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Below is a transcript of remarks as delivered:
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Good morning. Distinguished guests, family and friends, shipmates, MCPON Smith, MCPON Honea, thanks for letting me take part in this very special and historic event. It’s an honor to be here and it’s humbling to speak in front of a crowd like this.
It’s also an honor to have several former MCPONs here with us today: MCPON Bushey, MCPON Hagan, MCPON Herdt, MCPON Scott, MCPON Stevens, MCPON Giordano. Each of you stood as anchors for our Navy. Each of your legacies and service have helped shape today’s Navy. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for being here. And thank you to your families, who supported you through your lifetime of service.
In just a few moments, we’ll bear witness to the changing of the guard, a transfer of responsibilities in one of the Navy’s most important leadership positions, the office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.
I’m going to deviate from my prepared remarks today. I’m going to speak from a book that was given to me when I first became CNO by my first command master chief on my first destroyer. The book is called “Winds of Change.” It’s the history of the office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy from 1967 to 1992.
MCPON Bushey will know the author personally, Charlotte Crist. Charlotte was a journalist in the United States Navy. She joined in the early ’60s. Her dad was a World War II veteran. She left the Navy – she worked for a newspaper in southern Georgia – [then] she came back to the Navy, [and] she married a submariner. When she became pregnant, she was forced to leave the Navy. I think it was one of your MCPONs that changed that rule. But she came back into the [Navy] Reserves after that – she never lost her love for the Navy.
And a four-month TAD assignment to your office, MCPON Bushey, led to a 17-month labor of love to write this book.
And I thought it was interesting. It was given to me, as I mentioned, by a former command master chief of mine who, in his inscription, said, “The most important – one of the most important – decisions you’ll make in your term of office is choosing the next MCPON. And so he said, read this book. I said, “aye.” And it definitely was informative.
I want to talk a little bit about the history of the office because most people equate the office of the MCPON with CNO Zumwalt, and it actually preceded him by probably three – at least two CNOs. And it really started in 1964, under a secretary of the Navy named Nitze. And Nitze saw that our recruiting and our retention was not doing well. At that time, retention among first-term sailors was at 10 percent. This was post-Berlin, post-Cuban Missile Crisis. We were ramping up for Vietnam – we were in serious trouble. And so he directed a one-star admiral named Alford, Adm. John Alford, who was a veteran of World War II – he was there during Pearl Harbor; he had sailed in Nimitz’s island-hopping campaign, finishing his term on a battleship off of Okinawa. And so Alford did a study, and the study took two years so it finished up in 1966. He and his team interviewed over 100,000 Sailors and they came away with some really incredible insights.
There were 115 in all. He worked – he worked directly for the secretary and the secretary published the results. And one of those recommendations, from a cryptologist technician first class named John Abraham, was to establish a leading chief petty officer of the United States Navy. And his idea was that not only would we have a leading chief, but we would then have – that would be a master chief, actually – but we would have senior chiefs at each of the fleets, in each of the [type commands] so we’d have that connective tissue from the waterfront back to Washington and to our most senior levels. And so, interestingly, it was put into effect because the Secretary of the Navy deemed it so.
But I’d like to read a passage from MCPON Black, our first MCPON. He requested to meet with the CNO at the time to talk about – and the CNO at the time was Admiral David McDonald – to talk about his expectations for the job. So McDonald told him he never believed in establishing the office to begin with, so MCPON Black asked him, “’If this is what the enlisted people want, will you give us a chance to make it work?’ And he told me at that point that I could do anything that I wanted to do.”
So, for Black – who was also at Pearl Harbor, who also crossed the Pacific on the USS Maryland and had eight battle campaign ribbons to prove it – that was a blank check, and so he established the office. The office was to report to the CNO. Within three months, it changed from the senior enlisted advisor to the CNO to the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy and we were off and running.
Twenty-five years later, when this book was written, Adm. Zumwalt wrote the foreword. And although I think I could capture this myself, I thought that Adm. Zumwalt’s words were quite poignant. And I’d like to read them to you, so please bear with me. Zumwalt writes in 1992, after he was out of office for a while:
When the office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy was created in 1967, the United States Navy took a giant step forward in untapping the leadership capabilities of its enlisted force. In the act of adding an extra gold star to the master chief’s crow, the senior levels of command were in effect saying to our enlisted community, we respect and we value your opinion. We need your input. We will listen and we will act. And just as they met the challenges of war and peace for more than two centuries, the enlisted community responded in a way that not only silenced those doubting Thomases, but responded – but also amazed those who initially believed.
No one could have known 25 years ago, writes Zumwalt, that the office would grow into a position of influence and credibility that it enjoys today. No officer, regardless of his or her position in the chain of command or the Washington bureau, demands more respect, gains quicker access, or is listened to more intently than the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. Wise congressmen, secretaries of defense and the Navy, chiefs of naval operations, and chiefs of naval personnel, and many others have benefitted from the sage counsel of the MCPON, for his voice is not only the voice of personal experience but of the broader and ever-changing spectrum of the enlisted experience.
Today, when there are so many avenues of communication open to modern Navy Sailors, it is difficult to imagine the breadth and the depth of the gap that that first MCPON was asked to bridge in 1967. Among the most rewarding memories of my naval career are those snapshots of time that I spent listening to Sailors. Whether they were manning riverboats in Vietnam or in the engine rooms of a destroyer underway, if I could get them to talk I always learned something.
But the Sailor of the ’60s rarely had the opportunity to speak to someone who could make the changes they suggested, or at least express interest in what they had to say. We were far too busy running our ships, balancing our accounts, or making ourselves look good for the promotion boards. And if by some miracle we did validate a Sailor’s suggestion by making the recommended change, we kept the credit for ourselves. As a result, Sailors stopped talking and they started walking right out the door, or they stayed and they convinced younger impressionable shipmates that no one up above gave a damn about what he or she thought.
That’s where the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy came in. He went out to the fleet with a message, and I quote, “We do take care. And if you tell me what’s on your mind, I’ll make sure that somebody listens.” I had the honor of working with Delbert Black and Jack Whittet, the first and second Master Chief Petty Officers of the Navy. What giants they were.
Like so many other good ideas that take years to ripen, the MCPON did not work overnight miracles. But those of us who have spent our careers as officers know well there is no one more patient or more persistent than a chief with a mission. He or she might yell and cuss. They might bang on tables, stomp on a few toes. But eventually, they get what they want if you give them the time and you give them the resources.
Between Delbert Black and Duane Bushey, 25 years have passed. Seven master chiefs have worn an extra star on their sleeve. They earned that star much the same way they earned that first crow as a petty officer. They were tested and approved. Once they had the title, they had to earn it. Credibility gains the petty officer must grow with each added stripe. Add an anchor, more to prove. Add a star, still more.
But add that third star, and you’re out in no man’s land, wrote Zumwalt. Those junior to you are looking up, perhaps holding you, perhaps pulling you down. Those above may extend a hand of confidence or, lacking confidence in their own abilities, try to push you down. Seven men have survived the winds of change – which is the title of this book. They learned when to bend and when to stand firm. They adjusted. They adapted. They adhered. Nonetheless, they refused to change one common denominator that has served them well throughout their voyage to the top: They continued to practice loyalty up and loyalty down. They earned a keen sense of balance on the high wire which places them in that bridge between officers and enlisted.
With this history marking the 25th anniversary of the office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, we gain insight into the job, the men who have held the title, their joint and their singular accomplishments, the support system they developed over the years, the organization, and last but not least the leadership capabilities of the world’s finest enlisted community. In each and every sailor serving in the United States Navy today – and I think it’s still true – lies the potential to be a Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy and the opportunity to make the world’s finest navy just a little bit better.
Thank you, Adm. Zumwalt. A lesson for all of us.
MCPON Russ Smith, I want to take time to thank you specifically. While I know you would rather defer all praise to your teammates, many of them sitting before me, your work and your service and your sacrifice deserve to be recognized.
For over three decades, you’ve stood the watch for our Navy and for our nation. In 1988, you began your career as an airman, then becoming a weapons technician, before finally finding your true calling as an intelligence specialist. You’ve always taken the tough assignments. You’re a true leader. You’re a chief to the core and a Sailor who is dedicated to Sailors, who’d do anything at any time of the day or night to help a fellow servicemember. And I know that personally.
As our 15th Master Chief Petty officer of the Navy, your candor to the Congress and thoughtful counsel to two CNOs and numerous secretaries have allowed Sailors to have a voice in our nation’s capital. Your tireless efforts to provide Sailors with mental, moral, and spiritual support has helped make our fleet more resilient and much, much more effective. Your leadership ensured that our most important resource, our people, are ready to serve and defend the nation that we love. Having conducted more than 200 fleet visits all over the world, your outreach and willingness to be there for Sailors and their families is what truly made your service so remarkable.
You cared for Sailors like few other leaders that I’ve met in the Navy. Thank you for everything you have done over these past four years. Our Navy and our Navy family are much stronger than it was four years ago. As you go ashore for the final time, know that this nation and our Navy are forever grateful for your lifetime of consequential and honorable service.
Now, just as we pause to send MCPON Smith off, we should also take a moment to look forward to the future excited for what lies ahead. The soon-to-be 16th MCPON, James Honea, has been an essential part of our Navy for 35 years with experience in assignments at sea and all over the world, with leadership positions at every single level. He brings the exact kind of professional experience we need for this immense responsibility. I’ve said it before: He’s got saltwater running through his veins. This boatswains mate will lead as MCPON with honor, courage, commitment, and respect.
We’re thrilled to see you build upon MCPON Smith’s momentum and accelerate America’s naval power. I know that like so many other MCPONs here with us today, that you are a servant leader, truly, putting the needs of our Sailors and their families above all. Without a doubt, our Sailors and their families are in good hands with you stepping in. I’d also like to take a moment to thank Evelyn, James, Sara, and the rest of your family who are here with us today for their support and love over these three decades.
I’ll close with this. MCPON Smith may be retiring, but his legacy will live on. We would be wise to serve others first and to fight for our sailors always.
Thank you all so very much for being here today. May God bless you, may God bless our Navy, and may God bless the United States of America.
Adm. Mike Gilday
08 September 2022
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