Passage through chief's mess is bittersweet

by CMCDM Mark Butler (email -

The limited-duty officer and chief warrant officer selections were recently announced, and after a hearty round of congratulations, it was back to business as usual. Except now there was also a bit of good-natured teasing regarding sailors' selection to the wardroom. There are always comments about abandoning the chief's mess. Many are called traitors or are accused of chasing the money. There are even some good-natured jibes about the way they would have to hold their coffee cup and how they would have to ask permission to join the mess if they were late. As a rule, those who select to LDO/CWO out of the chief's mess bear all of this with good humor. After all, this banter is nothing compared with what they went through to put on anchors.

These last results were bittersweet for me. I was happy for the two members of the mess who were selected - one to ensign and the other to CWO2. There also was another selection to ensign from my last command and every person I knew who was selected to LDO/CWO was a great chief. Some were relatively new as chiefs, but I've been around long enough to know they were destined for great things in our Navy. One part of me regrets their selection to the wardroom because they are all great chief petty officers and I could see them as future command master chiefs.The other part that was bitter for me was seeing others who were not selected. It is tough to be a mustang officer.

The competition level is intense and the wickets a candidate must pass through are demanding. While there were several in the mess who were passed over - and I was disappointed for each of them - one was a particular disappointment in that he is an outstanding candidate who failed to be selected on his very last opportunity. Sometimes, the source rate works against a potential LDO/CWO; hopefully, he will select for master chief and go on to be a command master chief. These selectees are moving on to even more success.

They understand what it means to get the job done, accomplish the mission and take care of sailors. The vast majority of limited-duty officers and chief warrant officers I've know haven't forgotten where they came from and what it takes to make the command and the sailor successful.The career progression of a chief who moves on to the LDO/CWO program also allows another sailor to see the same kind of success that these officers have enjoyed. For every chief who promotes out of the chief's mess, an outstanding first class petty officer will get the opportunity to enter the chief's mess and enjoy the camaraderie and professional growth that takes place there.

The training doesn't stop on Sept. 16; rather, it enters a new phase where the brothers and sisters in the mess help each other grow and succeed.Those limited-duty officers and chief warrant officers who were initiated chiefs have my greatest respect. The lessons they learned in the chief's mess they have carried into the wardroom. They train and mentor their newest arrivals and reach out to encourage those who will be successful in moving up. These officers are not just technical leaders and managers; they also are building a stronger Navy by building future leaders.What about those limited-duty officers who bypassed the chief's mess?

Well, they missed some great training, and I doubt they will ever really understand what it means to be the chief or to hear the phrase, "Ask the chief!" While it isn't official Navy policy, I think a first class petty officer should prove he can make chief before going to the wardroom. It takes more than attending knife and fork school to make a great mustang officer.So, the next time a chief asks about putting in for LDO or CWO, if he is one of the top performers, I'm all for it. We get another great mustang, and we get to welcome another outstanding sailor into the mess.