Today, around the Navy and around the world, men and women—Sailors—are making an incredible transition and advancing to Chief Petty Officer. The Navy Memorial is one of our most sacred places, here in Washington, D.C., and today I will stand with a group of Sailors who will receive their anchors. I can’t think of a more fitting place to celebrate such a transformational day.
Over the past six weeks, many Sailors have been challenged, and those challenges were hard but nothing compared to what they will face in the years to come. And that’s ok, because challenge is good. Challenges strengthen us. As I reflect on the critical impact Chiefs have had on my life and career, I am convinced of the importance of the Mess as an institution.
My first Chief told me that our most important weapons system is our Navy Team and their families. People are and will continue to be our key competitive advantage over any adversary. The fact that I am highlighting this enduring principle, 34 years after I first heard it from my Chief, reflects how pivotal Chief Petty Officers have been in my own life and career.
Every time I get the opportunity to reconnect with a group of Chiefs, I leave feeling uplifted and inspired. Those brief times reinforce how important the institution of the Chief Petty Officers’ Mess is to our Navy and our nation.
I use that word institution carefully. When we use it, we often do so to indicate something that has merely been around for a long time. That’s not what I mean today. That usage of the word indicates staleness and complacency, the exact opposite of what the Chiefs’ Mess represents. The original meaning is far better. The word “institution” is the “action of establishing or founding” and under this definition, the institution of the Chiefs’ Mess is not who you are, or the insignia you wear, or the fact that we’ve marked this occasion for many years, but what you do, the actions you take, day-in, and day-out, large and small—that Chiefs routinely undertake to enable our Sailors to perform at their very best.
Even the briefest review of history demonstrates that Chief Petty Officers are Sailors of action. Some of their names, like John Finn, or Oscar Peterson or Peter Tomich—all Chiefs who were awarded the Medal of Honor—are legends in their own right. These examples of valor and of sacrifice are worthy of telling and retelling, but there is something even greater than these individual examples. Our Navy’s achievements throughout our history are due in large measure to the training and mentorship provided by Chief Petty Officers.
Later this year, we’ll commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The line of heroes we look to for inspiration from that series of combat actions is long as well. We will remember Cmdr. Ernest Evans and Lt. Cmdr. Robert Copeland and Gunner’s Mate Third Class Paul Carr. A Chief isn’t in that list, but the Sailors and Officers we lionize from that battle were all trained and mentored by Chief Petty Officers. Those Chiefs would probably tell you that they weren’t looking for credit. They weren’t looking to get their name mentioned by the CNO 75 years later. They were focused on the actions they needed to take to establish the Chiefs’ Mess, to institute the Chiefs’ Mess—every day. They were focused on making our Navy team the most lethal weapons system in our arsenal and they were focused on creating winners – the Sailors and Officers whose actions would cement the U.S. Navy’s combat record and show that our destroyers can fight like battleships as they did at Leyte Gulf.
I sent a letter to all of the Chiefs who just donned their anchors, and I’ve charged them and those who already wear anchors to think about the Chiefs’ Mess as an institution: the sum of the daily acts, both small and large, that continue to challenge us and force us to rise to the standards of those who came before. The actions that will leave our Navy in a better position tomorrow. I also told them that this can’t happen from the physical space of the Mess. They have to be constantly involved in their Sailors’ lives on and off duty.
Chiefs, carrying forward the legacy of those who came before you will test you, and will draw on all the skills, knowledge, and experiences that formed the basis for your selection. The demands you face are tall indeed, and I have high expectations of our Chief Petty Officers, as do the Sailors you serve and lead. However, I am confident that you’ll rise to meet these obligations, making the most of each and every day, leading Sailors and Officers to fulfill the promise of their potential. The challenges we face as a Navy and a nation demand that you do so, as do those who wore anchors before you. We need your best efforts more than ever. I want every Chief in the fleet, new and old, to remember that the Navy not only expects more of you, but demands it—now more than ever. To those of you donning your anchors today, congratulations. You are now the Chief! Thank you for all that you do, and I’ll see you out in the fleet.