Commands are prepping for initiation, the rites of passage that will help usher the 4,704 active-duty, 448 selected reserve and 262 reserve full-time support first class petty officers into the chiefs mess.
It all culminates on pinning day — Sept. 14 — across the Navy.
In the wake of the Navy’s Aug. 7 formal announcement naming the those selected to enter the Goat Locker, the four fleet master chiefs have jointly issued official guidance on how the initiation process should play out. The document seeks to head off any shenanigans that have plagued initiations throughout the years.
“During this time, we are charged with what is perhaps your most important strategic responsibility-preparing our reliefs to enter the Mess, to begin their career anew with the appropriate focus of a chief petty officer, ” the four jointly wrote the guidance. “ [Command master chiefs and command senior enlisted leaders] must manage to ensure that every event is conducted in such a way that safety, dignity and respect never falter.”
For the first time, the Navy will ban selectees from participating in fundraising events for the mess during initiation season.
“Fund raising is not something we’re going to engage in with selectees at this time,” said Fleet Master Chief (SW/IW/AW) Russ Smith, the interim master chief petty officer of the Navy during a July 26 CPO call on Norfolk Naval Station.
“If you’re going to tell me that the way we do chiefs initiation today is going to fail because we’re not fund raising, then we’re doing something wrong."
The initiation process is steeped in tradition that’s developed over the 125 years that chief petty officers have been a part of the Navy.
In recent years, however, those who served in the post of master chief petty officer of the Navy have toiled to professionalize the transition period. The goal has been to offer events that test the mental and physical toughness of the selectees but reinforce important leadership concepts like team work.
“We are a Navy of teams, and the obsession for building winning teams must be cultivated during Initiation,” the guidance says. “The relationship between members of the mess — the responsibilities we have to one another — are at the core of our culture and should be the predominant focus in the events conducted.”
There are still individual educational requirements the chief selects must complete, such as the CPO Selectee Leadership Course, which is a three-day course taught at the command level.
This year there’s a new course being taught. It’s part of the “Laying the Keel,” leadership initiative introduced earlier this year and teaches the meaning of the Chief Petty Officer Creed, considered the cornerstone document of the Navy’s CPO mess.
It comes together in a “capstone event” on the evening before pinning. It’s supposed to provide a practical application of what the selectees have learned during the initiation process.
“Commands are expected to tailor their program around operational commitments, but all-night evolutions present serious safety concerns and should not be undertaken,” the guidance reads. “Sleep must be a deliberate part of the plan.”
It concludes with the formal acceptance of the new chief petty officers into the mess. At this point they will be prepped for their pinning ceremony the following day.
“This experience is one that should re-energize every chief, prepare the every selectee and showcase for the world how challenging and professional we are in developing the future of our senior enlisted force,” the guidance concludes. “Our CPO Mess is the envy of other military services, both our own and those around the world, and everything we do must embrace that fact and safeguard our process for the future.”
This story has been updated to show that while the leadership course can be downloaded it is not completed online but is instead taught at the local level.
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.