Chief petty officers (CPO) and crew aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) celebrated the 121st birthday of the chief petty officer rank April 1 with a traditional cake-cutting ceremony, flight deck 5K run, swim call, steel beach picnic and a movie screening on the flight deck.
“We’re excited to be celebrating the Chiefs’ birthday, we’re happy to be doing it with the crew,” Command Master Chief (SW/SS/AW) David C. Twiford said. “It’s very simple, we could have cut a cake and taken our photo and called it a day, but for us, we wanted our Sailors to understand who we are, to be excited about being chiefs.”
The rank has been steeped in tradition for 121 years since becoming official April 1, 1893 by Navy General Order 409 of Feb. 25, 1893. The chief petty officer rank was created to distinguish senior enlisted personnel for their experience and for them to use their leadership and knowledge to provide guidance for junior personnel.
That legacy extends to the present as becoming a chief petty officer continues to be a key milestone in the career of enlisted Sailors – and with it, the aim to embody the role of mentor and leader.
“You take care of all your Sailors, you never forget where you come from, you stay humble, you stay grounded, you take care of them and that’s what they expect a chief to do,” said Chief Machinist’s Mate (SW/AW) Amagouno Minta.
“Being a chief you’re constantly reminded of how much of an impact you can have on Sailors lives, both positively and negatively,” Minta said. “If you’re not using the power given to you by the Navy, if you don’t use it right, it can affect your Sailor both ways. So it’s very, very important that as leaders, as Chiefs, we are mindful of that.”
Twiford said one of his favorite elements of being a chief is to bring life to the phrase “Ask the Chief.” He enjoys giving Sailors the opportunity to ask questions, getting them the knowledge to help them succeed, and teaching them the lessons he has learned along the way.
“Whether it’s recruit training command, the deck plates on a ship, or shore duty, for a chief petty officer to teach someone something and watch them go execute exactly what you taught, the right way, is really, really satisfying,” Twiford said. “What’s even more satisfying is about a year later when you’re standing there and you’re watching that Sailor teach another Sailor exactly what you taught him in the right way, and teaching those lessons correctly.”
The role of a chief is unique because it requires one to be versatile, and to communicate both up and down the chain of command, said Minta.
Knowing how to communicate in both directions is important, along with knowing how policies affect all Sailors, while not losing sight of the overall mission and big picture, Twiford said.
Beyond interacting with junior enlisted, chiefs also take pride in contributing to developing junior officers. Chiefs take a special interest in the careers their junior officers forge and look forward to, one day, seeing an officer they have impacted holding command and to be able to share that moment with them.
“One of the great things about celebrating the CPO birthday is those milestones you hit,” Twiford said. “All the chiefs can name 100 milestones in their own careers, but we get more excited about talking about all the milestones in the other careers that we’ve touched.”
Minta said the CPO birthday is important to recognize because it is a way to step back and analyze the progress made.
“It means a lot to me to be a chief because this birthday actually reminds us of all the sacrifices that were made on behalf of all the current chiefs by the past chiefs,” said Minta. “It’s a tradition to always recognize the inception of the rank but also every year to be reminded of how far we’ve come. The old chiefs set the path for us new chiefs to walk in, the hope is that we are better than they were, and that future chiefs will be better than we are.”
Mesa Verde is part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility.
Press Release, April 2, 2014; Image: Wikimedia