KADENA, Okinawa (Jan. 29, 2021) A chief pinning ceremony was held onboard Commander, Fleet Activities Okinawa’s White Beach Naval Facility Jan. 29, 2021. Seven personnel who passed the chief initiation process were honored or pinned.
Initiation is a six-week training period in which currently serving chief petty officers prepares new chief petty officers to assume their duties and become members of the Chiefs Mess. This process for newly promoted E7 personnel is unique to the navy among the armed forces. At the end of the process the newly initiated chief petty officers have their collar devices and covers put on by mentors or family members during the pinning ceremony.
“Unlike any other service, those selected for promotion to E-7 must earn the title of "the Chief," said Senior Chief Information Systems Technician Edward Smith, ceremony coordinator and speaker. “It is not automatic, it is not bestowed by any one person, and it is definitely not given easily or freely. Since 1893, the Chiefs Mess has been a brotherhood and sisterhood that transcends and overcomes any adversity in its path. It breeds and cultivates leaders from any walk of life and does so exceedingly well.”
This year’s ceremony was uncommon on several counts. It was held in January instead of September because of COVID-19. Though planning for the initiation season began in early 2020, it was halted for several months and advancement results were released months later than usual. Command leadership received the results on Nov. 19, 2020. Because the season would take place over the holidays it also had to take a two-week pause.
“COVID-19 was the major challenge,” said Smith. “CPO Initiation usually consists of plenty of "in your face" discussions and physical training in order to build trust and camaraderie between the chief selects and the Chiefs Mess. We had to do away with all of that and take a different approach. All training evolutions adhered to COVID-19 mitigations and current HPCON restrictions.”
Of the seven personnel honored at the ceremony for completing initiation, only six put on anchors for the first time. Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Jason Webley, assigned to Pacific Missile Range Facility Far East Det. Okinawa, was meritoriously advanced after becoming the 2019 U.S Pacific Fleet Sea Sailor of the Year. Sailors of the year are usually pinned in a Washington, DC ceremony but due to travel restrictions individual ceremonies were held throughout the navy. Webley was pinned in a ceremony held at White Beach on May 27, 2020.
“When I was meritoriously promoted to chief petty officer I was proud of my achievement, but I couldn't help but have this underlying feeling that it wasn't earned,” said Webley. “As I went through CPO initiation as a chief, I kept that feeling before me and used it, and the support of my fellow mates of Class 127, as motivation to push forward and grind to get to this day of acceptance and pinning.”
Master Sgt. Robert Taylor, assigned to Kadena Air Base 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said he was encouraged to participate by his friend Command Master Chief Keith Wilkerson. Though unfamiliar with the navy initiation, he said his command has been supportive.
“A lot of the teaching and learning from this ten week initiation have made me do a lot of self-reflecting,” said Taylor. “I’ll be able to take a lot to the Air Force side of the house.”
According to Smith, it’s not uncommon for non-commissioned officers of other services to participate in this uniquely navy event. Taylor was pinned and donned his chief’s combination cover at the ceremony the same as the other chiefs being pinned. As an initiated honorary chief, he is allowed to enter any Chiefs Mess worldwide the same as a regular U.S. Navy chief.
Chief Sonar Technician Surface Jeremy Craig, assigned to Navy Data Center Det. Okinawa, Chief Sonar Technician Surface Brain Vergo, assigned to Navy Data Center Det. Okinawa, Chief Operations Specialist Jane Tupas-Abuel, Chief Master-at-Arms Kyle Callahan, assigned to CFAO security department, Chief Master-at-Arms Joshua Ferrer, assigned to CFAO security department, also put on anchors during the ceremony.
It’s been an emotional journey. I never expected to get up to this point,” said Tupas-Abuel. “I’m happy, proud, and humble. A prideful but humble event.”
At a traditional shore-based ceremony the newly anchored chiefs are “rung ashore” with a bell, symbolically departing the “ship” (ceremony) and saluted as a boatswain’s mate pipes his whistle. To keep the ceremony personnel minimal and maintain social distancing this was modified to the ringing of the bell, and a boatswain’s whistle as salutes were rendered in place.
“We are confident as a CPO Mess that our initiated chiefs understood the value of every training evolution and welcome them into the mess,” said Smith. “COVID-19 definitely presented major challenges but in the end, we hit the target and met the intent of our CPO Creed.”