First Class Leaders

MCPON Stresses The Role Of Senior Petty Officers In Managing The Deck Plates

ABOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER THEODORE ROOSEVELT Chiefs may run the Navy, but first class petty officers make the deck plates run.

That's the word from Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SW/FMF) Joe Campa Jr., who has laid out his expectations for first classes Navy-wide.

"We must do more to bring our first class petty officers into this leadership team and create a deck plate triad of division officer, chief and first class," Campa said.

"A lot of [first class petty officers] are doing these things already, but `a lot of them' is not good enough; I want all of them to be doing these things," Campa said.

Last year, Campa issued his "Mission, Vision and Guiding Principals" to the Navy's collective chiefs' mess. Now he wants to give those khaki leaders some help, with the Jan. 29 release of "Expectations of the First Class Petty Officer."

Those six statements, approved by Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead, outline Campa's vision for leadership roles and responsibilities while stressing such values as pride in the Navy's history and loyalty to one's shipmates.

Campa wants first class petty officers to reassert their positions as leaders. Staff sergeants in the Army and Marine Corps are considered higher level noncommissioned officers, and Campa believes spelling out responsibilities for senior sailors will help them take on roles similar to that of greenside E6s.

"First class petty officers are the ones out there with the sailors daily they are the link to the leadership," Campa said. 'There is no group better positioned to have a positive influence on our sailors than they are."

First class petty officers were the Navy's primary deck plate leaders until the drawdown of the1990s. Many senior leaders were shown the door, and they took the culture of first class leadership with them, leaving all the authority to chiefs.

"We really lost the bubble on this kind of leadership because of that," said Lt. Ron Rancourt, a limited duty officer and V-1 division officer aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. "I am very excited to see MCPON focus on bringing this kind of leadership back to the deck plates in a formal way, because we need it if our divisions are going to function properly."

Campa is counting on chiefs to include first class petty officers in the leadership team. "I would first ensure the chiefs and officers understood what we are [now] asking of our first class petty officers and then encourage them to look for ways to bring this to life on the deck plates," Campa said. "Then they need to engage the first classes ... and not only discuss these things with them, but challenge them to meet these expectations."

The movement is already underway aboard Theodore Roosevelt, which is training for deployment. "We have been focusing on our first class leadership for a while now," Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Christopher Engles said. "It's up to the commands, through the chiefs' mess, to make this work Navy-wide."

For example, Engles said, the rank and file must view the first class petty officers as part of the leadership team.To encourage this, TR now groups the first classes with chiefs and officers when liberty call is announced.

"It may seem a small thing ... but it sets a tone within the command and an expectation of the sailors that these sailors are empowered by the command," Engles said.

In Rancourt's division on TR's flight deck, the dynamic is already in motion a direct result of the trust and responsibility he and Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Aircraft Handling) (AW) Joseph "Wayne" Petko have given their leading petty officer, ABH 1st Class (Aircraft Handling) (AW/SW) Maurice Bonham. Bonham is the link between the khaki leadership and the 145 junior sailors who make the dance on the Roosevelt's flight deck work.

"The flight deck is a dangerous place, and we have to be able to count on our leaders at all levels, but that really starts with Bonham," Petko said.

Without a strong first class, Rancourt and Petko would be forced to micromanage their division while still doing their jobs.

"A good first class like Bonham really makes this whole thing work better and things get done quicker," Petko said. That requires the three leaders to have confidence in each other. "We must not only get to know each other, but be able to trust each other unconditionally," Bonham said.

When Petko or Rancourt want to communicate with their most junior sailors or simply need to know something about a sailor or work center, they go to Bonham, who then takes the issue down to the deck plates usually through his second classes, who head the division's major work centers.

"Just as the chief must empower me to do my job, I have to do the same thing for my second classes, too," Bonham said. Campa said he believes many first class petty officers already meet or exceed these expectations, but he felt it was time to formalize them.

"For many years, these expectations have been around in some form and have been unspoken," Campa said. "We have to define those expectations clearly. I think we owe [first classes] a clear set of standards to go by."

His "expectations" aren't simply a roadmap to the khaki ranks, either.

"This isn't about a first class increasing their chances to make chief," Campa said. "We simply don't have any sailors to spare, so we need engaged leadership at every level. This is part of that.

"But if they do these things and meet the full measure of these expectations, they're going to make themselves ready for increased responsibility," Campa said.

He said the reality is that not all first class petty officers will make chief, and he wants to remove any hint of a stigma that retiring as a first class means a career was a failure.

"They are first class petty officers in the world's finest Navy," he said. "There is no shame, and a lot of honor, in achieving that status, and they should be proud of that." Campa hopes that by codifying the role of the first class and formally making them a part of the Navy's most critical leadership team, he will elevate the role of the Navy's most senior "blue shirts," something he said will enhance the role of the chief, not diminish it.

"I don't think expecting our first classes to step up and lead is in any way a threat to the chiefs' mess," Engles said.

"On the contrary, a good chief will instinctively know their ability to lead is only increased by having a strong and engaged first class mess."