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Petty Officer 1st Class Harry Smith shines the shoes of Chief Petty Officer Bernard Brown during a recent fundraising event sponsored by the chief selectees at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy. The selectees are raising money for their planned Sept. 16 pinning ceremony.

Petty Officer 1st Class Harry Smith shines the shoes of Chief Petty Officer Bernard Brown during a recent fundraising event sponsored by the chief selectees at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy. The selectees are raising money for their planned Sept. 16 pinning ceremony. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

Petty Officer 1st Class Harry Smith shines the shoes of Chief Petty Officer Bernard Brown during a recent fundraising event sponsored by the chief selectees at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy. The selectees are raising money for their planned Sept. 16 pinning ceremony.

Petty Officer 1st Class Harry Smith shines the shoes of Chief Petty Officer Bernard Brown during a recent fundraising event sponsored by the chief selectees at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy. The selectees are raising money for their planned Sept. 16 pinning ceremony. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

A group of petty officers first class must learn to trust and depend on one another, a recent lesson given to chief petty officer selectees who supported each other as they tread water in the deep-end of a swimming pool Wednesday in Naples, Italy.

A group of petty officers first class must learn to trust and depend on one another, a recent lesson given to chief petty officer selectees who supported each other as they tread water in the deep-end of a swimming pool Wednesday in Naples, Italy. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

Physical training as a group is a huge part of the six-week transition that petty officers first class go through before pinning on the Navy’s coveted enlisted rank of chief petty officer.

Physical training as a group is a huge part of the six-week transition that petty officers first class go through before pinning on the Navy’s coveted enlisted rank of chief petty officer. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

Petty Officer 1st Class Lisa Lazo dog paddles to the rim of a swimming pool during a recent workout with fellow chief petty officer selectees. Though Lazo, a sailor for a little more than 10 years, doesn’t know how to swim, fellow sailors shouted words of encouragement.

Petty Officer 1st Class Lisa Lazo dog paddles to the rim of a swimming pool during a recent workout with fellow chief petty officer selectees. Though Lazo, a sailor for a little more than 10 years, doesn’t know how to swim, fellow sailors shouted words of encouragement. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

Editor’s Note:Each August, thousands of E-6s in the Navy go through a rigorous indoctrination before becoming senior noncommissioned officers. Stars and Stripes is following 21 sailors from Italy and Turkey who are going through the six-week program in Naples, Italy. This is the first of a three-part series appearing in Sunday editions.

NAPLES, Italy — Lisa Lazo can’t swim.

But that didn’t stop the sailor from plunging into the swimming pool last week for a pre-dawn workout with fellow shipmates who have embarked on an arduous journey toward pinning on the coveted Navy rank of chief petty officer.

Part of the training to turn petty officers first class into Navy leaders includes putting trust in one another, and Lazo said she had no choice but to trust her fellow CPO selectees.

“I can’t swim, but I can float,” said the 32-year-old with a laugh after making it through the workout. “It’s about trust, and they were very encouraging, and I trusted them. We’re there for each other, helping.”

Lazo is among the 5,282 Navy E-6s out of an eligible pool of 19,646 worldwide who learned on July 29 that they’d soon become senior enlisted noncommissioned officers.

“It’s the last big push and the biggest hurdle in the enlisted ranks,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kenneth “Shawn” Puckett, who made the cut on his second try.

From the time the sailors learn they are among the chosen few, they embark on a six-week “transition” to trade in their dungarees for khakis. It is held at various bases worldwide.

“It’s a remarkable process,” Master Chief Anthony Evangelista, fleet master chief for U.S. Naval Forces Europe/6th Fleet, said in an interview. “We’re the only branch of the services that undergoes not only a visible shift, but it’s also a shift in how we see ourselves and what our roles are. To whom much is given, much is expected.”

No other service makes as big a deal out of making E-7 as the Navy, said David Winkler, a historian at the Naval Historical Foundation in Washington.

“Unlike other services, there is a significant difference, and it starts with the uniforms,” Winkler said when the Navy celebrated the rank’s 112th birthday in April. “Uniforms worn in the other services are rather similar for enlisted and officer ranks. ... In the Navy, you have the enlisted up to the E-6 level in the traditional jumper suit, what we call the ‘Cracker Jack’ uniform, and the ‘Dixie Cup’ cap.

“When you make E-7, you switch that out to a uniform closer to what officers wear.”

Beyond wardrobe changes, making the rank means they still work like enlisted sailors, but think like officers, said Chief Petty Officer Martin Strozier, who went through the change two years ago.

Only in the Navy and Marine Corps do E-6s’ service records go before a promotion board and through an arduous promotion process. The reward is admission into a coveted fraternity, several said.

But gone are the days of “initiations,” such as having sailors eat phallic-shaped baked bread, wear diapers, or swallow raw eggs dropped from a 6-foot ladder.

“Today, it’s more of a learning process instead of doing the things that were done in the old days,” said Strozier, stationed at Naval Support Activity Naples. “There’s a lot of learning going on. A lot of education.”

Before that shiny golden anchor that an E-7 wears is pinned on at the planned Sept. 16 ceremony, selectees must complete 17 hours of online training from the CPO Selectee E-Learning program — courses with titles such as “Resolving Interpersonal Issues” and “Situational Leadership II.”

And the Navy also has begun teaching chiefs the “fiscal part of the Navy, the costs of doing business, and the value of the output of our goods and services,” Evangelista said.

“[But] chiefs will be developed over time. It’s not just something that we do in a couple of weeks from when the announcement comes out to when we change uniform,” he said. “Actually, the transition to chief petty officer can take some time. It takes several years before you’re really, really comfortable and respond to and answer to the new roles and responsibilities.”

Evangelista’s shift to khakis in 1988 took some getting used to, he said.

“I remember for the first couple of weeks people would say ‘Hey chief’ and I kept walking because I had no idea they were actually talking to me,” he said.

The earliest use of the Navy term “chief” was during the Revolutionary War when cook’s mate Jacob Wasbie was promoted June 1, 1776, to chief cook while serving on the USS Alfred, according to an account on the Web site www.navyhistory.org.

During a shuffling of ranks and rates (jobs) in 1885, the Navy classed all enlisted personnel as first, second, or third class for petty officers, and as seaman first, second, or third class for non-petty officers. It was on April 1, 1893, that the Navy established the grade of chief petty officer.

And now, beyond learning to be leaders, Evangelista said, the CPO selectees also have “an obligation to find their shipmates not fortunate enough to be selected this year, and mentor them to reach their full potential so it maximizes their ability to be selected next year.

“Every one of us wants to see others progress, as we have.”


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