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    September 16...and every day after

    September 15 is a day in the U.S. Navy filled with a lot of emotion.
    By that date, former petty officers first class have collectively spent the last eight weeks being guided through what is known in the Chiefs Mess as “the season.” During that time, from immediately after the Sailors learn they were selected to be a chief petty officer to the day they’re finally accepted into the Mess, the selectees are tested.
    That eight-week test is for CPOs’ eyes and ears only, but on September 15, thousands of Sailors selected to be chiefs form ranks around the fleet in freshly pressed khakis to have gold, fouled anchors pinned to their lapels.
    There are tears and laughter. Stories are shared among brothers and sisters, both new and old, over a few well-deserved drinks.
    September 15 gets a lot of publicity, as it should, but what isn’t often talked about is September 16.
    That’s because on September 16, after the tears, laughter and stories, the Chiefs Mess gets back to work.
    Six months into his first year as a pinned chief petty officer, Chief Information Systems Technician James Murray, leading chief petty officer of CC division aboard the Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) and 13-year Sailor, admitted he still has a lot to learn about being a chief, but he’s come a long way since the day he first found out he was selected. Even before he was pinned, though, mentorship has been a hallmark of his career.
    Murray’s first steps into the Chiefs Mess seem to have started with a stumble.
    “I didn’t go into the Chiefs Mess humble,” Murray said with a laugh. “But they put me back on level ground. Easily. Easily. It happened so quickly. It was nothing to them. They put me back on humble ground real quick.”
    In early August 2017, Murray was an information systems technician first class on Ross. Being only a three-year petty officer first class, typically the minimum amount of time a Sailor spends at that pay grade before even being eligible to be advanced, he said that though he was confident in the package he submitted to the board responsible for selecting new chiefs, he was still anxious the day the results were released.
    “I was so nervous,” said Murray. “The day the results came out was actually a day off for the ship, so we didn’t get the results until the next day when the command could have everyone on board. Trying to sleep that night was impossible. I could not take it. I wanted it. I wanted to know. I wanted to be a chief.”
    The next day, the command had an all-hands call on Ross’ flight deck to announce the selectees.
    “I’m not even gonna lie, I told my guys I’d man radio,” said Murray referring to radio central where he was working. “I didn’t want to go out there in front of everyone. I chickened out.”
    Murray said he could hear Sailors running to the flight deck. Everyone on the ship wanted to know who the new chief petty officers would be.
    “I was still waiting in radio acting like I was manning up the space, but in reality, I was pacing back and forth,” said Murray, smiling. “We had a radio on, and they were calling out the results. Then over the radio I heard, ‘IT1 Murray, flight deck.’”
    Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Anthony Palacios was in radio control with Murray for what happened next.
    “As soon as I heard that, I started freaking out,” said Palacios. “I just saw him look and his eyes got wide. I could see him start shaking. We were just congratulating him saying, ‘You made it! You made it!’ And all of a sudden we hear over the radio, ‘Chief select Murray, flight deck.’ He shot out of the room. Ran out of there.”
    Murray said he ran down the passageway and made his way out to the flight deck.
    “Once I went to the flight deck, I just threw my hands up in the air,” said Murray. “It was just happiness. I was just telling everyone thank you because at the end of the day I owed that moment to everyone there. I didn’t get there on my own. I thanked God. I thanked my family. Seeing how happy everyone was for me, it was just surreal.”
    Murray said that though that moment was one of the best he’s ever had, the transition from petty officer first class to chief petty officer, from that day in early August 2017 to now, has been tough. One of the most difficult things Murray said he had trouble with early on was living up to three words every Sailor knows: “Ask the Chief.” The saying is a mainstay because it means if there’s a question, the Chief has the answer.
    “The hardest thing about going from a first class to a chief was to be able to have an answer, to be that answer for the whole crew,” said Murray. “That was a difficult process for me to go through. The Chiefs Mess always told me that once I put on chief, one thing I’d notice is that no matter what the question is it’s going to come my way. Always. And I needed to have an answer. So what that means for chief petty officers is we need stay up on regulations. Chiefs need to be able to speak intelligently about their rate. Don’t shoot from the hip. Ever. If you don’t know the answer, go to another brother or sister in the Mess and find that answer. Then come back to that Sailor. Never leave a Sailor out to dry.”
    Sailors like Palacios don’t see that interaction within the Mess, though. He sees a chief petty officer who gets him the answers he needs, when he needs them.
    “I don’t know how, but he’s always right,” said Palacios. “ He always has an answer. I just don’t know how.”
    Murray said that it’s especially hard to transition to chief coming from the world of a petty officer first class because that pay grade is so competitive.
    “As a first class petty officer, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and it seems like everyone is just trying to get to that spot,” said Murray about achieving the rank of chief petty officer. “But becoming a chief and being a part of the Mess, you truly have a family. And no matter what I go to them about, still to this day, they have an answer for me. Somehow, some way, they have an answer. So that was a big learning curve for me transitioning to chief.”
    To go from a dog-eat-dog world to a group of individuals that trust each other so implicitly so quickly might seem like magic to some people, but Murray said that the transition from first class to chief has a lot to do with what the Chief Mess teaches the selectees during the season.
    “In that season, what changes is your attitude,” said Murray. “No matter who you are or who you think you are or who you want to become, it doesn’t matter. What the Chiefs Mess teaches you in that eight weeks after you’re selected, they teach how you to love one another. They teach you how to be a family, and they teach you how to care for one another. You can always depend on someone. And that what makes it the Chiefs Mess.”
    Though Murray has been a chief petty officer for less than a year, he’s not new to one of the Chiefs Mess’ specializations: mentorship. He said that to him, mentorship means being able to have Sailors believe in him.
    “I want them to believe in me, yes, but also to be able to look them in the eye and tell them it’s not a perfect world,” he said. “I’m a mentor to a lot of Sailors on board. I never make it seem like it’s a perfect world because it’s not. It’s never going to be perfect but at the end of the day, be thankful. Be grateful that you’re alive. There are a lot of people in the world going through a lot more.”
    Palacios has been on the receiving end of that tough-love philosophy since his first day aboard Ross under then IT1 Murray, who was his sponsor as a brand-new Sailor.
    “He’s straightforward,” said Palacios. “He’s the most straightforward guy I’ve ever met. He’ll tell you how it is no matter what. He doesn’t care if it hurts your feelings. He’ll tell you how it is, but he’ll also show you how to overcome.”
    That pillar of Murray’s mentorship technique, the straightforwardness with a dash of help at the end, isn’t something he was born with. He’s been on the receiving end of it before, too. He was mentored the same way.
    “A retired command master chief named Mr. Ron Chappel,” said Murray, referring to the man who mentored him beginning when Murray was an IT2 at Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic in Virginia. “He was, each and every day, a person who would check on me. Who never let me have a bad day. If I had a bad day, I had to express to him why. He would help me have an understanding as to what I did wrong and how I can bounce back. To this day, he’s still a mentor. I still talk to him. I look at him as a father, a true father figure. I can still open up to him. I can still call him any time, and he’ll talk to me. He’ll still tell me what it is I’m doing wrong.”
    Leaders are often products of other men and women who have poured time and energy into their education and success. Murray is no different and uses at least one other technique with Sailors that Chappel used on him.
    “One thing I can do for some of these Sailors that was done for me, I let them know I’m never far away,” said Murray. “I still talk to Sailors from previous commands. I tell all my Sailors I’m only a phone call or a message away. I’ll be there for anybody. That’s what some of my mentors did for me. They’re still there for me, and, in turn, I’ve dedicated myself to these Sailors. No matter where I go or where I’m at, I’m only a call or message away. And I mean it.”
    What Murray does has an effect on his Sailors, Palacios certainly being one of them.
    “When I was coming up as a more junior Sailor, I wanted to be IT1 Murray,” said Palacios. “I still want to be him. I want to be not only mentally strong, but a great leader and physically strong as well. He’s beat me in every bench press contest, every running contest. I just want to be the person he is. He’s like a tank. He just keeps rolling down the road. That’s what I want to be. I try to emulate everything about him. He’s the one I’ve always looked up to. Hands down, he’s the most influential person I’ve had in my career.”
    Murray said he isn’t finished yet. He achieved a goal that some Sailors work their entire careers for. He was selected, tested and finally accepted into the Chiefs Mess. But what’s next?
    “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna do more than 20 years,” said Murray. “I’m gonna go until they kick me out. But to be honest, I just want to now be the best I can be. I want to be as good a leader as I can be for these Sailors, these people. Their success will be my success, and that’s all I want. I ask God to give me the strength to wake up every day, to be better than the person I was when I went to sleep, and continue to motivate these guys. No matter what command I go to, no matter where I go, I want to be the guy that these Sailors can look up to and say, “Wow, he’s done a lot for me, and he gave it all he’s got.”
    His goals for himself aren’t too dissimilar from what he expects of his junior Sailors.
    “Since he made chief, I would say he’s even harder on us now, but that’s just because he wants us to be the best that we can be,” said Palacios. “He knows our potential. He knows what we’re capable of, and he pushes us.”
    Being the best he can be isn’t the only thing that’s next for Murray. For six months, he’s continued to learn and mentor as a chief petty officer, but he can now add another date to his list of achievements: March 1, 2018. That’s the day Murray found out he was selected to be an officer.
    He said finding out about his most recent selection brought up familiar feelings.
    “It was similar to finding out I was selected for chief,” said Murray. “The feeling of my heart beating, about ready to jump out of my chest. The feeling of being blessed, my people cheering for me. The Sailors that helped me get to this point, especially my division. Those guys have believed in me since day one. And I believe in them. So once I heard the results, it was a similar feeling. Just happiness.”
    He doesn’t think becoming an officer will change him much, just like becoming a chief didn’t change him too much.
    “Nothing will change about me,” Murray said. “They way I go about my day will stay the same. That won’t change no matter what. I’m still going to greet people in the morning. I’m still going to talk to people and ask them about their day. I’m going to treat everyone the same. I’ll still mentor and motivate people. That’s never going to change. I’m always going to be that motivator.”
    There is one tradition the Chiefs Mess started that Murray’s transition to becoming an officer might continue, though.
    “I’ll probably become even more humble now,” Murray said with a grin. “There’s some more knowledge I’m going to need to pick up on, a lot of new things I’m going to have to learn.”
    Murray believes he’s going to be the same person no matter what is on his lapels be it the three chevrons of a petty officer first class, a chief’s gold, fouled anchor or any of the officer ranks he’ll achieve in the future. To him, every day, be it in September or March, is a new day, an opportunity to, as he put it, be the best he can be.



    Date Taken: 03.05.2018
    Date Posted: 12.12.2018 09:16
    Story ID: 303158
    Location: US

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