The Chief

NOTE: The following essay won first place in the inaugural essay contest sponsored by Naval Reserve Readiness Command Region Eight in Fall 1998.
"Hey! 're you Lemocks? Hey - welcome aboard! I'm Chief Black. Follow me," he bellowed above the clamor and confusion that accompanies pier ops and getting an American war ship squared away after a short but fast paced three week deployment. He was pumping my hand vigorously and from the calluses and blisters I could tell he was a "hands-on" kind of Supply Chief. His cotton khakis were sweat stained but clean and neatly pressed. And the shine on his black boonies could blind the sun.

I had been standing on the amidships Quarterdeck of the U.S.S. Wainwright, CG-28, flag ship of the Sixth Fleet. It was Spring in 1977 and I had just graduated from Boot Camp and SK "A" school. I was basically just trying to stay out of the way when my Chief managed to find me (they told me he would in "A" school) and then find time to lead me below decks to my berthing area and get me started on my checking-in process. As we walked along the deck and "p-ways" - well, he walked while I stumbled along behind him like a new born colt trying to keep up - he fired a series of questions and comments my way:"Where ya from Lemocks?" "How d'ya like Charleston so far?" "Heard you did pretty good in "A" school - that's good!" And then he asked me something that just made my mind go completely blank: "Hey, d'ya plan to go on the beach tonight?" Thus began the process of educating my E-3 self about the lingo and traditions of the United States Navy. When I looked at him with that blank - "Uh what are you talking about Chief?" - look on my face, he grinned and said:"You know what I mean, d'ya plan on grabbing a little liberty - going over and having a cool one at the Club or something?"

He led me around the ship pointing out various things that he knew I'd never remember and basically gave me the nickel tour. Finally, he hooked me up with my LPO and said he'd see me the next day. He told me I wasn't on the duty roster yet, so have fun tonight, gave me a friendly shot to my shoulder which almost knocked me over, gave my LPO a wink and a nod and disappeared amongst the swarming bodies in the Supply berthing compartment. I caught a glimpse of him as he exploded up the ladder like a khaki colored missile.

One thing I'll never forget about that first meeting was the unworldly shine on those boondockers. During the time that I knew him, Chief Black always, and I mean ALWAYS, had a mean shine on those boots.

In those next two years I learned a lot from the Chief. He taught me the true meaning of being chewed out royally for messing up. And he also taught me the meaning of a job well done with that wink and a nod that he would gave you from time to time, usually accompanied by some surprise ropeyarn. He taught me that it is possible to maintain cordiality while focusing on mission first. He taught me that there is always a fine line between camaraderie and good order and discipline.

An example of "shipmateliness" while still maintaining "good order and discipline" happened in Barcelona which was my first foreign liberty port. The Chief happened upon us guys in an "establishment" known for friendliness towards seafarers. We greeted him as he walked in through the door with a couple of his fellow Chiefs. They bought us a "round" and after some shipmately chit-chat, wished us a good night ... and don't forget 0700 quarters.

Well, I didn't make it to Quarters the next morning but was soundly awakened by the Chief in my face immediately AFTER quarters as I "snoozed and losed" in my rack. Until that moment, I didn't know that human beings could holler that loud! He basically told me I had five minutes to get to Central Supply which I did. For the next 24 hours, I learned in an up-close and personal manner what the expression "good order and discipline" truly means.

When the EMT period was over, the Chief never mentioned it again. And I never missed another muster.

Courage. Honor. Commitment.

Those core values were not codified into the Navy's official lingo in 1976 when I first enlisted. But they have always been a part of our service. As I reflect on the meaning of these values I recall time after time when the Chief provided the leadership and direction needed to get the job done while maintaining that all important morale factor. Perhaps that is why we in the Navy are so unique in our approach to leadership. It is no accident that the "fouled anchor" stands as an ageless symbol of Naval leadership. Yes, we are all humans and we all make mistakes. Within the close confines of the ship or sub, it requires a special brand of leadership to keep the fires burning hot without burning out. It gets nasty and dirty and frustrating at times. But as the Chief might remind you from time to time: "You don't have to LIKE it, you just have to DO it!" And if you do it right, with a wink and a nod from the Chief you just might land a little extra liberty for your efforts.

Yes, I'd have to say that my first, Chief - Chief Black - would have to stand for those core values which we hold so true today. In his own way, he really had a lasting and profound effect on my life. He certainly taught me the meaning of those values. The core values are as true today as they were yesterday and will be tomorrow.

So long as there are American men and women who put to sea and sail the iron ships - with seasoned leaders to guide them - the United States Navy will forever be the envy of the world.

SKC Bill Lemocks, USNR-R
DRT Jacksonville