Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Devin Langer Navy Public Affairs Support Element Detachment Hawaii
PEARL HARBOR – Cheers and motivational words filled the humid air. Sweat dripped down the face of someone who was once a first class petty officer. While carrying a fellow Sailor on top of her shoulders, she hustled down a grassy field. She took small strides as her teammates surrounded her, encouraging her to keep pushing until she reached the finish line. Another challenge complete.
More than 5,000 Sailors around the world donned khakis and received their anchors September 13. Those Sailors selected for chief petty officer went through six weeks of initiation training starting the moment their name was announced. This is known as “Chief Season.” Along with various forms of leadership training, physical training played a key role in the forging of the former first class petty officers into the chiefs they are today.
“We have to lead by example, right?” said Chief Steelworker Joshua Brewer, assigned to Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303, Detachment Pearl Harbor. “If we’re going to lead by the example, then we need to look like the example.”
Some of the physical challenges the Hawaii-based chiefs faced involved various forms of training, to include running, swimming, hiking the local mountains and participating in island-wide organized events.
For Brewer, the challenges go beyond the physical and mental strength.
“You have to visualize the success,” said Brewer. “If you can’t think you’re going to be successful, you won’t be. It’s not really so much if you’re physically or mentally fit, it’s whether or not you have heart. Are you going to do it or give up? ‘Give up’ is not an option.”
One of the biggest lessons the physical challenges taught each chief was how to work as a team. Each challenge emphasized the importance of teamwork in some form or another. Whether it be working together to accomplish a goal or simply cheering each other on, there was no individual-based evolution.
“When I needed motivation, the aspect of teamwork helped a lot,” said Chief Hospital Corpsman Maria Tindall, assigned to Naval Health Clinic Hawaii. “A lot of it is mental and your body can take a lot more than you think it can. When you have that teamwork and motivation from your fellow Sailors, that pushes you to do more.”
Working together throughout the season allowed each challenge to be looked at from different perspectives, which allowed each Sailor develop new ways to solve problems.
“I think the saying ‘Chiefs are Forged’ is there because you weren’t born knowing everything or having the skills overnight,” said Tindall. “You definitely have to work with other people and it’s not a one-person show. Everyone’s experience is different and you have to learn from them, which will in turn make you a better Chief.”
Chief Cryptologic Technician (Networks) Mark Nelson, a reservist assigned to Navy Information Operations Command Hawaii, compares the chief season to the metamorphosis stage of a caterpillar in its transition to a butterfly. Similarly, it is also the same concept for forging.
“Forging has a very specific meaning,” said Nelson. “It’s is about taking something that’s hard already and chipping away at it while not damaging the integrity of it as you’re shaping it to become this new thing. You’re not fabricating it.”
Because they were selected, each Sailor has shown they have what it takes to wear the anchors. The chief season is dedicated to taking all of the traits that led to each Sailor’s selection and breaking them down to what is most important to becoming a chief.
At the beginning of any enlisted Navy career, individuals go through an eight-week boot camp that breaks them down from being a civilian and shapes them into a Sailor. Nelson said the chief season is structured very similarly.
“We all went to boot and got through the first half of our career,” said Nelson, “and for those of us who are fortunate enough to have been selected, this is like that mid-career boot camp that kind of resets you, gets you focused on something else and then launches you into the second half of your career.”
Overall, the process to becoming a chief can seem like a daunting task for some. The transition from E6 to E7 in the Navy is more than just putting on a new collar device and making more money. The chief’s mess is a team-organization built from hard work, commitment to service and dedication to leadership. Chief’s aren’t made; they’re forged.