In the shadow of the Old North Church in Boston's North End came the Navy’s newest Selected Chief Petty Officers to receive their indoctrination and initiation on board the USS Constitution or Old Ironsides, as it is affectionately known. She is the oldest commissioned warship in the world. It was from the steeple of the Old North Church, that Robert Newman, church sexton, hanged the two lanterns closely associated with Paul Revere on April 18, 1775, igniting the War for Independence and leading to the birth of our Nation. This was the beginning of many threats to our liberty that has called our nations citizen soldiers, to serve their country. Paul Revere, who was one of the original reservists, rode throughout the countryside warning his fellow minutemen that the regular British Army was marching to Lexington and Concord to seize their arms and arrest the leaders of the local militia.
History has again been made in good old Boston at this the start of a new millennium, as our modern day twice a citizen sailors in The Naval Reserve, for the first time joined there sister and brother selected CPO's from the active duty United States Navy, in the Chiefs initiation process. Master Chief Thomas LeClercq, (Active Duty at the Pentagon) the COB, pointed out that Master Chief Sayers and Rear Admirial Lankston, who was the director of Navy Staff, started this training on the USS Constitution four years ago. It was their way of changing the initiation and training process to have it become a reaffirmation of the Navy’s heritage and legacy. He further pointed out that he could not tell the difference between the Reservists and the Active Navy people unless you asked them where they came from. “They are truly outstanding military people who deserve to be a part of the one Navy that we are in fact displaying on Old Ironsides. The trip to Boston taking Constitution out for a turnaround, marching through town watching the community respond to the showing of Navy colors is incredible. I heard a Chief selectee say that you don’t know were you are going unless you know where you come from and this is the place where it all comes together.”
YNCM (AW) Shaun Courtney a TAR from NAS Brunswick ME served as an instructor for the initiation. When asked how the TARs and Selected Reservists were received he said: “Right from the day we got here, the active sailors treated us like the one navy that we are. They told us that anything we needed we just needed to ask.”
I Asked The Naval Reserve Force Master Chief Chris Glennon how this wonderful melding of the active forces and our reserves happened and he said: “The Reserve force makes up about 20% of today’s Navy, or about 92,000 of the 320,000 sailors on duty today. I asked the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy MMCM (SS/SW/AW) Jim Herdt for 20% of the seats for the CPO training onboard the Constitution and he readily agreed. The MCPON has taken great pride on many occasions to point out that he also had been a member of the Naval Reserve in the 1970’s. I am ecstatic that we ended up with 28 selected Chiefs with an additional 10 of our CPO’s as trainers and that the Navy once again sees us as full time partners. This is a great joint training opportunity for all our Navy leaders, it just doesn’t get any better than learning our heritage on board Old Ironsides”.
The select CPO’s days were long and arduous in keeping with the schedule of the 1800's predecessors of our Navy sailors today. They lived the hardships of those late 18th century seafarers by sleeping on the deck without the comfort of mattresses. Some tried the traditional hammocks of those days but found them too uncomfortable for sleeping. It was reveille at 0430 on the berthing decks of the Constitution followed by breakfast. Seamanship training commenced at 0600 followed by daily sail training, as it takes a finely tuned crew to raise by block and tackle the main propulsion system on a sailing ship. Colors at 0800 took on a very special historical significance. Gun drill training was quite a feat in itself, as the twelve member crews of eight would pull the one-ton cannons on their carriages away from the gun ports in preparation for firing. All of the crews competed for the fastest time to clean the cannon, reload the powder and shot, rack the carriage back to the port and simulate firing the gun. The full days of activities ended at 2100. TAR sailor of the year Michael Mc Sweeney ATC (Sel), Selected Reservists James Hooper PRC (Sel), and Matt Kendall YNC (Sel) from NAS Brunswick ME, expressed their enthusiasm in learning real teamwork to accomplish some very difficult tasks.
How best to learn about our history but by visiting the very places where they took place. The entire class saw and experienced the firing of muskets at Bunker Hill battlefield in Charlestown. A visit to the Old North Episcopal Church provided the CPO’s with a very informative talk by the Rev. Stephen T. Ayres, Vicar. He gave some insights into the events of April 1775, as the church was divided between loyalists and patriots, indeed General Sir William Gates the British Commander in Boston and Paul Revere worshiped under the same roof at the same time.
This was followed by a visit to Paul Reveres home where the curator pointed out that it is the oldest standing wood dwelling in the United States dating back to the mid 1600’s. He also gave some insight into the man; by informing all that he fathered 16 children with his two wives. His first wife died having her eighth child.
A distinct highpoint was a visit to the USS Constitution’s museum where they learned about the trials and tribulations of serving in the War of 1812. They saw how the whip, known as the ‘Cat of nine tails’ was used as the main way of teaching sailors good discipline. Thank goodness that tradition is one that is not followed in the United States Navy today.
A meeting with Medal of Honor winner Retired Captain Hudner USN, at the Massachusetts Korean War Memorial was inspiring. As every one shook his hand he reminded the new Navy leaders to continue their cherished traditions of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.
The CPO’s performed several worthwhile community projects. They cleaned and painted classrooms at the Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charlestown and served lunch to the residents of the New England Veteran’s Homeless Shelter in downtown Boston. When the Chief’s serenaded the veterans with the anthems of the various services you could feel the bond and pride in the air while all stood at attention. Selected Reservist PCC (Sel) Louis Hernandez from Ft. Dix New Jersey stated that he was deeply honored to be among the veterans.
When the CPO’s marched through the streets of Boston on there way to these events, the people of the community were fabulous as they constantly asked them who are you guys? How long will you be here? When are you coming back? Master Chief Cheryl Monroe a Selected Reservist on ADSW in Washington DC, would serve as the roving Ambassador for the group. She approached groups of spectators and explained who they were and what they were doing. Needless to say she generated an enormous amount of good will and understanding with the citizens of Boston and indeed some visiting tourists from around the country and the world.
ENC (Sel) Jere Murphy of the NMCRESCTR New Haven, CT summed up most of the proceedings by stating that “There was lots of camaraderie among the CPO selectees and everyone worked together for a common goal. We were placed in situations that we had no idea how to get ourselves out of. They did not give us the answers but in fact empowered us into solving the problems ourselves. The highpoint for me was climbing the mast and looking down at everyone much the same as my 18th century counterpart would have done."
The apogee of the week in Boston was the last day of training when Old Ironsides slipped gently away from her birth in Charlestown at 0700 Thursday with the one word passed that is akin to all sailors, “underway”. The Colors were set at 0800 with the entire crew and our passengers rendering honors to Old Glory. As the National Anthem was sung my feelings as an American sailor on board this national treasure produced an overwhelming feeling of Navy pride. After the Constitution completed her first leg of the trip with the assist of a tug, to the edge of the inner harbor, she was turned around for the return back to Charlestown. The CPO’s with the Constitution crew set the sails. When the first breath of air billowed in the shrouds you got a sudden feeling that that this old ship wanted to lurch forward and shrug off the tug.
Old Ironsides then spoke loudly, as two of her cannons were used to fire a twenty-one-gun salute in honor of the United States of America and the Fort at Castle Island received it for everyone in the country. This was the same fort that Paul Revere was stationed at during the Revolution and the War of 1812. Edgar Allen Poe was a sergeant garrisoned there at one point in his life and he probably got some very good ideas for some of his novels. The Fort returned the honor by also firing a twenty-one-gun salute. The smell of gunpowder and the roar of the cannons was an extraordinary experience. After all of these wonderful things a recitation of Oliver Wendell Holmes famous poem, “Old Ironsides” was recited. “Ay, tear her tattered ensign down! Long has it waved on high…” Needles to say at that point there was not a dry eye on board.
Our passengers included the MCPON James Herdt, Rear Adm. John B. Totushek, USNR Commander, Naval Reserve Force, and Rear Adm. David P. Polatty III Commander, Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Ill.
The MCPON charged the new CPO’s with his uncanny wisdom and insight to use this newly gained know-how, to best treat and empower their sailors. He wished them all the best in their new positions and reminded them that they are in the company of all of the other sailors that have gone before them. He told them to keep in mind all of the lessons that they have learned from this awesome experience. He asked; how many navy sailors can say that they have set the sails, manned the guns and been underway on the USS Constitution?
The MCPON also pointed out that he envisions the Naval Reserve to be fully integrated into the day-to-day operation of the Navy as it was displayed during this evolution. Having been a member of the Naval Reserve he knows full well how important it is for the citizen-sailor and the active Navy to serve together for the defense of our country. He also pointed out that the Chief’s initiation process has gotten so much better, and that this evolution is one of the zeniths of his initiative, to place the Chief’s community in the forefront of the Navy’s leadership.
Admiral Totushek spoke to all and said: “The honor of being selected as a Chief Petty Officer, places you as a part of the people that make our Navy run. We have so many roles to accomplish in the Navy, remember that you got here because of your technical expertise and your potential for leadership. Now that you are in a teaching, mentoring and role model mode, your skills will be tried to the fullest. I want to take this opportunity to wish you all the best in your new assignments. The Chiefs in The United States Navy set us apart from all the other navies in the world and nobody else does it better. God bless you as you start down this path.
In a conversation with Admiral Polatty he mentioned that they had 13 CPO selectees training with the group. He was delighted that his people were a part of this historic melding of active military with the reserve forces. The Admiral is very proud of the fact that at Great Lakes his command is fully unified and indeed he stated that they would be hard pressed to complete their mission if it were not for the assistance and participation of his reservists. He also said: “We have many reservists that hold positions in major technology companies and we in the active uniformed services certainly learn a great deal from their expertise.” In closing he expressed the thoughts that “I wish that I was a Chief Selectee, so that I could be beaming the way they are.”
After securing the ship at her berth a closing ceremony was conducted by the commanding office of the USS Constitution, Commander William F. Foster, Jr. and The Command Senior Chief Mark D. Johnson. All of the CPO selectees were presented a certificate of completion for the program that entitled them to use the rank of ordinary seaman of the USS Constitution. The class then presented their overwhelming thanks and gratitude to the crew of Old Ironsides. A placket and several other mementos were presented to the captain in behalf of the selectees. As this highly charged group of new Navy leaders began to scatter throughout the country, you got the feeling that the lessons and enthusiasm of this mutual experience will be infectious throughout the United States Navy.