Alleged misconduct in the enlisted ranks in San Diego this summer prompted Navy officials to shut down a command’s chief initiation season, leaving 11 sailors who were selected for chief wondering whether they will actually pin on anchors.
The alleged misconduct came during a chiefs’ season golf game on Aug. 18, when some chief petty officers running the event were accused of damaging the golf course.
“They had things like shaving cream and silly string, and were putting them in the holes and over the greens — apparently those things kill the grass, so the golf course manager escalated the issue,” said a Navy source familiar with the incident who spoke to Navy Times on condition of anonymity.
“All the selectees and [chief petty officers] were investigated, even read their rights before questioning,” the source said.
The misconduct involved sailors from Assault Craft Unit Five at Camp Pendleton, California, which operates the Landing Craft Air Cushions, or LCACs, that Marines use for ship-to-shore operations.
At least one of the sailors, and possibly more, were already chief petty officers – known during the initiation process as “genuine CPOs,” the Navy source said.
“Anything the selects did was only at the direction of the genuine CPOs,” the source said. “They feel like it was typical shenanigans and nothing that anyone would lose a rank over.”
But the command sees this as more serious. ACU-5′s immediate superior command, Naval Beach Group One, shut down the remainder of the initiation season and directed the investigation.
Navy chief selects can once again be "initiated" into the mess. The Navy’s top enlisted sailor has made it OK to refer to the process of making new chief petty officers as an "initiation," ending 14 years of official taboo for the term once closely associated with hazing and sophomoric pranks.
“The misconduct was severe enough that leadership directed to turn off the season, and the CPO pinning ceremony was subsequently cancelled,” said Lt. Laura Price, spokesperson for Expeditionary Strike Group Three.
“CPO initiation is neither an excuse nor an invitation for misconduct -- CPOs and selectees are expected to hold the standards and guidelines set forth by MCPON for chief season, and display appropriate behavior both in and out of uniform.”
Navy-wide, it’s become an annual tradition to pin all newly selected chiefs in September, with most of those putting on anchors only being “frocked” to chief petty officer.
A long-standing Navy tradition, “frocking” is when a sailor who has been selected for advancement to a higher grade is allowed to wear the rank and uniform of the paygrade. The frocked sailor is still paid at the lower paygrade, however, until their official advancement date comes.
But for now, at least two of the selects in San Diego have reached their advancement date, but are still wearing first class uniforms, even though they’ve officially been advanced to chief petty officer and are being paid as such.
“The first select to reach his advancement date then came to work with anchors on and the ‘genuine chiefs’ told him to take it off, that he hadn’t had his final night and been accepted by the mess,” the Navy source said. “The second select didn’t put them on because the first one was told to take them off.”
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano congratulated all new chief petty officer selects, telling them it's an even that will change their lives in ways they can't even imagine, yet.
Navy officials say the matter is on hold for now, but the pinning issue could be revisited once the investigation and any resulting discipline has been put to rest, though there are no guarantees.
“Expeditionary Strike Group 3 received and completed an investigation of misconduct regarding the ACU-5 CPO mess stemming from an event which took place in August on a Golf Course at Camp Pendleton,” she said. “The investigation is complete, with disciplinary and administrative actions pending at this time.”
When asked whether only “genuine CPO’s” would be facing charges, or if some chief selects could be disciplined, Price couldn’t comment.
“Unfortunately, since the discipline or administrative actions are still under review and pending at this time, it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss what those entail and who they are for,” she said.
Price told Navy Times there’s no plans for a group pinning or frocking ceremony. The 11 selects will be advanced when their officials advancement date comes around, or if they’re slated to transfer, they will be pinned before they leave the command, Price said, even if that involves individual frocking.
“Some will be this [calendar} year, and some will not wear anchors until next [calendar] year,” she said.