By Clark Pierce
Master Chief of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens met with the chief petty officers (CPOs) of NAS Jacksonville and its tenant commands to discuss Navy ethics - as well as news reports from across the Department of Defense of incidents involving unethical behavior.
Stevens was welcomed at Dewey's All Hands Club by NAS Jacksonville CMDCM(AW/SW) Brad Shepherd and Commander Navy Region Southeast CMDCM(AW/SW) Mack Ellis.
In 2013, it was announced that dozens of Air Force nuclear missile officers allegedly cheated on exams, highlighting a series of security lapses and slip-ups that have plagued the ICBM corps.
Later, it was announced that senior instructors at the Navy's nuclear propulsion school in Charleston, S.C., were suspended from duty for alleged cheating on exams meant to qualify them to train others to operate naval nuclear power reactors.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, told reporters at a Feb. 4 Pentagon news briefing, that he was upset to learn of the breakdown in discipline. "To say I am disappointed would be an understatement," Greenert said. "We expect more from our Sailors - especially our senior Sailors."
Adm. John Richardson, director of the Navy's nuclear propulsion program, said the alleged cheating came to light when a senior enlisted Sailor at the Charleston training site reported the cheating to higher authorities. Richardson said the unidentified Sailor "recognized that this was wrong" and chose to report it.
Stevens told the audience that with the recent incidents happening across the Department of Defense, the Secretary of Defense could conclude that there's an epidemic of undisciplined behavior, however, he is assured that isn't the case with the Navy.
In fact, he said, each branch of the military has been ordered to take a hard look at their ethics codes - and that, soon, the Pentagon will appoint a general officer to head up an "ethics initiative" much like those that have been developed for suicide and sexual assault prevention.
"CNO and I understand that the Navy by itself has some problems - but that we don't have a systemic problem. I know from the stats within our CPO Mess, and the Navy as a whole, that conduct issues are flat or trending down. That's why I say that we in the Navy are not experiencing an epidemic of ethical problems. But whenever we do recognize an integrity based problem - big or small - it must be immediately addressed," said Stevens.
"Why must ethical problems be addressed quickly and firmly? I'm asking you for the single, key word that goes with integrity."
A number of CPOs from the audience voiced, almost in unison, "trust."
Stevens responded, "Someone help me here. Why is trust is so important?"
A female CPO stood and said, "Ultimately, we put our lives on the line, so we must trust each other to have our backs. If not, our mission cannot be accomplished. But I trust every brother and sister here today to have my back - and I'll do the same for them."
"Violation of our integrity erodes public trust," called out another chief. "We have to be mindful of what we say and how we say it in the age of public media."
Another chief told the assembly that lack of discipline can expose Sailors to the threat of blackmail which can create a security risk for confidential information. "There are lots of bad actors out there who want intelligence from our spaces. If they find someone with an ethical or moral problem, they can hold it over you until you give them something they want."
MCPON was so impressed by the chief, he urged the audience to "please give him a round of applause!"
He went on to explain, "I met with 800 chief petty officers the other day in Norfolk. We talked for 90 minutes - and not one person, myself included, made that point. That's why I'm here today. Because nobody knows better than those who live the dream every single day.
"For more than 120 years, when the Navy faces a challenge, we always turn to our chiefs' mess. It's in our DNA to handle problems. We take on challenges with vigor and passion because that's what we do. Nobody is better positioned to manage change in any other branch of America's armed forces. We bring the ability and experience to effectively communicate with every rank in the Navy - from a seaman apprentice to the CNO," said Stevens.
One more CPO stood and said, "Our common values have always been integrity and trust. We create the tempo of a command, and that means we set the standards of commitment, performance, achievement and, yes, integrity which simply means knowing right from wrong."