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Reinventing the Chiefs Initiation in the Time of COVID

March 5, 2021

Suitland, Md. —

This year’s initiation process of transitioning select senior enlisted personnel to the rank of chief petty officer was like no previous iteration and required a new approach, a virtual initiation, and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) led the way.


The constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic required Navy leaders and the Chiefs Mess to not only delay the selection board by several months, but to also revise the initiation process to incorporate COVID health protection measures.


In-person and virtual classroom training was conducted, allowing for maximum participation; group physical fitness training was revised to include physical distancing measures; and the time-honored initiation process itself, the process of preparing chief petty officer selectees for entry into the fraternity of the Chiefs Mess, was drastically impacted when it was lengthened from the normal six weeks to just over nine weeks.


A greater challenge was presented when COVID exposure forced CPO selectees into a restriction of movement (ROM) two days prior to “final night.”


With only two days to plan, brief, and execute “final night,” the planning committee put together an innovative plan; they briefed the senior enlisted leaders within 24 hours and after a few minor adjustments, briefed the Chiefs Mess on the plan at 6 p.m. the night prior to execution. By 6 a.m., the team had created an elaborate virtual environment using Microsoft Teams that offered a main room, break-out rooms for small groups and specific focus points, holding rooms for one-on-one conversations, mentoring, and “final event” rooms.


The ability to track all of these rooms, move the selectees throughout each room, keep all the chiefs informed of who was where and what stage each person was in throughout the entire 17-hour “final night” event was nothing less than amazing. Having so many virtual rooms offered a unique and personal way for many members of the Chiefs Mess (who would have otherwise been unavailable in person due to our group size limitations) to participate.


In the end, ONI and its subordinate commands celebrated the selection of nine men and women as chief petty officers. Additionally, ONI welcomed the chief selectee from our Coast Guard partner command. One Navy selectee is currently deployed and will be initiated later. Using the foundations developed in the Navy’s Sailor 360 program, the other nine selectees received initiation training that tested their mettle and emphasized the Navy ethos, core values, and chief petty officer mission, vision, and guiding principles—the values of the Navy and Coast Guard chief petty officer.


Our Navy and Coast Guard selectees rose to the challenge of this COVID-impacted initiation process with steadfast determination, a hallmark of the Chiefs Mess, and successfully completed the program. It culminated with the time-honored tradition of “Final Night,” the last step of the initiation process that solidifies the selectees’ acceptance into the Chiefs Mess. This virtual event was also a first for ONI.


My guidance to my Chiefs Mess during initiation training is and remains: “Prepare our Chief selectees for the challenges of meeting the mission of a modern Navy and Coast Guard, while maintaining the time-honored traditions of chief petty officers.” I am proud to say that ONI was at the forefront of fielding one of the best CPO initiation seasons within the bounds of COVID constraints. I am equally proud of the zeal with which our Chiefs Mess and chief selectees performed in this new training environment.


I am profoundly pleased to welcome our newest chief petty officers into our Navy and Coast Guard team. They have achieved a significant milestone in their careers that is no small accomplishment. They will be expected to lead from the front, to be the technical experts, and to exhibit the professionalism of which they have proven themselves capable. To quote the U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officers Creed:


No other armed force throughout the world carries the responsibilities nor grants privileges to its enlisted comparable to the privileges and responsibilities you are now bound to observe and expected to fulfill.”

It is now required that you be a fountain of wisdom, the ambassador of good will, the authority in personnel relations as well as their technical application. ‘Ask the Chief’ is a household word in and out of the Navy. You are now the ‘CHIEF.’”


Congratulations and well done!