ChiefsLast week, I had the privilege of being the guest speaker at the Chiefs Pinning Ceremony, where we celebrated what will likely serve as the most significant career milestone for 10 leaders from four Commands – Information Dominance Forces Command, Fleet Cyber Command – South, Navy Networks Warfare Command, and Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command. Though this post is not a transcript of my comments (hard to do when you speak off the cuff in favor of reading a script and did not record it), it is based on the talk I gave and written as if it was a transcript.

Good morning Moms, Dads, Mothers-in-law, Fathers-in-law, Aunts, Uncles, Brothers, Sisters, Grandmas, Grandpas, Sons, Daughters, Mentors, Shipmates, and Friends of the 10 leaders we are celebrating today. Today we celebrate not only these 10 leaders, but also the role many of you have played in helping them to grow into the leaders that they are, as well as what the Chief Petty Officer has grown to mean to so many of us. Last night, when I got home from work I sat down at my computer to write a speech to deliver at this very time in this very forum. As I began to type, I had visions of what I witnessed the night before and quickly decided not to write a speech, but instead wait and see what the moment moved me to share. You see, two nights ago Rear Admiral Kohler, our Presiding Officer, and I were fortunate enough to be invited to witness an amazing event. It was the first evolution in what Chief Petty Officers refer to as “Final Night.” It is the last night of their lives before selectees become Chief Petty Officers. When I saw 10 Chief Selectees in their summer white march in formation up to a fire pit, I knew I was going to witness something meaningful. Now Chiefs, I know some of you are getting a little nervous as I begin to speak about your fraternal inner-workings, but please know I did speak with the Master Chief earlier and will not violate any Fight Club rules. The truth is that I know you only allowed me to see that which you were comfortable sharing with someone who is not a Chief. And because I was so moved by what I saw, I feel a responsibility to share a glimpse with those who are gathered to celebrate these 10 leaders. For those of you who weren’t there, the evolution of which I speak is referred to as “The White Hat Eulogy.” Each selectee marches alone to the fire pit to address the Chiefs’ Mess, reflect upon the journey that got them to this milestone, make it clear that they are ready to complete the transition, and then toss their cover into the pit never to be worn again.

As I watched this unfold and truly listened to what each of these 10 leaders was communicating, I was struck with three common threads: mentors, memories, and metamorphosis.

  • Mentors: Each individual was very quick to acknowledge those who helped them to grow, challenged them to be more, and removed obstacles on their behalf. Many mentioned some of you in the audience by name. You must know that these 10 leaders sincerely appreciate the role that you continue to play in their life.
  • Memories: There were many smiles and many more tears as these leaders shared the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs that have made them who they are. There were stories of Captain’s Mast, significant mission accomplishment, camaraderie and family. Though they are now focused on the future, their presence here today is grounded in the past that many of you were a part of.
  • Metamorphosis: Some of you might think that the beginning of the transformation that we celebrate today by pinning on anchors commenced when the selection results were released and Chief Petty Officer 365 Phase II began. Others may be thinking that it began with a walk to the fire pit, but neither are correct. The stories shared the other night made it very clear that for these 10 leaders, the metamorphosis began at boot camp and for some even before that. The day they earned the right to wear the Sailor’s cover is a day a Sailor never forgets. And, with the toss of that very cover into the fire pit, that Sailor will never wear one again.

I ask each of us to use this day as a day of reflection. Many of you may still wear a “White Hat” and many of you do not; but, we all are in a state of transition and ought to take the time to remember the people who have helped us, the experiences that have shaped us, and the role we play in both our own personal development and the development of others. So as you think about your future and your present, use this opportunity to reflect on the journey thus far, just as these 10 leaders have for the last six weeks.

I am not a Chief, have never been a Chief, and never will be a Chief, but I feel a special kinship with Chiefs past, present, and future. After listening to the MC and the Presiding Officer’s remarks, even those who arrived here today not knowing what it means to be a Chief now have a solid understanding at this point. Instead, I will share with you the unique relationship between Chiefs and Officers. From my personal vantage point and as a member of the wardroom, there are three things that I freely acknowledge when I reflect on my relationship with Chief Petty Officers.

  1. Chiefs help us grow: Back in 1993, Ensign Heritage arrived at Naval Security Group Activity Adak, Alaska for duty as a Division Officer. After meeting the Officer I was to be relieving, I was introduced to Senior Chief Brice Uberti. He was to be my Division Chief. He took great pride in that role and, therefore, was every bit of that and so much more. He taught me operations, he coached me behind the scenes, he picked me up when I made a mistake, and he held me accountable when I was falling short. We had a special bond and it set the tone for my relationship with the many Chiefs I continue to be fortunate enough to serve. In many ways, I feel as though my career has been a result of one great Chief passing me to the next to both help me grow and keep me out of trouble. I am grateful for that. For the junior officers in the audience, invest in that relationship with your Chief. For the Chiefs; be patient, be persistent, and help mentor our future senior leaders.
  2. Chiefs grow with us: As I reflect on the Shipmates I value most, many of them are now members of or graduates from the Chief ranks. These Shipmates were “White Hats” during my junior officer days. Though I was charged to lead them, I chose to lead with them. We accomplished the mission together, but we also learned and laughed together. In many ways we grew up together. Now we truly lead together. Those junior officers in the audience, think about the “White Hats” with whom you serve and visualize a day when you are a senior officer and they are a Chief. It may sound far-fetched, but it’s a very real possibility. Invest in relationships with the “White Hats” under your charge, for it is these relationships that will ultimately enable you, and them, to make amazing things happen. The same holds true for you “White Hats” in the audience. That Ensign Division Officer may be your Commanding Officer and you, their Senior Enlisted Leader. The relationships we build today are what enable the mission tomorrow.
  3. Chiefs’ Mess defines team: I have long admired the authenticity and genuine care for each other and mission with which the Chiefs’ Mess operates. They help each other get better, they call each other out when they are falling short, and they make mission accomplishment the imperative. In my opinion, they define team. In every Command to which I have been assigned, I can honestly attest to the fact that the strongest team within the larger team was and is our Chiefs’ Mess. That is not to say that every Command is strong, but no Command is as strong as the Chiefs’ Mess. The point is that our Chiefs control the bar. They can raise it and they can lower it, but no Command will outperform the Chiefs’ Mess. If that were to happen, the Command obviously has big problems. Fortunately, I’ve only read about Commands that have such problems. Having been on this team for 40 days thus far, it is clear to me that our Chiefs’ Mess is strong and continues to help us all realize our potential, individually and collectively.

Today we celebrate 10 leaders, 10 leaders who have earned the privilege to wear anchors on their collars. 10 leaders who have helped many “White Hats” reach toward their potential as they reached toward their own. 10 leaders who will help shape the future of our wardroom. 10 leaders who will make the Chiefs’ Mess even stronger, thereby making our Commands even stronger.

Chiefs, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to be your guest speaker today, for the role you play in our Navy, and the human beings that you are. Our Navy is what it is because of you.