Don’t think of the interim master chief petty officer of the Navy as the head of the service’s enlisted ranks. Better to view him as just one of four knights at the Navy’s senior enlisted round table.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson named Fleet Master Chief for Naval Personnel Russell L. Smith (SW/IW/AW) the interim MCPON on June 22, a day after MCPON Steven Giordano resigned following allegations he fostered a hostile work environment in his Pentagon office.
During an hour-long CPO call at Naval Station Norfolk on July 26, Smith wanted sailors to know that despite vast geographical distances and multiple time zones they have all four of the Navy’s most senior enlisted leaders advocating for them at the same time with one voice — Fleet Master Chief Paul Kingsbury (SW/AW) in Norfolk, Fleet Master Chief Raymond Kemp (AW/SW/IW) in Europe and Pacific Fleet Master Chief James Honea (SW/AW) in Hawaii.
All the fleet master chiefs work together to keep the daily operations of the MCPON’s office running while a search continues for the Navy’s next top enlisted sailor, Smith said. Richardson has announced no deadline for when he’ll make the final decision on Giordano’s permanent replacement.
“The only thing I’m doing is making [Adm. Richardson] comfortable that things are moving forward as they should in regards to the office of the MCPON so he is able to take the time to make a thoughtful decision],” Smith told the Navy TImes after the call.
Smith continues to serve the Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke. He treats the interim MCPON gig as an additional duty, one that’s shared behind the scenes by Navy’s three other fleet master chiefs. He compares their collaboration as a “senior enlisted executive steering committee.”
As for the interim MCPON title, that fell to him only because he already was based in Washington when Giordano quit, Smith said. It’s easier for him to do his day job for Vice Adm. Burke and monitor the MCPON’s Pentagon operations than it would be to import any of the others.
“Anything I discuss [with the CNO] as far as the programmatic ― the daily responsibilities of the office ― I discuss with the other fleet master chief’s, first, then I’m the conduit providing the feedback and discussing the issues with the CNO.” Smith said. “But when and where we can, the four of us meet with him as well.”
Smith said that there’s no doubt of Richardson’s commitment to hearing perspectives from the enlisted ranks, adding that “not even a week after [Giordano’s resignation], he came off leave and spent 90 minutes with the four of us, having really good dialogue with us, discussing anything and everything."
Smith declined to elaborate on what they discussed. He continues to travel with Richardson and other Navy leaders worldwide while they meet with sailors.
“He knows we all have our own bosses, but he’s offering us ― much like any executive steering committee ― the audience and opportunity to sit down with him as well,” Smith said. “I generally facilitate that, but when and where we’ve been able to facilitate it, the four of us sit down with him, too.”
Because they’re working as a quartet to fill Giordano’s role, Smith said he and the other fleet master chiefs “either talk or text nearly every day,” a level of cooperation that’s helped them grow closer and cooperate better as a team.