Their day starts long before the sun rises, U.S. Navy Sailors marching in formation as they make their way to their destination: a turf field for morning exercise. After a formation run, to their training compound, they will learn skills such as how to safely evacuate injured Sailors from a sinking ship. All of this is conducted under the watchful eyes of their Chief Petty Officer trainers, ready to correct any mistakes they see. This is just a small snippet of the six-week CPO Initiation.
The course consists of scholastic instruction, team building exercises, and physical training designed to ensure they are physically and mentally ready for the responsibility of the rank of Chief Petty Officer.
The latest CPO Initiation at Camp Lemonnier Djibouti, included not only Sailors, but two Soldiers, an Airman, and a Marine. The top noncommissioned officers from each U.S. military branches were afforded the opportunity to participate in the traditional Navy training and be inducted into the CPO Mess upon completion. The candidates will be recognized as Chief Petty Officers not just at Camp Lemonnier, but across the entire Navy.
“I’ve met a lot of Navy senior NCOs on Camp Lemonnier and just from talking to them about the culture of the Chiefs, they explained to me that the course was open to all branches,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Marlon Smith, one of the course’s CPO selectees.
As a joint environment, Camp Lemonnier provides a unique opportunity for service members to experience the training and culture of other U.S. military branches.
“Although CPO Initiation is a time honored tradition in the Navy, this year provided our fellow services a firsthand encounter with the passion and level of responsibility we assume as Chief Petty Officers in upholding tradition and our heritage. I think it was good decision to allow their involvement, we have learned from them as they have from us,” said Command Master Chief William Hieb, CLDJ’s Command Senior Enlisted Leader.
“One of the things I always put to my junior enlisted is, if you have the opportunity to do joint training, do it fully, you can learn so much more that way,” said Taykowski. “Having the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is, I went ahead and signed up.”
Trying to integrate fully into a whole new branch with its own culture, structure, and expectations is not without its challenges. CPO selectees from other branches were faced not only with the trials and tribulations of the CPO Initiation, but also with the baseline expectations of what Navy Petty Officers should already know.
“It was definitely a culture shock,” said Smith. “There was definitely a learning curve for us compared to the Navy selectees because they’ve been in the Navy and know a lot of the history. We have to learn a lot from scratch.”
Despite these obstacles, the selectees came together to make sure everyone was on the same page.
“Luckily the Navy selectees are there to help and as we’re going through the training the Chiefs definitely make sure we’re understanding and picking up what they’re putting down,” added Taykowski.
The Chief Petty Officers leading the process ensure that everyone is receiving the training and education to elevate their leadership skills. It is up to the instructors to impart not only the skills needed to succeed, but also the proper understanding and overall respect for the fellowship of the Chief Petty Officer rank and role in the U.S. Navy.
“People go their whole careers trying to reach this one point. In the beginning, it was challenging to accept opening up this course to other branches because it’s something sentimental that means so much to us,” said U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officers Tremain Pruitt and Alec Granderson, both CPO Initiation leads. “But in hindsight I’m glad we did it. It’s a good thing to provide a full viewpoint for all services.”
While the inclusion of the other branches can be an obstacle to overcome, the instructors also see it as a benefit to the course that provides a fuller experience for all selectees.
“We are different in the way we train, so that brings a significant dynamic to the whole group,” said U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Teena Porter, another CPO Initiation lead. “They all have to gel, to figure it out and get on the same page. They’ll replace us someday, so we’ll make sure they are their best.”
Ultimately, CPO Initiation gives selectees a new perspective and new leadership tools to use throughout their career. It also gives selectees access to a fellowship that has endured for 130 years, a fellowship full of experts across every field in the Navy,ready and willing to lend their expertise.
“It’s about being part of a network, it’s about having a brother or a sister that you can call on at any time, any hour of the night,” said Taykowski. “They look out for each other, if somebody’s having a bad day there’s a chief around the corner that’s got your back.”