MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – A graduating class of chief petty officers stand at attention after being pinned with the anchor rank insignia by friends and family. Each chief wears a tan combination cover that was placed on his head by a mentor who has guided him through a six-week induction course. It is a Navy ceremony rife with centuries-old traditions.
A Navy bell sounds attention. A whistle blows, and the newly promoted chief petty officers walk down the red carpet, saluting two columns of sailors standing as “sideboys.” The red carpet with sideboys is usually for officers and special guests; chief petty officers are the only enlisted sailors afforded this honor. By walking down the aisle, chief petty officers are officially “welcomed aboard.”
The elaborate promotion ceremony symbolizes a major transition in the career of sailors, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Pete E. Torres, the Field Medical Battalion operations chief and the co-chair of the chief petty officer induction committee. After many years of learning their crafts and coming up through the ranks, the new chiefs enter into a fraternity with the most knowledgeable and experienced enlisted sailors in the Navy.
Navy chiefs are expected to be not only subject matter experts in their jobs, but experts in all enlisted matters, said Master Chief Petty Officer Robert B. Banuelos, the 1st Marine Division command master chief petty officer.
“They have to have the knowledge or possess the ability to provide answers and solutions to sailor issues out there,” added Banuelos, a 42-year-old native of Stockton, Calif.
In order to prepare petty officers for the transition, selected chief petty officers attend a six-week induction course, where they are tested and trained to perform the duties of a chief petty officer, said Torres, a 38-year-old native of El Paso, Texas.
Chief Petty Officer Clinton Sprabary, a command career counselor with the 1st Marine Division surgeon, recently graduated the induction course and was promoted to chief.
“You are constantly over-tasked and taught how to manage time and prioritize the most important tasks,” explained Sprabary, a 36-year-old native of Denton, Texas. “It teaches you to juggle a very complicated schedule and still achieve the mission.”
The induction process is only the beginning of a chief’s training. After being promoted, they are welcomed into the chief’s mess, or the dining room on ships and shore where chiefs share stories, knowledge and experiences. The chief’s mess is also referred to figuratively as a fraternity where chiefs can go for guidance and advice whenever they need help, aside from a place to eat.
“They need to understand the resources they have within the chief’s mess,” Banuelos said. “We’re there to help them succeed. We’re there to help them make better decisions.”
Banuelos stressed that the chief’s mess is a place where senior and master chief petty officers prepare the upcoming generation to take over their jobs when they retire. He urged new chiefs to master the art of communication with their sailors and their peers. For Banuelos, good communication is the key to success.
“A lot of things get resolved through communication,” Banuelos said. “You communicate what is the problem and what needs to get done to arrive at the proper solution. If you don’t communicate and you’re afraid to communicate within the chief’s mess and within the chain of command, then a lot of problems go unresolved, which eventually leads to mission failure.”
In addition to the chief’s mess, new chiefs also have a logbook given to them as part of the induction process.
The logbook contains advice, stories and suggestions by seasoned chief petty officers within their commands, said Torres. Whenever a chief petty officer has a problem, he can turn to the logbook to see how previous chiefs handled the situation.
“Whenever I run into a dilemma or have a situation, I look through my logbook to see what a previous master chief or senior chief may have said in a particular situation,” Banuelos said. “It just reinforces things I should be doing. It serves as a reminder of what other people have gone through.”
With the logbook, the chief’s mess and weeks of training, chiefs enter the ranks with many resources to guide them in their new roles. Banuelos said he anticipates good things from the incoming class.
“Eventually, I look forward to them replacing me when I retire, and hopefully they can carry the torch as proudly or better than I did,” added Banuelos.