Master Chief James Honea became the Navy’s 16th chief petty officer of the Navy Thursday during a ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Honea, a sailor for 35 years, most recently served as the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and was described by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday as having “saltwater running through his veins,” according to a video recording of the ceremony posted online.

During Thursday’s ceremony, Gilday praised outgoing MCPON Russell Smith, who became “MCPON 15″ in August 2018, as a “true leader” who never shied away from tough assignments.

“You’re a chief to the core and a sailor who’s dedicated to sailors,” Gilday told Smith. “You care for sailors like few other leaders I have met in the Navy.”

“As you go ashore for the final time, know that this nation and our Navy are forever grateful for your lifetime of honorable service,” Gilday said.

As Honea takes on the role of the Navy’s top enlisted sailor, the sea service has yet to publicly disclose the findings of an internal investigation into his predecessor, MCPON Smith.

Navy Times reported in February that the Naval Inspector General was investigating Smith over allegations of misconduct.

But to date, the Navy has not formally clarified the outcome of that investigation and Smith did not return a phone message this week seeking a comment on the investigation’s status.

Sitting on stage next to Smith Thursday was retired Adm. Bill Moran, the former vice CNO who was slated to become CNO before his sudden retirement in 2019.

That retirement came after a Defense Department investigation found Moran used personal email for official business, including with an officer dogged by sexual harassment allegations.

The former admiral praised Smith during Thursday’s ceremony for always meeting the moment.

“We are, all of us, forever your shipmates and friends, personally and professionally blessed to have served alongside you,” Moran said. “You will be missed.”

During his speech, Smith jokingly recalled how he once told the former Chief of Naval Personnel, retired Vice Adm. John Nowell, that the F-word was “the word of the proletariat,” and that if Nowell used that word around the chiefs mess, he would be fine.

“He looked at me, like, it worked!” Smith recalled to audience laughter.

Smith enlisted in 1988 and spent most of Thursday’s speech praising those with whom he forged a bond over the decades.

“The value for me has always lied in the relationships, the friends and shipmates who have become my family,” he said. “I’ve had this Navy family carry me for the past 34 years, and I know no one has been so fortunate as I in that regard.”

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at

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