KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii (NNS) -- "Are you a lifter or are you a leaner?"
These were the words Command Master Chief Christopher Aldis, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, bellowed at hundreds of eager chief petty officer (CPO) selects the morning of Aug. 28, setting the tone for the 14th Annual Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Challenge in Kaneohe, Hawaii.
The early-morning sun rose above Marine Corps Base Hawaii, spilling light into the hidden crevices of the Koolau Mountains and awakening the excitement and eagerness among the chief selects and CPOs. Aldis' words resonated a thought that left the chief selects pondering whether they were a "lifter", a take-charge leader that can impact the Navy and the mess, or a "leaner," unreliable and only looking out for oneself.
Chief selects are first class petty officers who have been selected for promotion to CPO but not yet actually promoted or "pinned." This challenge is designed to build companionship and teamwork for the chief selects and to help integrate them into the Chiefs Mess, also admiringly referred to as the Goat Locker.
The challenge is based on the physical fitness and tactical proficiency FMF Corpsmen must have to embed with Marine platoons.
"The FMF Challenge started 14 years ago as a way to show what Sailors training with the Marine Corps experience," said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Lorenzo Branch, a coordinator of the FMF Challenge. "Corpsmen stationed here are passed along the heritage of hosting and creating this event. We take a lot of pride in what we do and we want the selectees to feel proud of themselves after the experience."
Each team shouted marching commands and hoisted its guidon as the Sailors maneuvered themselves on Landing Zone Boondocker's Field for warm-ups before a 3.5-mile run.
"This is an island-wide event," said Branch. "Other commands have different events but the FMF Challenge is specific to Kaneohe Bay. The course is designed as a teambuilding experience; one of the primary focuses is for the selectees to learn how to work through problems."
An average of 220 Sailors stationed on Hawaii are tested on the course each year, competing in events to include an obstacle course, an endurance course, tug-of-war, and a memory portion. Eleven teams competed this year with the ultimate goal of conquering the obstacles in the shortest time, relying on strategy and trusting their teammates to finish as a group.
"Teamwork is imperative to the completion of the course, enabling individuals to come together as a unit," said Command Master Chief William Reed, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2. "Everyone has weaknesses and strengths, and just like the obstacle course, you have to make it over obstacles in your job and obstacles in your life. The selectees have to be able to recognize their weaknesses and then capitalize on everyone's strengths so everyone finishes together."
"You test yourself while providing support to your teammates at the same time," said Chief (select) Legalman Erica Keels, Defense Service Office Pacific. "Before today, we discussed each other's strengths and weaknesses and made a plan on how we would compensate or who would be better for certain events."
Words of encouragement were abundant and shouts of "drink water and stay hydrated," were heard widely. The subtle signs of closeness among comrades were seen throughout the day through handshakes and pats on the back, revealing a unique kinship you get as a member of the Goat Locker.
Chief selects participate in coordinated events like the FMF Challenge during the CPO 365 Phase II portion that tests them physically and mentally, urging them to apply what they learned in Phase I as a first class petty officer (FCPO).
"Phase I and II of CPO 365 challenges the FCPOs and, after the CPO selection results are published, continues to challenge the chief selects both physically and intellectually and teaches them to develop their teamwork ability to confront any task that they are presented with," said Reed "Events like this challenge the CPO selects in the same way that camaraderie team events during Phase I challenge all FCPOs."
"I think this helped bond us together," said Chief (select) Intelligence Specialist Ryan George, a member of the Navy Information Operations Command/U.S. Pacific Command winning team. "It feels good to win, but more importantly, it was a good opportunity to get out here and meet other chiefs from different commands. It was less about competition and more about networking and working together and having fun. I didn't want to let my teammates down and that helped with staying strong and doing well."
As the challenge courses came to a close and lunch was served, chief selects carried their CPO charge books and sat with chiefs to receive written entries and words of wisdom. With each animated story, little-by-little, the inclusion of the chief select into the Chiefs Mess developed.
"Events like these challenges build a sense of camaraderie, unity, and teamwork that nothing else we do in the Navy has done," said Chief Naval Aircrewman (Mechanical) Matthew Meadows, U.S. Pacific Fleet's 2014 Sailor of the Year, who was meritoriously promoted to E-7 in May. "The true idea of leadership is not sitting behind a desk and listening to someone speak. Leadership, in my opinion, is going out on the deck plates, or field, in this case, and helping each other over obstacles like you would in real life. The FMF Challenge is unlike any other leadership course I've seen in my career."
For the final event of the day, the tug-of-war, chief selects showcased friendly competitive teamwork, pulling the line to enthusiastic and rhythmic shouts of "heave...heave...heave." Losing teams were inevitably pulled into a puddle of muddy water. But those Sailors didn't seem to care, and, in fact, seemed to embrace the brief moment to splash mud on their fellow chief selects.
As tired but satisfied chief petty officer selects and proud CPOs headed back to their cars, with the sun setting behind the same mountains it illuminated in the early hours of the day, teams made a point to congratulate each other for their hard work and success.
Everyone smiled and waved goodbye, knowing it wasn't really farewell, but "until next time."
For more news from Pacific Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cpf/.