These are the comments of Commodore Felkins, Commander, Fleet Training Group, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 1982 during the pinning ceremony.
"You've heard all the rhetoric about how you are now expected to be the fountain of wisdom," he said. "Every word of this is true. But I stand here today to charge you with the greatest challenge and the most important task that you, as a Chief, will ever undertake.
"I expect that each of you will fulfill your duty as a mentor and leader of your enlisted charges. But, this is the easy part of being a Chief. It has been drilled into them, just as it was drilled into each of you, that, when in doubt, 'Ask the Chief.'
"I wish I could say the same for our junior officers but, alas, I cannot.
"Based upon my own experience, junior officers are far too cocksure of their own abilities and unwilling to admit their own shortcomings. Their training has been long on the technicalities of warfare, but pitifully short on the realities of leadership. And this is where you come in. The single most important task you will ever undertake is in the training of our junior officers.
"This will, without doubt, be the most difficult task which you will ever undertake. Yet, you cannot shirk from it. I cannot…indeed the Navy, nor the country can afford your abandonment of this responsibility. The stakes are, simply, far to high.
"You will be constantly frustrated in this role. You will find yourself battling an individual who writes your fitness report. You will find yourself at odds with someone who has a mere fraction of your knowledge and practical experience. You will find yourselves at odds with someone who is half your age, and is somehow convinced that he is right, and you are wrong.
"This will be, for many of you, a no win situation. And, you will ask yourselves, 'Can I afford to stand up to the person who writes my evaluation?' My answer to this is simple and direct: You can't afford not to.
"Each of you is a specialist in your field. There is no one, officer or enlisted who has been where you have been, or done what you have done. Draw upon this experience. Choose your battles carefully. But never back down when your arguments are sound.
"You will, no doubt, encounter the prototypical 'Salty' Ensign. He will be your nemesis. He will assert his authority. And you will support him. But after quarters is done, you will seek him out and attempt to set him right. If he is potentially a good naval officer, he will listen to you. If he is wise, he will seek your council. If he is none of these things it is your responsibility… indeed, it is your duty to confront him, and the consequences be damned. You must, when the time comes, be willing to put everything on the line.
"I had it put to me, in no uncertain terms, from a grizzled old Chief Boatswain's Mate, when I was a young First Lieutenant. 'Sir,' he said. 'Let me put it this way. I am a Chief Petty Officer. I will retire as a Chief Petty Officer. Nothing that you can say or do will change that fact. My career is winding down. Your career is just starting. This makes me a very dangerous person. I can do you a whole lot more damage than you can do me. Do we understand each other?'
"I charge each of you to emulate my old Chief. In my career, I can think of no individual, officer or enlisted, who had the impact that he did. I consider him both my mentor, and my friend. I went on to learn from him, not just about his rate, but about life, leadership, and responsibility. Often, to this day, when I encounter a problem I'll ask myself, 'What would the Chief have said?'"
Last Preventive Maintenance December 30, 2005