In April, the Navy's chief petty officer ranks were rocked by scandal, first by allegations of misconduct inside an E-9 selection board that prompted the Navy's top brass to shut down the board, disband it and reschedule a new panel.
Two weeks later came the revelations of fraternization at sea aboard the deployed cruiser Hue City that led to six chiefs being disciplined at a captain's mast.
Across the Navy, what had many scratching their heads was the lack of any response from the Navy's top enlisted sailor, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SG/IW) Steven Giordano, who said nothing publicly about either incident at the time.
It capped months of silence from the current MCPON, who has maintained a low profile during his first nine months on the job. That's come in stark contrast to his predecessors and had many chiefs across the fleet grumbling recently about an absence of leadership.
But now the Navy's top enlisted sailor is speaking out, not only about those incidents of misconduct but also about his plans for the next several years. He recently issued his first guidance to the chiefs mess and he's begun to outline his plans for his four-year tenure.
In his first extended public interview since taking over the top slot in September, Giordano said his initial months in "listen and learn" mode are coming to an end. Yet he says his low-key public persona is deliberate and his style of communicating will remain distinctly different than prior MCPONs.
Giordano recently stunned many in the Navy's collective chiefs mess by reviving use of the controversial word "initiation" to describe the final phase of chiefs' training, a term once linked to hazing and misconduct. He's pushing new policy, saying the initial part of the Navy's training program to become a chief, known as CPO-365 Phase One, should be optional, not mandatory. And personally, he wants to play a central role in guiding the ambitious personnel reforms led by the Navy's top officers.
Giordano said his silence on the chiefs' misconduct in April did not reflect a lack of concern. Instead, he was working them his own way, consulting behind closed doors with his most senior advisors to not only address those issues, but what caused them, and to better understand the full extent of the fallout.
"We've had some incidents directly involving our CPO mess that have absolutely cast a negative shadow on our ranks," Giordano told Navy Times in the May 29 interview. "More importantly, it tends to draw into question our ability as chief petty officers and that is something that we just can't have in our Navy."
When the Navy faces high-profile misconduct in the chiefs mess, Giordano said it's not his style to issue public denouncements or wag his finger at the sailors involved. Instead, he's cautious and wants to consider all the issues involved and to better understand what happened and why.
"Not everything needs an immediate response — you don't always need to be so reactive to things, as some things require some introspection before you start to message it out there," he said.
"When things are first mentioned, sometimes we don't always understand the truth or the magnitude of what has happened. And we need to be careful that we don't do anything to impede any legal process or not to do anything that might have any undue influence on any investigation."
Giordano said he plans to communicate through the top-level enlisted leaders so that the deckplate sailors hear his message not directly from him but instead from the chiefs in their command whom they work with day in and day out.
"It requires the larger majority of our chief petty officers...to engage in the conversation with sailors and say, shipmate, let me just talk to you about a few things.
"You're going to see some increased communication across the leadership mess and across chief petty officers in what we do every day," he said.
"That's kind of my battle rhythm as I continue to work through the office here is to make sure that our very senior enlisted leadership knows where we're at in our thought processes and what we're driving toward," he said.
'Thinking things through'
Giordano was appointed to be the Navy's top enlisted sailor in June and officially relieved MCPON Mike Stevens on Sept. 2.
Initially, Giordano — or "Geo," as he's called around the fleet — said he would start in a "listen and learn" mode. He traveled extensively, but in his initial months on the job, he issued no fleet-wide communications and he rarely spoke to non-Navy reporters.
Giordano frequently posted on Facebook, but that has been mainly limited to a chronicle of his travels, featuring photos taken with smiling groups of sailors and others he's met along the way.
His Facebook posts typically laud sailors for telling him what's on their minds, but he's much more private about his own thoughts. Giordano does not mention specific Navy policies, fleet activities, overseas operations or issues that might be of concern to him or the sailors he's often photographed with.
His public restraint may reflect the Navy subculture where he came up. A respected cryptologic operator, Giordano spent years in a career field that largely operates in the shadows, intercepting communications of potential adversaries. He also spent years in the submarine warfare community, which is notoriously discreet and known colloquially as "the silent service."
His style was markedly different from the past several top enlisted leaders who came into the job with agendas in hand and hit the ground running, announcing sweeping changes and initiatives within a month of taking office.
Many current and former senior enlisted sailors warned that in the high-powered environment of Washington and the Pentagon, he was taking a risk with a "slow" start. With just a four-year term, time is of the essence, and that's why previous MCPONs have chosen to burst out of the gate with an ambitious agenda and aggressive advocacy.
It's not lost on him that this public image is what everyone has come to expect from the role of MCPON. But he's also not afraid to say that's not how he operates.
"I am so appreciative and mindful of those who come before us," he said.
"People operate differently and use different mechanisms to communicate for different reasons — that's the leaders we all grow into being.
"If you know me at all, you know I'm the type of person that will not go into a position with any kind of intent, without knowing what's going on out there in the environment that we operate in every day," he said.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, according Bill Hatch, a retired Navy commander who now teaches manpower policies at the Naval Postgraduate School in California.
"If things are going well, many don't want to disturb the status quo until they've had some time to get their feet on the ground," Hatch told Navy Times. "They'll take some time to observe how things are going before making any changes."
Hatch says that in absence of any other guidance, good fleet leadership is to march with existing standing orders until they are countermanded through close observation, questions or warranted by events.
"Sure, a longer observation period might be a change, but I think the Navy's chiefs mess is strong and can survive by maintaining its professional mission-focused mantra until it receives further direction."
Giordano's "longer observation period" came in the form of travelling around the world during the past nine months.
"In my tenure in the office thus far I knew it was absolutely important for me to be out across [the Navy], across all the warfare communities, having conversations with our sailors and their families, listening to them about what's going on in their environment.
"I took all that onboard, bringing it back and sitting back and thinking through things — bringing other folks into the conversation to figure out what to do with all this information," he said.
Giordano spoke to Navy Times fresh off a four-day meeting with what's called the "MCPON leadership mess," made up of command master chiefs who work for a flag or general officer. It was Giordano's first time in front of this panel, a platform where previous MCPONs would traditionally float ideas.
Giordano offered his first CPO-365 chief's training program guidance and some "Core Principals" he wants all sailors to know and understand, which he'll soon communicate to the fleet in a series of messages.
His decision to use the word "initiation" in communicating his guidance for this year's CPO-365 year-round chief's training was a shift back to the use of a word that had been associated with hazing practices.
In a June 2 follow-on email to the leadership mess, he reiterated that use of the word didn't signal a return to no-holds-barred initiations. Standing orders that all chief selects will be treated with "dignity and respect" remain in strong effect.
Other efforts Giordano is undertaking include a significant change in establishing a "Command Senior Enlisted Management Office" that he says will "help us get a better understanding of our management process within the [senior enlisted leader] community" through mentoring, education and professional development.
Additionally, he's taken the baton from Stevens on trying to revitalize leadership training throughout the enlisted workforce.
"We're looking at everything we're doing to develop leaders out there, from the enlisted perspective," he said. "We plan to map that all out and decide what we need to give every sailor that walks through that door."
Though Giordano is very happy with the current state of the CPO-365 year-round chief's training program, he "absolutely" says that he'd like to find ways to continue to improve it in the future, though he didn't mention any specifics.
An area of concern for Giordano is the wealth of changes occurring throughout the personnel world as part of "Sailor 2025." His wants to ensure that as the Navy's leadership implements changes, there are enlisted voices in the mix, looking out for sailors.
"They're just in the infancy looking at these things," he said. "I want our chief petty officers in the conversation in the Navy as we are driving these things forward."
Giordano said he believes communicating with sailors in the fleet is a key part of his job.
"I think that I have grown to realize that words matter and have a pretty profound effect, depending on what level you are in an organization — it's part of what I call your sphere of influence," he said. "I think that the communication strategy I use is to focus that, keeping in mind that sphere of influence."
The best way to impact sailors, he said, is to impact the conversations they are having with the chiefs they know and respect.
"I'll allow that group to drive those thoughts all the way down to the work centers to those chief petty officers there and their sphere of influence."
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.