Happy Birthday Chief’s: Navy Chief Petty Officers Celebrate 119 Years of Service

On Sunday April 1st the US Navy Chief Petty Officer Rank officially celebrated it’s 119th Anniversary. Today in most Navy commands as well as Marine Corps units that have Navy Chief’s assigned that anniversary was celebrated. I was in attendance today as our command celebrated the “birthday” of the Chief Petty Officer rank with the cutting of a cake.

The rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer was officially established on 1 April 1893 but the roots are deeper to the years prior to the Civil war as the rating structure of Petty Officers became more formalized and in 1864 with the pay manual listing Chief Boatswain’s Mate, Boatswain’s Mate in Charge, Boatswain’s Mate, Chief Gunner’s Mate, Gunner’s Mate in Charge, Gunner’s Mate, Chief Quartermaster and Quartermaster in the list of ratings.  The development continued in the 1880s with the formalization of Petty Officer ratings and Pay Grades as well as that of Seamen.

The 1893 regulations listed 9 Chief Petty Officer Ratings divided between three branches, the Seaman Branch which was composed of Chief Master at Arms, Chief Boatswain’s Mate, Chief Quartermaster and Chief Gunner’s Mate. The Artificer Branch had the Chief Machinist and Chief Carpenter’s Mate and the Special Branch had the Chief Yeoman, Apothecary (the future Pharmacist Mate and Hospital Corpsman) and Band Masters.  Pay for all Petty Officers and enlisted ranks was standardized in 1920 and in 1958 the Grades of Senior Chief Petty Officer and Master Chief Petty Officer were established.  Today Chiefs form the backbone of Navy commands around the world, from SEAL and EOD teams, surface ships, submarines, aviation squadrons, shore commands and medical units.

Above: Chief Aviation Ordnanceman John William Finn was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service during the December 7, 1941 Japanese air attack on Naval Air Station Kanoehe Bay, Oahu, T.H. He is wearing the medal in this photograph. 

Navy Chiefs wear a Khaki uniform similar to that of Commissioned Officers and on ships have their own berthing and Mess area in which only Chiefs or invited guests are allowed. The area is called the “Chief’s Mess” and nicknamed the “Goat Locker.”

While the three pay grades of Chiefs correspond to the pay grades of senior non-commissioned officers in the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force no other service sets its senior NCOs apart as does the Navy nor gives them the same measure of authority. Part of this goes back to the maritime tradition where a ship once it departs harbor has to depend on the skills and abilities of every member to the crew and that help should there be trouble will seldom be close at hand.

Cake cutting at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune 

Navy Chiefs have been the linchpin of the Navy for 119 years. They are depended upon to help train new sailors as well as help train and advise Commissioned Officers. I have been fortunate to have served with some of the finest Chiefs in the Navy aboard the USS Hue City, EOD Group Two, 2nd Marine Division and the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth VA and now at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune NC.

My Dad Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas shortly after his promotion to Chief in 1967

Additionally I am blessed to be a “Chief’s kid.” My late father, Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas retired from the Navy in 1974. I grew up in a Navy family and was blessed to have the Chiefs that my dad served alongside during his career and their families remain engaged with my parents. My dad died from complications associated with Alzheimer’s Disease in June of 2010 but to the end he was a Chief.

Blessings to all that wear or have worn the Khaki uniform and Fouled Anchor that symbolize this proud tradition.


Padre Steve+


Filed under Military, US Navy

2 responses to “Happy Birthday Chief’s: Navy Chief Petty Officers Celebrate 119 Years of Service

  1. Daz

    You might have noticed I like quotes. Here’s one from Harry Harrison in the SF comedy-novel, The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You.

    The kidnapping of the admirals was the first blow of the invasion, an attempt to disrupt our forces by removing their commanders. This left us very short of admirals, but Chief Petty Officers were put in command of units lacking senior officers and the unit efficiency has doubled.

    It seemed appropriate. 🙂

  2. John Erickson

    Great post, Padre. I didn’t realise the Navy’s CPOs had such a storied history. Thanks for the education!

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