My personal introduction to chiefs came in 1963. It was on my third class midshipman cruise on the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), a FRAM II destroyer out of Newport, Rhode Island. That is at least one, if not three or four stories in itself to be told later.
My next real recollection of a chief petty officer was the senior chief quartermaster who taught navigation at OCS. We learned quite a bit even though much of the course was movies the senior chief let us watch, nearly all as i recall being from the “Victory at Sea” series. But what i most recall was at the end of one class, the old senior chief tells the class, “Yeh, you guys are leaving here and going to the evening mess formation about the time i’ll be reaching over into the back seat of my car on the Jamestown bridge for the first of the six pack of Budweiser i have in the cooler.”
But then there was the Hawkins where my real lesson in chiefdom began. i have already written about Boatswainmate Chief Jones. He was my chief as First Lieutenant and first division officer from when i reported aboard until he retired in August 1968. His best buddy was also instrumental in teaching me how the Navy worked.
Unfortunately, i do not remember his name. i do remember his unique rating. Back in the late 1960’s for a short period of time, the Navy had created the rating of SP for chiefs at the E-8/E-9 level. Machinistmates and Boiler Tenders, when they reached the E-8 level became “Steam Propulsion Specialist.” Our man was an E-9 so his rating was “SPCM.” He was so good he was the Main Propulsion Assistant or in Navy lingo “MPA,” normally a junior officer’s billet, but Paul George, CHENG, didn’t want any JO between him and the SPCM when it came to running and maintaining the plant (until my good friend Rob Dewitt took over). He was still very much in charge before i moved from first lieutenant to ASW Officer.
He was a very a large, swarthy, black-headed chief who hung out in the engineering log room, the office and brains of the engineering plant off of the main deck passageway almost amidships. The first lieutenant and his first division were responsible for the maintenance and cleanliness of that passageway, which ran most of length of the main deck.
We began a major program of taking up the tile on that passageway, re-tiling, and repainting the passageway. It was a demanding work requirement, and i was constantly checking on how it was progressing. One workday, around mid-morning, i found my personnel not up to my standards in their work effort. i don’t remember what i did to address that, but i very clearly remember it was wrong.
The SPCM, hearing whatever it was i did or said, emerged from the log room, put his arm on shoulder, looked at me sternly, and said, “Son (not “Mister,” not “Ensign,” but “Son”), let’s have a talk.”
With that and his arm still around my shoulder, the SPCM led me out on the port side of the weather deck amidships. It was there, i got the best lecture on leadership i ever received. the SPCM talked to me about the world, about the Navy’s world, and how it all worked. i think he gave me the best perspective i could ever had achieved on how to be a good leader.
Although i don’t remember his name, “SPCM” is a tribute to him, and i will never forget.