Chief petty officer

Chief petty officer

A chief petty officer is a senior non-commissioned officer in many navies and coast guards.



"Chief Petty Officer" refers to two ranks in the Canadian Navy. Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class (CPO2) (Premier maître de deuxième classe or pm2 in French) is equivalent to a Master Warrant Officer in the Army and Air Force, and Chief Petty Officer 1st Class (CPO1) (Premier maître de première classe or pm1) is equivalent to a Chief Warrant Officer in the Army and Air Force. In spoken references, Chief Petty Officers may be addressed as "Chief" but are never addressed as "Sir".

United Kingdom

In the Royal Navy, the rank of Chief Petty Officer comes above that of Petty Officer and below that of Warrant Officer Class 2. It is the equivalent of Colour Sergeant in the Royal Marines, Staff Sergeant in the Army, and Flight Sergeant in the Royal Air Force. There is also the rate for Charge Chief Petty Officers for technical specialists called 'Artificers'.

United States

U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer collar and cap device
Good conduct variation and U.S. Coast Guard
Chief Petty Officer insignia
U.S Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer collar and cap device

Chief Petty Officer is the seventh enlisted rank in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, just above Petty Officer First Class and below Senior Chief Petty Officer, and is a senior non-commissioned officer. The grade of Chief Petty Officer was established on April 1, 1893 for the Navy.[1] The United States Congress first authorized the Coast Guard to use the promotion to Chief Petty Officer on 18 May 1920.[2]

Unlike Petty Officer First Class and lower ranks, advancement to Chief Petty Officer not only carries requirements of time in service, superior evaluation scores, and specialty examinations, but also carries an added requirement of peer review. A Chief Petty Officer can only advance after review by a selection board of serving Senior and Master Chief Petty Officers, in effect "choosing their own" and conversely not choosing others.[3]

Advancement into the Chief Petty Officer grades is the most significant promotion within the enlisted naval ranks. At the rank of Chief, the Sailor takes on more administrative duties. In the Navy, their uniform changes to reflect this change of duty, becoming identical to that of an officer's uniform except with different insignia. Sailors in the three Chief Petty Officer ranks also have conspicuous privileges such as separate dining and living areas. Any naval vessel of sufficient size has a room or rooms that are off-limits to anyone not a Chief (including officers) except by specific invitation (if one is invited to eat in the Chief's Mess, it is customary to eat everything on the plate no matter what condiments are added by members of the Chief's Mess to enhance one's dining experience). In Navy jargon, this room is called the Chief's Mess, or tongue in cheek, the "goat locker". In addition, a Chief Petty Officer, no matter how much he was on "first name" basis with other petty officers before promotion, is always addressed as "Chief" by subordinates and superiors.

Chief Petty Officers serve a dual role as both technical experts and as leaders, with the emphasis being more on leadership as they progress through the CPO ranks. A recognized, collateral duty for all Chiefs is the training of Junior Officers. Like Petty Officers, every Chief has both a rate (rank) and rating (job, similar to an MOS in other branches). A Chief's full title is a combination of the two. Thus, a Chief Petty Officer who has the rating of Gunner's Mate would properly be called a Chief Gunner's Mate.[4]

Each rating has an official abbreviation, such as QM for Quartermaster, BM for Boatswain's Mate, or FC for Fire Controlman. When combined with the petty officer level, this gives the short-hand for the chief's rank, such as BMC for Chief Boatswain's Mate. It is not uncommon practice to refer to the chief by this short hand in all but the most formal correspondence (such as printing and inscription on awards). Mostly, though, they are simply called "Chief", regardless of rating.

The Chief Petty Officer's insignia is a perched eagle with spread wings (often, affectionately, referred to as a "crow") above three chevrons topped by a rocker. These are red, but if a Navy chief has at least 12 consecutive years of good conduct service in the armed forces, the chevrons and rocker may be worn in gold. A Coast Guard chief petty officer's sleeve insignia is always gold regardless of the conduct of service. In either case, the Chief's particular rating emblem is displayed below the crow, within the area bordered by the rocker and the uppermost chevron.

U.S. Navy Chief Yeoman arm insignia
U.S. Navy arm insignia for a Chief Yeoman

On the dress blue uniform (and variants such as mess whites), the insignia is worn on the left arm of the uniform blouse (or "suit coat" in civilian terminology). On all other uniforms, the insignia used is worn on the collar and has become universally accepted as the symbol of the Chief Petty Officer, which is a fouled (entwined in the anchor chain) gold anchor superimposed with the letters "USN" in silver in the Navy, or a silver shield in the Coast Guard.

In the U.S. Navy, officers and Chiefs are often colloquially referred to as "khakis". This is a reference to the color of their most common shipboard working uniforms, and is a direct contrast to those in pay grades E-6 and below (deckplate sailors, or blueshirts). However, the Navy has a new working uniform for paygrades below E-7 which consists of a khaki shirt and black trousers. This has caused some dissent within the upper enlisted and officer ranks.[5][6][7] In the Coast Guard, petty officers, chief petty officers, warrant officers, and commissioned officers all wear similar uniforms.


Previously, once selected for advancement to Chief, the selectee was made to endure a period of instruction and mentoring by his or her cognizant Chief's Mess. The selectee was assigned a sponsor who supervises the selectee's indoctrination. A "charge book", decorated in the manner with advice from the Sponsor, was presented by the selectee for signature to every Chief, Senior Chief, and Master Chief in the local area. These Chiefs would provide written tasks, ask questions, or provide guidance to the selectee. The Chiefs would also assess fines and levee "offenses to the Mess" or "charges" written in the selectee's charge book in the case of the selectee's performance being subpar. The charge book would be taken into evidence at the end of the indoctrination period. The indoctrination period would culminate with a ceremony known as Initiation.

Initiation would commonly begin at midnight and last throughout that night and into the next day ending around midday, typically 16 September, the day Chief Petty Officers are pinned yearly. Schedules vary depending on command policy and mission availability. Selectees were ordered to muster in their utility uniforms with the "Dixie Cup" Sailor's white hat. At some point during the initiation, the selectee's "Dixie Cup" hat is laid to rest and usually eulogized by the selectee. This represents the transition into the Chief's community.

Initiations were attended only by previously initiated active duty and retired Chiefs. During initiation the selectee would stand before "The Kangaroo Court" and be judged for his offenses as read from his charge book. The sentences varied by the severity of the offenses. "Punishment" was carried out as part of the initiation. A selectee may, at any time after selection results are posted, elect to forgo the initiation process. Participation in the initiation ceremony was purely voluntary.

After initiation, the selectees were then recognized by their peers as fellow Chief Petty Officers and welcomed into the "Chief's Mess". The selectees were then allowed to bathe and don their new Khaki uniforms, sans collar devices and Combination Covers.

"Initiation" has changed over the years in accordance with the changes in Navy policy, regulations and guidelines. "Induction" is currently the term used for the weeks of training, mentoring and the final night of Chief-select training. MCPON Campa dubbed the term, and ordered its use beginning with the FY07 Induction season.

Pinning of the new Chief was, and is, conducted by their Command Master Chief, with the participation and approval of the Commanding Officer, where their "Anchors" are pinned on by a person of their choosing, usually a family member or Chief, and they are presented with their Combination Cap by the Chief's Mess.

New Chief Petty Officer inductees typically sing Anchors Aweigh at the pinning ceremony.

In some contexts, the term "Chief Petty Officer" can refer to the class of non-commissioned ranks of this rank and higher:

Deckplate leaders

In naval terminology, the deckplate can roughly refer to the deck ("flooring"), or the area of the deck of a ship or boat (submarine). It can also refer to the Chief Petty Officer leadership.[8]

The term "deckplate leaders" is a colloquial term referring to the senior enlisted personnel of the rank of Chief Petty Officer and higher. They are generally charged with keeping good order and discipline within the lower enlisted ranks.


The Navy Chief Petty Officer emblem is symbolized by a fouled anchor with the letters "USN" centered on the anchor. Officially the letters stand for United States Navy. According to naval tradition, the letters are symbolic of the following:[9]

  • Unity: to symbolize camaraderie of the fraternity.
  • Service: to symbolize service to one's god, fellow man, and the Navy.
  • Navigation: to symbolize true course before God and man.

The Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer emblem is symbolized by a fouled anchor with a shield superimposed on its shank. The anchor is emblematic of "The Chief" and represents stability and security. It serves to remind the Chief of their responsibility to keep those they serve safe from harm's way. The significance of the shield date to the days of the Revenue Cutter Service when Congress added the shield to the ensign of the Cutter Service to distinguish cutters from other naval vessels. The chain is symbolic of flexibility and strength and serves to remind the Chief that the chain of life is forged day-by-day, link-by-link. The chain also represents the reliance of one Chief Petty Officer on another to get the job done and reminds him not to be the weak link in the chain. The chain fouled around the anchor represents "the Sailor's disgrace" and serves to remind Chiefs that there may be times when circumstances are beyond their control in the performance of their duty but a Chief must complete the task.

See also


  1. ^ Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SW/FMF) Joe R. Campa Jr. (2007-03-30). "MCPON Reflects on 114 Years of Deckplate Leadership". Retrieved 2008-05-10. "...commemorating the establishment of the rank of Chief Petty Officer (CPO) in 1893." 
  2. ^ The Coast Guardsman's Manual, ninth ed.,George E. Krietemeyer, Naval Institute Press,2000, ISBN 1-55750-468-7
  3. ^ The Chief Petty Officer's Guide / John Hagan and Jack Leahy. - Naval Institute Press, 2004. ISBN 1591144590
  4. ^ The Chief Petty Officer's Guide, John Hagan and Jack Leahy. - Naval Institute Press, 2004. ISBN 1591144590
  5. ^ "The Drawn Cutlass: New US Navy Enlisted Khaki Uniforms: My Opinion". 2008-09-01. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  6. ^ Sunday, March 5, 2006 (2006-03-05). "Navy Approves New Uniforms". Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Welcome to the Goatlocker". Retrieved 2010-10-16. 

External links

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