Once you get to wear the uniform, the work really begins.

Once you get to wear the uniform, the work really begins.

Many people enlist in the Navy with aspirations to advance to Chief Petty Officer. I’ve talked previously about what it means to be a Chief but I’ve been asked by a few Sailors how does someone actually get there. Common sense should say that keeping yourself out of trouble is paramount as should studying for the exams to ensure you can perform well. Sadly many have a hard time getting past those two hurdles but thankfully plenty do.

There are several simple things to keep in mind when you are setting your sights on the long term goal. I didn’t come up with these on my own, this is all advice that came from my mentors as I was rising up the ranks myself.

  • “Sustained Superior Performance” – No one ever won a marathon by sprinting. It’s important to set smaller goals and pace yourself along the way. The selection board refers to it as ‘sustained superior performance’. Anyone can be a shooting star, but to consistently be a producer takes stamina and patience.

  • Don’t forget where you came from – Be careful to avoid stepping on toes as you climb the ladder. We’ve all seen the folks who’ve risen faster through the ranks than others but they also would throw someone under the bus if they thought it would help them get on top faster.  If you weren’t gracious in your demeanor and trying to help others to make it as you advance through the ranks, later when you are in charge of them, good luck in trying to get them to trust you. A Chief has to earn the trust of his/her Sailors. If you have a reputation as a leader who takes care of his/her Sailors, they will take care of you.

  • Be Involved in the Community – Community service isn’t only the right thing to do but is necessary for getting to the next step. A Petty Officer who has had years of documented community service and has earned a Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal shows he/she gets the bigger picture. Leaders give back to the community and foster that mentality in their followers. If your command doesn’t have an organized community service program, think about starting one yourself and run it through your chain of command. Not only is it good for the career but it feels good as well. A great opportunity for a junior Petty Officer to get some leadership experience training the future of the armed forces as wells give back to the community is to get involved with a Naval Sea Cadet program. Your skills and experience will help those young men and women if they decide to enter into military service.

  • Get Involved in the Command – Think about collateral duties early. Being a Chief means that you’re willing and able to juggle multiple things and still be successful. Being in charge of a collateral duty also gives someone a chance to lead if their primary role isn’t in a leadership position. Here are some good examples: MWR committee, Urinalysis Coordinator, EAWS Program Coordinator, Command DAPA representative, Command Managed Equal Opportunity (CMEO) representative, Command Fitness Leader, etc. Looking for a way to improve the command is a good place to start. Leaders take the initiative to make a change so that’s why its important.

  • Never Stop Learning – The Navy is also very supportive of education. Working on a degree or having one is another way to embody the importance of education on the rest of your life especially after the Navy. It also brings you up to speed on the different education programs that are available including NCPACE, Tuition Assistance, CLEP & Dante courses, GI Bill, Post 9/11 GI Bill, etc. Knowing the particulars will help out other Sailors who are wanting to follow behind you or might just want to finish their career before they leave the service. If you earn a degree, ensure it gets entered into your SMART transcript.
    Another good way to educate yourself is by reading about leadership. Here are a few books that I’ve gleamed a great deal of good information: It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Captain Michael Abrashoff, Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John C. Maxwell.

  • Use Your Resources – Utilize the technology that is provided. We all are required to complete Navy Knowledge Online courses as part of our general military training (GMT), but did you know that there are a bunch of other NKO courses out there? By doing 5-6 additional courses a year, you will set yourself apart from those that choose not to both on your annual evaluations as well as in the selection board.

  • Verify Your Service Record – Your Service Record is YOUR responsibility. All of us owe a great debt of gratitude to our administrative support professionals. While they are fantastic at making sure all of the stuff gets on your Page 4 or that they nag you enough to make sure you go update your Page 2, they don’t know your career history as well as you do. Take the time to go through and notate any discrepancies to allow your administrative team to get things fixed long before you’re going to submit your CPO package. Don’t be the person who waits until they find out that their Selection Board eligible to get their record in order.

  • “Sailorization” – Get involved in both formal and informal mentoring. My success is a direct reflection on those who mentored me and I repay that debt to them by mentoring others. Take the time to show a shipmate how to do something or help them get sign-offs for a PQS. Teaching others helps us maintain our skills and relearn what we’ve lost. If you haven’t already, get involved with your mentor. Ask them a lot of questions about their experience in getting advanced and some of the things they did. Use them as a sounding board for some of your own ideas on ways to set yourself apart. Another idea based on this is to consider working with your Command Career Counselor on setting up a study club to help with the Fleet Wide Advancement Exam. Just like with the Physical Readiness Assessment (PFA) your mind takes time to get into shape. Avoiding cramming and getting others to study with you are great ways to improve everyone’s chances at advancement.

What I’ve hopefully illustrated is that if you want to be a leader, the earlier you take the initiative and start acting like one the more natural it will feel when you are put in charge. All of this is a primer for success and not a guarantee. Getting selected for Chief also can have an aspect of being at ‘the right place at the right time’ in your career. Plenty of really great Sailors have retired as First Class Petty Officers not because they wouldn’t have made good Chiefs, but just because the numbers just weren’t there in their Rate. Obviously your chances of promoting to Chief do depend on the needs of the Navy so if you’re in a Rating that is pretty closed, don’t hesitate to explore your options and to be flexible. Stay focused, determined but also never lose sight of what is truly important.

If you’ve done all of the things listed above to the best of your ability, your career will be a success no matter what your rank is when you leave. Your legacy will be to leave a lasting impact on the Sailors who will inevitably take your place and ‘pay it forward’ to the Sailors who will follow behind them. That is the true embodiment of the last of our Core Values of Honor, Courage and Commitment.

President John F. Kennedy said it best while delivering a speech at the Naval Academy in 1963, when he said “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.'”

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