to figure out — fast. let alone how to study for one.

Even in a Cinderella tour as Rosario had on Carny, though times will always come. find ways to learn from them and turn them around into motivation for success, he says.

Hitting the books

Rosario's failure to make Failing to put on second class on the first try forced him to figure out what had happened. In his case, he realized, he needed to hit the books. 

didn’t get Rosario discouraged. Chalking his failure up to lack of experience he set out to do better. As He had never had to study for an exam, had not developed study techniques and was not . He didn't use any study techniques. He wasn't familiar with bibliographies and reference  materials. he needed to study., he wasn’t up on the techniques sailors used to study, nor did he really how the assets available to him to study from, bibliographies, references and the like. 

He talked to his peers and learned how they studied. And he learned from his chief, Here, too, he benefitted from not only learning from his peers and how they studied, he also learned from his chief, who encouraged and even participated in studying — even during the workday. 

"My first chief started something where every time he'd meet you in the [passage]way, he'd have a question for you," Rosario said. "You owed him an answer by the end of the day."

During the lead up to the exam, his whole division would study this way. He didn’t stop there and he kept trying to find better ways to learn his material

"Look around and find what study techniques that work for you. How do you best learn and retain information," he said. "For me, it was notecards — flash cards. We used to have a kind of competition [with] each other and drilled on these things every day as we were studying for tests." 

Picking up on what their chief did, they would asked each other questions constantly. , when we were working or walking in the P-way — "We’d all keep notecards in our pockets with questions and answers on them all the time — it was fun and we learned," he recalled.

Learning from those around him, how to study    and what to stud, the After six-months, Rosario was ready. 

"The the second time around I was in much better shape and was ready," he said. "Because I’d had the experience and the knowledge to do better."  

Be a sponge

There's not just one way to set yourself apart in the Navy, Rosario said.

There's things you can do at your command on a daily basis to standout — and then there's doing well on the semi-annual exam, Rosario said.

"In the Navy, your good attitude goes a long way.," he said. "You might be going through an inspection and it's bad, as bad as you thought it could be. Your attitude and not giving up will take you a long way."

He said As a former cop, it he was already experienced in following orders and that helped

"I simply did what I was told, every day and and they —  my leadership —  saw that and the quality of work I put out," he recalled. "I never said no when they asked me to do anything. No matter what happened during the training and inspection cycle, I kept that good attitude and did what I could to contribute to the team effort." 

As much as your attitude and willingness to work sets you apart at your command, Beyond that attitude, what really sets you apart from peers is learning everything about your job that you can will set you apart against your peers Navy-wide, Rosario said. This will help with your evaluations and your rating knowledge on the exam, which is the Navy advancement officials have long said that the exam score is the greatest factor of the advancement process that sailors have total control over. 

Your extra rating know-how may even earn a And the bottom is if you increase your in-rating knowledge, he said, you will set yourself apart from the pack, but by scoring well on advancement tests. Meanwhile, on the job increasing your knowledge will improve your performance , getting you better evals — and possibly a coveted "early promote" recommendation that can get you a seat at the exam a year early.

Rosario's tips: Be a sponge with information. Find what works for you. Again, he said to be a sponge and find what works for you. Ask questions about what if you don't know. Read references. Volunteer to do new things. Learn everything you can. something and read references and volunteer to do assist on a new procedure -- just learn everything you can. 

"I did a a lot of things, but one that was very effective for me was came out of the fact that the DC rating is preventive maintenance heavy," he said. "I used the PMS cards as study aids and would make it a habit to read through those cards over and over again and that helped me better understand the equipment."

Some exam questions you'll know the answer to off the top of your head. But others will require a guess. The more you know about your gear, inside and out, the more likely you'll be able to guess correctly. For example he said that you might know the correct answer to a question on the test off the top of your head,, but because you have studied extra hard at learning the gear inside and out, you can safely guess a correct answer just from your familiarity with it. 

"A little knowledge goes a long way," he said. "What many don’t realize is on the test, it’s the little things that might set you apart — use the PMS cards to make some notecards and keep them with you, just sit and read your references and get to know your gear and procedures through the PMS cards, too."

Another tip from the daily grind: familiarize yourself with paperwork. on the job tedium that work for him was his rating’s paperwork drudge — but, here, too, these documents and the drill of filing them sometimes shows up on the exam, too.  "For example, when you repair equipment, there is paperwork that must be filled about about those repairs," he said. This forces, The names and procedures on these documents could also mean the difference between a right and a wrong answer. and purpose and this prodecures into your head and  remember that even something as small as that can mean the difference because every additional correct answer sets you apart that more — so nothing is insignificant."

Pushing ahead

Shipboard life is tough, busy and for some ratings, it can be a long grind of four years or more. That’s why near the end of a tour, sometimes with orders in hand, many sailors slow down and coast on their way out the door. 

Don't do that.

If you But if you want to succeed and advance fast, you have to push forward, Rosario said.

On Carney, he'd had a great tour and had climbed from third class to first. can’t do that, especially if you find opportunity knocking. So even at this point, you can’t let down, you have to push forward, Rosario said. By all accounts, he’d had a a great tour onboard Carney. He’d made first class on his first tour — Not bad by any standard. He could have simply coasted out the door and into shore duty, but he didn’t.  

"Leadership matters and mentorship matters, but you have to listen to those mentors and act when you see an opportunity," Rosario said. "It was about three months before I was scheduled to leave the Carney and he sat down with his leadership as they went over my evaluation before I signed it. 

He was three months from leaving the Carney when he sat down with his evaluation, an EP again, and his He’d just nailed an EP again, this time as a first class and his CO was going to allow him to sit for the chief’s test a year early.   

But then they dropped something in his lap that could make all the difference when his record was reviewed by the chief's board.

"My CO told me then that before I transferred, he would give me the opportunity to take the EOOW board," said Rosario, referring to the engineering officer of the watch qualification that's normally held by chiefs and officers. "That's the person in charge of engineering underway and for a DC to have that letter is a big thing, a huge accomplishment."

Rosario saw opportunity. He also knew how tough it would be to get that EOOW letter later.

Right there, I kew that I was going to have to study and a lot, but his whole chain of command joined in and encouraged him every time they saw him.

"They pushed me They pushed me to study for the board because they knew I was close to qualifying and if I could get it and pass the board before I left the ship, it would be important to my career," Rosario said. "It was tough, very, very tough, but I passed and got the qualification."

The letter was forwarded in a package to the chief's board. The board's records are sealed. But Rosario says he's certain this advanced qualification was a factor in becoming "5.5."

"That was how my whole career on the Carney was. I had people who were looking out for me and they pushed me hard," he said. "You might not like it at the time or realize what they are doing, but listen to them, because they know what is necessary for you to succeed."

Passing it on

Rosario says that now that he’s a chief, he’s going to lead his sailors the same way. as he was led on the Carney. 

He still looks back now and sees that when his first leading chief asked him for his advancement letter the day he checked on board Carney that the chief was setting him up for success.  

"Their leadership has set the pace for how I'll lead my sailors as a chief — their leadership has impacted how I do everything, how I see things. And through my whole career, I'm going to teach those who are below me the same way that I made it — it's the only way I know," Rosario said. "What they put in my head by pushing me and planting seeds will stay with me."

"I've made it here and I want everyone to take advantage of the opportunities in the Navy and I know other sailors can do it too."

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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