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“I went from thief to chief, and if I can do better and showcase my story, hopefully someone else can learn from my mistakes and be better for it,” McCray said.
McCray was assigned to USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) from 2011-2015. He checked in as a second class petty officer and was soon promoted to first class. In less than a month, however, he found himself at captain’s mast after swapping price tags between a pair of shoes he wanted and a less expensive pair at the Navy Exchange.
McCray was charged and found guilty of Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 92 Failure to Obey Order or Regulation and Article 121 Larceny and Wrongful Appropriation. He received a non-judicial punishment of 45/45 half-month pay and defrocked from E6 to E5.
“It was a very challenging time for my family and me,” McCray shared. “Although self-imposed, I was still in the headspace of blaming my chain of command for punishing me. My new leadership helped me see the error of my ways and started my road to redemption. I was allowed to lead where others might have given up on that Sailor.”
It was only a matter of time onboard the aircraft carrier that McCray became the leading petty officer, section leader, warfare coordinator, and work center supervisor of his department. Before his next assignment, he was once again frocked to an E6.
“I had outstanding leadership who were patient with me allowing for resiliency,” he explained. “I kept plugging away at the jobs and taking care of my division. My division officer pointed me in the right direction. Eventually, I transferred to NAS Oceana with all the lessons learned as a first class, ranked number 10 of 271, and excited to keep up with the trend of excellence.”
McCray considers the Roosevelt his most rewarding duty station as well his most challenging assignment in the Navy.
“If you don't move when you're comfortable, it means you won't change. If you don't change, you won't grow,” McCray advised. “Although part of the process is failure, we don't become failures. We use it so that we grow. So get uncomfortable, and do the big scary thing! That's the first step. The rest will take care of itself.”
Fast-forward to today, McCray is the leading chief of the operation department’s air traffic control division at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, where he says is home to the Navy’s best Chief’s Mess.
“I admire the close knit community we have here,” he explained. “The small command charm and the attentiveness to every one of our issues or Sailor issues and the results we always get together. Everything just clicks here, especially our sense of humor. I love it!”
Although there are lots of laughs and good times, McCray is serious about his role as a senior chief.
“Those who are in it for the money will be sorely disappointed. You have to want to influence these young men and women,” McCray explained. “Much like a teacher mentors and guides our youth, we are also charged. I'm sure we all have that one teacher from childhood that has a lifetime of influence over us. Well, that's you as a chief. You will always be somebody's first, best, or worst. You have to want it! It is a decision, not just to do it, but to do it well.”
McCray describes himself as an “in-your-face leader” – one who is blatantly truthful and assertively straight-forward. Through the many years as a senior enlisted he discovered that most people appreciate his honesty and the safe space to be honest in return.
“Sometimes I can be obnoxiously direct, but only because I care about your success,” McCray said. “They say how they feel in a manner that opens the door for discussion and we don't waste any time getting to the issue. We just get to it, and we come up with a solution based off what they need.”
‘Families are Our Backbone’
McCray is family-oriented and family-focused as evident through the family YouTube channel @TheMacPack, which has tons of videos of family outings, celebrations, and adventures.
“It’s family time on camera,” he said. “Taking trips, doing activities with the kids, just fun times and events with my family. We can relive those good times together on the screen instead of dusting off the old photo albums when we get older.”
For 15 years and counting, McCray has been married to his wife Barbara. They are the proud parents of four children – Laila, 19; Nevaeh, 16; Madison, 15; and Mason, 8.
“My family is amazing! They have supported me along this journey, and I couldn't thank them enough for the backup,” McCray said. “Just as the chiefs are the backbone of the Navy, our families are our backbone. I cannot and will not do this without them.”
Another member of the family who McCray attributes his success to his father Howard McCray, Sr. “He set the example for me early on of what a man is and what he is supposed to do, and that is to protect, provide, and preside,” he added.
130 Years of Service
As for McCray’s other family – the Navy Chief’s Mess – this year they celebrate the 130th birthday of the chief petty officer. Since April 1, 1893, chief petty officers have been charged with the responsibility of leading Sailors and training junior officers. As the stewards of the Navy’s legacy, chief petty officers ensure the Navy’s culture and traditions remain intact and are passed down despite time.
“I have no biological brothers, but I found that in the Chiefs' Mess,” McCray said. “Being a part of this is something I've never felt before.”
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