During World War II, Commanding Officers were authorized to advance and promote deserving and qualified Sailors to the highest enlisted rank of Chief Petty Officer. The determination of deserving and qualified" could be difficult for the Commanding Officer. The situation also presented challenges to the Sailor who aspired to attain a Chiefs rating. How best to prepare? How to plan and track preparation? How to best display your qualifications? From these dilemmas sprang the original charge books.
Chiefs began to direct First Class Petty Officers to prepare themselves to assume the additional responsibilities by recording all the details of those responsibilities. Ships professional libraries were generally nonexistent or poorly stocked and much had to be learned directly from conversations with the Chiefs themselves and taken down to be studied later. In addition to the technical aspects of the various ratings, Chief Petty Officers also talked to the First Class aspirants about leadership, accountability, supporting the chain of command, and other professional subject matter often using personal experiences to illustrate how something should (or should not) be done. The collection of notes and study material eventually came to be called by some a Charge Book perhaps because the Petty Officers who kept them were their charges; (entrusted to their care) for professional development or perhaps because the entries included charges (authoritative instructions or tasking of a directive nature).
Today's Charge Book then is a great tradition which has its roots in a magnificent period of our history. Chiefs have preserved it and have returned it to its original purpose. Today's Charge Book is not entertainment and it is not a vehicle for hazing, however mild. It is valid and valuable learning tool. It is treated with respect and as a badge of honor by all concerned. Even better, when CPO Initiation season is over, it becomes a treasured keepsake and the repository for the accumulation of the most precious of our career photos and mementos.
Creative, proudly constructed charge books have been an especially impressive part of the past CPO Initiations. Proper use of charge books is an essential component of the welcome and acceptance into the CPO Mess. Research indicates that Charge Books have a history which is really older than the initiation itself see The History of The CPO Charge Book. Newly selected Chiefs are assigned their Charge Book project almost immediately. Selectees are encouraged to work together on this project but to be individually creative. This promotes team work amongst the selectees. They are not provided too many details beyond directing them to ensure that their charge book visibly displays CPO pride, pride in their rating, warfare community and pride in their selection to CPO.
Work begins immediately and charge books are completed within a reasonable period of time given the individuals workload and command operating tempo. With brief directions, and a little encouragement, and Chiefs standby to be mightily impressed by the selectees creativity and craftsmanship. Every Chief in the mess then makes thoughtful, congratulatory, motivational, and tradition oriented entries to help guide the selectee as they prepare themselves to assume the additional responsibilies of a Chief Petty Officer.
Chiefs share with the selectee patriotic thoughts, words of wisdom that have inspired and motivated them through rough times. They also share tidbits of Naval History and tradition with the selectees as well as to welcome then into the Chiefs community. Genuinely humorous entries are made as enhance the value of these grand momentos and keepsakes. They are, indeed, keepsakes. In fact, many clearly qualify as genuine folk art. The Charge Book and the entries will often be shared with selectees' friends and family for years to come.
The reported beginnings of the charge book during WWII has little if any documentation of more than a handful of Chief Petty Officers directing First Class Petty Officers to prepare themselves by making a written notes of all responsibilities. During WWII it was more common for a Commanding Officer to make such a task to a new junior officer.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s Chief's initiations starting taking to take place. The initiations were intended as a little fun for all and an introduction of the newly selected Chiefs to the Chiefs mess. During the next decade the idea caught on and most commands had their own Chief's initiations. At larger commands it was rare that a newly selected Chief would meet every Chief assigned to the command.
By the late 1960s it was not uncommon to find junior officers and Chief's using small notepads to keep track of things to do and schedules of events. And by the mid 1970s Chief's initiations were alive and well throughout nearly every command in the Navy, and most Chiefs used a little green memo pad to keep track of what they felt was important.
It would seem logical that some Chief thought of the idea to have the newly selected Chief get all of the Chiefs signatures in their notepads and if they did not, then to fine them at the initiation ceremony.
Although the former is supposition on my part I can speak to 1977 when the new Chiefs aboard USS Fulton AS?11 had to carry a green memo book sized about 8 /12" x 11", and had to get every Chiefs signature at the command on a separate page. The rules were simple, get every Chiefs signature and do not let the book out of your possession. However the charge book was not a requirement for those at many other commands in New London.
By 1980 the Chiefs on Fulton and other large commands needed an easier means to ensure the selectees had gotten every signature. So was born the requirement to list Chiefs by seniority in a table of contents and give each Chief their own page. Before long this became the norm at every command.
However Charge books were not treated with respect, many were borrowed from the owner against the owners will, and would only be returned to them at the actual initiation day ritual. Most charge books of the day were so unruly that they quickly found the round file before the end of the initiation ritual.
By the mid 1990s Chiefs Initiations and how initiations were conducted came under much scrutiny. MCPON John Hagan took several actions to remove the Chiefs Initiation from scrutiny. By 1998 MCPON Jim Herdt was looking for more ways to clean up the initiation and make it worthy to continue the practice.
As part of that worthiness he made the Charge Book a mandatory item of the initiation process. The next year the "The Charge Book, a Proud Keepsake" purpose was released to the Chiefs Mess. The following year the supposed history of the Charge was set down in writing.
By 1999 the Chief's wanting to keep whatever part of the traditional inititation alive accepted the new rules for the chargebook and by 2000 many Chiefs kept their books as keepsakes.