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MCPON Honea Lays Out Expectations for Chief Petty Officers

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea speaks with Sailors during an all hands call at Joint Base Peral Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 4, 2023. US Navy Photo

THE PENTAGON – For Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea, chief petty officers are the fulcrum of the service.

Every sailor should have a chief petty officer to whom they can go with their problems, concerns and their celebrations, Honea said. To better lay out what is expected of all chief petty officers, Honea sent out two in a series of letters, starting in July, addressed to chief petty officers, that lay out the priorities established by the MCPON.

The first series of letters, although released publicly, focused on Honea’s priorities: warfighting competency, personal character development and quality of life. He then sent out a second series of initiation letters, with the last one expected to go out around Sept. 18.

The initiation letters focused on competency, character and connectedness.

“Chiefs of character model humility and genuineness; this is their strength. They show empathy and are authentic in how they lead. They foster an environment of respect, coaching, encouragement, continuous learning, and self-motivation. They have the courage to be honest, humble, and transparent about individual or team performance. They hold their Sailors accountable. They are their own toughest critic in setting a personal example, and they hold themselves accountable as well,” reads the letter on character.

Honea, speaking to USNI News in an interview last week in his office, expects that chief petty officers will read the letters and use them as guidance for how they can best support their sailors. While there is no particular training accompanying the letters, all sailors go through the enlisted leader development programs, which has particular lessons for chief petty officers.

“They’re going to be successful, largely based off the relationship they have with the sailors that they lead,” Honea said. “And that those sailors trust in them. You can judge that trust by how well you’re sought out by your sailors. When they want to share with you their fears, concerns and failures and equally seek you out to celebrating [their] successes.”

Honea’s third priority is quality of life, an issue that has come up multiple times in the past couple of years, both in sailors’ concerns, as well as a Navy investigation into suicides on aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73). While the letters were not written in response to the quality of life investigation, Honea did have it in mind, he said.

A number of issues continue to affect quality of life, such as pay, housing and access to health care, issues that Honea identified during his first year as MCPON. Those three areas were also identified by the 1970 Gates Commission report on as crucial to being able to sustain an all-volunteer force, Honea told USNI News. Led by former Defense Secreatary Thomas S. Gates, the comission was stood up during the Nixon adminstration to study how to shift the U.S. military from a consciption to volunteer force.

As an example of a housing issue, Honea pointed to junior personnel and E-3s who are assigned to forces afloat, but not given a housing allowance by law.

“That to me is a barrier to ensuring that we have the greatest quality of life,” Honea said. “Give us that greater authority and flexibility to operate with inside our own boundaries with those allowances or where it makes sense to issue those allowances to say there so they can secure housing.”

So far, Honea said the response to the letters has been generally positive. His goal is to put out the standard and train people to it. He’ll be able to evaluate some of the letters’ efficacies by how well sailors perform.

Honea uses a variety of communication methods to speak to the fleet. He has gone out to have conversations with different units, used social media platforms like Reddit, and letters to disseminate information. The letters have the advantage of being able to reach the entire fleet.

Sailors discussed the letters on Reddit, with a post about the quality of life letter racking up more than 100 comments.

Comments included suggestions to have chief petty officers help connect sailors with resources, particularly for mental health and criticisms of the idea that chief petty officers should serve as mental health professionals. Other comments asked for more action in regard to the letters.

Honea said one of the concerns among sailors is that the Navy is not going to address problems.

“I want our sailors to have greater confidence in us as an organization, both of their immediate supervisor, their immediate Chief Petty Officer all the way up to myself as the master chief petty officer of the Navy and to our vice chief of naval operations that we care about, as a Navy, to making these problems better to improving on their quality of life and removing these barriers to servers,” Honea said.

Before Honea took on the role of MCPON, he sensed a need for a deeper connection between the chief petty officers and the junior sailors, he said. The letters are just one way he hopes to address that.

Honea does not have current plans to release additional letters once the last initiation letter goes out. He is always looking at how best to address the fleet. He prefers face-to-face meetings, but knows that those come with time and physical restraints.

He’ll continue with all-hands calls, as well as his open-door policy in which sailors can reach out to him with concerns, he said. His office is always ready to listen.

Honea holds himself to the priorities he sets as well, he said. When making decisions about where to travel, he asks if it’s going to fit into one of the priorities.

“I make sure that everything that we do inside this office, the decisions that we make, and the directions that we go in, are all based off all those priorities,” he said.