They are called the backbone of the Navy, “old salts,” and many other colorful names, but whenever young Sailors find themselves in a conundrum, they often seek the advice of a chief petty officer. "Ask the Chief," has resonated on the deckplates for 122 years.
No other service has an enlisted leader quite like the chief, according to the Navy. CPOs are charged with leading Sailors and advising officers. A chief is not only the go-to technical expert, he or she is required to be a source of wisdom, a diplomat, and an authority on just about everything. Getting the job done is the hallmark of a chief. But being a chief is more than achieving a grade.
First, and foremost, being a chief means taking care of Sailors, guiding them so they can be the best they can be. It means accepting an awesome responsibility to serve with honor, courage and dedication to duty.
There is unique bond between chief petty officers as well, a longstanding and exclusive fellowship that is emblematic of the traditions and heritage cherished by all CPOs.
According to an article written for the Navy’s All Hands magazine, “History of the Chief Petty Officer Grade,” by retired CWO-4 Lester B. Tucker, “it is necessary to look back to the origins of the Continental Navy to establish the foundation of relative grades and classifications that led to the ultimate establishment of the CPO grade.”
During the Revolutionary War, Jacob Wasbie, a Cook's Mate serving on board the Alfred, one of the first Continental Navy warships, was promoted to "Chief Cook" on June 1, 1776. Chief Cook is understood to mean Cook or Ship's Cook which was the official rating title at that time. This is the earliest example of the use of the term "Chief," according to Tucker’s research.
But it was more than a 100 years later until the chief petty officer rank was officially recognized.
On April 1, 1893, the rank of Chief Petty Officer was established by Navy General Order 409, which is authorized by an Executive Order by President Benjamin Harrison on Feb. 25, 1893.
On June 1, 1958, the Navy extended the enlisted ranks to include senior and master chief petty officers.
In the works for many years, the position of "Senior Enlisted Advisor of the Navy" was finally formally established in January 1967, according to Naval History and Heritage Command. The title officially was changed to "Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy" three months later.
The individual rating specialty marks for the MCPON was replaced by an inverted star in 1971.
Since 1971, there have been 13 master chiefs serving as MCPON, including the current MCPON (AW/NAC) Mike D. Stevens.
And speaking of cooks and the early years of the Navy, back in the days of the sloop, frigate and corvette, a Sailor's stomach had to be nearly as strong as his back, according to NHHC.
A typical week's bill of fare in the Navy in the year 1799 left much to be desired. It consisted of something like this: Seven pounds of bread, two pounds of beef, three pounds of pork, one pound of salt fish, one quart of fish, one and a half pints of peas or beans, twelve ounces of cheese, two pounds of potatoes or turnips, and six ounces of molasses. One gil (four ounces) of oil could be substituted for four ounces of butter and further lubrication was provided by the daily issue of one-half pint of rum.
A couple of centuries ago, qualifications for a man to become a cook were quite simple. It seemed to be a rule that no Sailor who had not lost eye or leg in battle could be eligible for this office, though all were required to have two arms. Whether or not a man could cook apparently was overlooked in the qualifications for the position, and an exalted position it was, for all the men tried to get on the good side of "cookie," although, in private, less complimentary nicknames were used, according to NHHC.
During this time the cook was, in most cases, an unscrupulous individual, and it was often found that cooks could be bribed into giving double rations to the messes, according to NHHC. Although it is hard to imagine that anyone would want second helpings of "salt junk" and "hard tack."
Salt junk was a term used for partly dried pork, pickled in brine, but sometimes the same name also applied to either salt pork or salt beef. Hard tack accurately described the biscuits baked without salt and kiln-dried.
Then for an after dinner demitasse Sailors would wash it down with "pale ale" — or water, according to NHHC.
Today, Navy personnel are among the best fed in the world. The rating of cook is obsolete; Sailors today are fed by culinary specialists who receive professional chef training.
Menus now include healthy meals, cooked from-scratch. The Navy's more than 7,300 CSs deployed around the globe feed an average of more than 92.5 million wholesome and nutritious meals per year, according to Naval Supply Systems Command.
Navy commanding officers agree that nothing affects Sailors on a day-to-day basis more than the food culinary specialists prepare for them because top quality meals contribute directly to Sailors’ quality of life and morale, according to the Navy.
Today, and for the next several days, the 122nd birthday of Navy Chiefs will be celebrated across the Navy with ceremonies — and the ubiquitous delicious cakes baked by culinary specialists. So let us lift our mugs of grog and pale ale in a salute to Navy Chiefs, the backbone of the Navy.
For more Navy news go to: Navy News Service.