Tuesday, March 29, 2005

"Is there a bunch of Chiefs following him?"

A little "humor in uniform" from one day during my XO tour, most likely about mid-1989: It was lunch time during a regular in port work week in Charleston, SC. I can't recall why, but the Captain wasn't aboard for some reason. As might be expected most of the officers were sitting around the Wardroom table when the Officer of the Deck (OOD) called from the Quaterdeck and asked me to give him a decision. Situation: We were berthed at Pier "Zulu" (where they put you during short maintenace periods), which, like the other piers, had been equipped with a gate at the end of the pier, in order to control access to the ships. Each of the ships berthed there took turns putting a petty officer (E-4 to E-6) in the guard shack to check IDs and other authorizing paperwork for contractors, etc. What happened: The OOD had received a radio call from the petty officer at the gate, saying there was a man at the gate, claiming to be the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON), accompanied with a photographer, and he wanted to come down the pier to have some pictures taken. The problem noted by the petty officer was the man had an ID card, which indicated his paygrade was E-9, but his insignia (an anchor with three stars) showed he was an E-10. For most all of us, we think E-9 is the highest paygrade, but there is an E-10, specifically for the MCPON (and I'm sure for the senior enlisted person of each service). Therefore, the petty officer saw a discrepancy, and suspected this may be someone trying to illegally gain access and take all sorts of unauthorized photos. Great call on his part. Besides that real world consideration, the Squadron and Group staffs would constantly test the system, to see if our people on watch let someone through. I pondered the situation for a moment and asked the OOD to call back on the radio and ask if there were a whole bunch of chief petty officer types all following this guy. The OOD did and responded no, it was just this guy and a camera man. For those of you in the service, the rest of my response needs no explanation. For you who haven't been in, I said something like: "Well, then it obviously can't be the MCPON, because all the 'politicians' would be (let me be polite about this) mere inches behind him, risking a broken nose if the MCPON stopped." Of course, the chuckle on the phone and laughter at the wardroom table ensued. The man was turned away by the E-5 on watch. About 5 days later, the Captain calls me to read the mail he received. A short, handwritten note from the MCPON to the CO said he was writing to let the Captain know the fine job one of his petty officers had done that day, asking to pass on his "Well Done." He also noted he had failed to update his ID card, and had gotten back to DC and done that right away as a result. We xeroxed that note and hung a copy on the Plan of the Day for the following day, and a few days later, the CO awarded a Letter of Achievement to this young man, who stood his watch properly.

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