Who, exactly, is a 'Sailor'?

The admiral in charge of the Navy's Training command has ordered all students - officer and enlisted alike - to stand at attention and recite the "Sailor's Creed" at the beginning of every school day.And some officers resent it. They believe only enlisted members of the Navy are sailors.Whether or not officers are sailors is an age-old question that has simmered for years. It is unique among the services. But when Rear Adm. Ann Rondeau ordered the pledge be said daily, she unwittingly sparked the debate into a controversy. The issue has gotten particular attention on a Web site, sailorbob.com, frequented by current and former surface warfare officers. "I do agree . that officers are not sailors," wrote one officer.

Another said he too considered himself a naval officer, not a sailor. "The two are not equal in meaning," he wrote. He then solicited comments from fellow officers.And while many applaud the Rondeau's sincere - albeit forced - attempt at instilling pride and professionalism, others resent being made to say the Navy's pledge, saying it makes them feel childish and, even worse, anti-Navy. For her part, Rondeau said her goal was to instill pride and tradition and to familiarize more of the Navy with the creed. Rondeau said she realized there would be some officers who would bristle at the idea, but says such feelings are misguided. "The Sailor's Creed describes us all as sailors," she said. "Being a sailor and an officer, or a sailor and a naval aviator, or a sailor and a submariner or Seabee are not in violent conflict with each other.

"Those subtitles describe more specifically what people in the Navy do, she said, though "naturally we're proud of that and we identify heavily with those titles.""But the single thing that unites us all is the fact we are sailors."Since her edict, the response has been loud, if not vocal, especially on Web sites such as sailorbob .com. Rondeau said she's read much of the online dissent after one sailorbob.com member e-mailed her and shared some of the postings with her. The officer, a commander, wanted her to know the feelings of many of his peers in the fleet. Navy Times has confirmed that e-mail exchange. Rondeau's policy does have fans, however. "The fact that some of you think you're 'mariners' or SWOs and not Sailors is exactly why we need to do this," wrote another Web poster.

"Get with it - we're all Sailors!"Others agreed. One Web poster brought up former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Arleigh Burke, who chose to describe himself simply as "sailor" on his tombstone.If it was "good enough for 31 Knot Burke," then it should be good enough for them, the person wrote.

Changing the culture

Even with the support of many past and present Navy leaders, being called a sailor is, for many, a cultural change, and Rondeau says that educating everyone in the Navy about the message of the Sailor's Creed will help unite the service. Retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy John Hagan said he believes Rondeau is on the right track - that "everyone will someday agree this was the right thing to do." The creed is taught to everyone entering the Navy at Recruit Training Command, the Naval Academy and Officer Candidate School, as well as Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps.Rondeau says her decision to have all schools under her command use it will be more than just a refresher course. "Many of the staff and instructors didn't learn the creed when they came in the Navy," she said. "This is a way for them to come up to speed."

Worth the time?

Even among officers who embrace the title "sailor," there's contempt for Rondeau's order.The commander who shared a collection of dissenting opinions in an e-mail to Rondeau told her that many of his colleagues felt that requiring everyone in training to stand and recite the creed is a waste of time, and in some cases, demeaning. "The general feeling is that while there is merit to the creed, there is a time and a place for it," he wrote to Rondeau. "That place is properly at Great Lakes, during boot camp, when our new Sailors are being indoctrinated to the Navy and to the ethos of Honor, Courage and Commitment."The officer told the admiral that her edict was not well-received, not only by the officers, but by the enlisted sailors, too, and cited many examples of angst. While the idea is "well-intentioned," he went on to say it "misses the mark." "Many feel that they are being treated like children and that by mandating the students to recite the creed, that it becomes a practice that is void of meaning," he wrote. Others on the discussion board took it a step further, stating the daily reciting of the creed was similar to practices by historical totalitarian regimes trying to brainwash their citizens. Rondeau acknowledged the exchange in her interview with Navy Times and paraphrased her rebuttal to the officer, saying the Navy leadership needs to push down to the rank and file, both officers and enlisted, the message of "what it is we believe in," she said. And at the moment, she believes the creed is the tool to do just that."I don't believe standing at attention and saying something we believe in is childish," she said. "If that is the case, should the whole nation stop standing up and singing 'The Star-Spangled Banner'?" Despite the uproar over her order, Rondeau welcomes the debate."I think it's wonderful we have some dissent here and I welcome the discussion of the issue," she said. "It is not unnatural to have people dissent when it comes to something they have to declare their belief in."But that doesn't mean she isn't open to other creative ideas. "Saying it every day may be a clumsy delivery system," she said. "But I believe the discussion about the creed is just as important as, and maybe even more important than, reciting it." "There are men and women fighting, winning, and some dying, in the name of what we say we believe - shouldn't we seek to understand what that means in real terms?"

The great divide

The distinct divide between officers and enlisted sailors has long been part of Navy culture. The demarcation between the two communities is both cultural and physical, with "officers' country" off-limits to enlisted crew members aboard ship, for example, a prohibition that doesn't exist in the other military services.There was even an outcry when the statue of an enlisted man, the Lone Sailor, was first unveiled at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., as the symbol of everyone who is serving or has served in the Navy."It wasn't accepted at first," said retired Rear Adm. William Thompson, a former Navy Chief of Information who helped found the Navy Memorial in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the mid-1990s, Navy leadership took on the old enlisted/officer stereotypes and prejudices. Then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Boorda rewrote the Sailor's Creed in 1994, just a year after it had been introduced. His changes, such as substituting the word "Navy" for "Bluejacket," were designed to create a creed that applied to all and fostered a sense of unity.A year later, Navy Secretary John Dalton declared "Sailor" to be a proper noun, ordering that it be capitalized in all Navy correspondence.Calling everyone a sailor "should be part of our culture, our identity, our ethos," said Capt. Ed Boorda, son of the former CNO and currently the officer in charge of the Command Leadership School in Newport, R.I., where all prospective commanding and executive officers and command master chiefs are trained.

"We're a sailor, whether an E-1 or an O-10."Capt. Tom Daniels, serving on the 5th Fleet staff in Bahrain, agrees, pointing out that one of the definitions in Webster's Dictionary describes "sailor" as "any person in the Navy.""For someone to say they are an officer and not a sailor is a hollow argument," said Retired MCPON Hagan, who was part of the team then-CNO Frank Kelso put together to create the original creed. "I've never heard any flag officer object to being a called a sailor.

"Sure, we are all proud of the communities we come from, but the one thing that unites us all is we are all Sailors with a capital 'S.'"Hagan pointed to "the strength the title 'Marine' has to everyone in the Corps, the strength the title 'Soldier' gives to the Army and 'Airman' the Air Force.""I think that anyone with an intellect can see that the title 'Sailor' is the right one for everyone in the Navy."Thompson agrees: "Any officer should be flattered to be called a sailor."

The Sailor's Creed

I am a United States Sailor. I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me. I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world. I proudly serve my country's Navy combat team with Honor, Courage, and Commitment. I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.