OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. â€“ Three years ago, then-Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Rick D. West implemented a Navy-wide initiative known as CPO 365, a phased development and training program designed to prepare first class petty officers (FCPOs) with the training and knowledge essential to becoming a chief petty officer (CPO).
The MCPON-issued guidance allows for commands to execute the program in a way that best suits their mission set, whether the command is forward-deployed in U.S. 7th Fleet, Stateside on the U.S. coastsâ€¦or hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean.
U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), one of nine Department of Defense unified combatant commands, is tucked into the southwest quadrant of Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb. and where more than 400 active duty and Reserve Sailors report for duty. Beginning Jan. 6, 2014, USSTRATCOM’s Navy Element, Strategic Communications Wing 1 (SCW-1)’s Offutt detachment and Offutt’s Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) CPOs and FCPOs began a revamped CPO 365 program which was more than six months in the making.
Chief Cryptologic Technician-Collection (IDW/SW/AW/EXW) James Martin, a Tacoma, Wash. native and CPO 365 program co-coordinator, said his positive experience with CPO 365 as an FCPO aboard aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) spurred him to take a lead role in planning and executing the USSTRATCOM version of CPO 365 upon his arrival to Nebraska in July 2013.
“I volunteered to try and evolve it, make it more specific to USSTRATCOM,” he explained. Along with Chief Personnel Specialist Leticia Quezada, he spearheaded the effort to revitalize and tailor the program to USSTRATCOM’s unique needs.
While on deployment aboard Lincoln, Martin participated in a weekly group physical training and a monthly training presentation with his fellow FCPOs as part of CPO 365. Mentorship was also emphasized and something Martin focused on carrying to USSTRATCOM.
“You have to have that mentor. As a first class, you should value and want to get mentorship directly from a chief,” he emphasized. “To this day, I still lean on my mentors for advice, guidance, and their experience. As a chief, the need for that valuable process doesn’t just stop. Â I wanted to grab this program and help with the development of first classes and hopefully let that trickle down to junior Sailors.”
Martin was quick to credit the entire CPO mess with the development of what would become USSTRATCOM’s CPO 365 program and emphasized the importance of having a variety of ideas and viewpoints to help shape the program into a viable platform. This process was made possible, Martin emphasized, by USSTRATCOM’s Navy Element SEL, Senior Chief Yeoman (SW/AW/EXW) Tony Stiner.
“As a mess, we were allowed to be free with the program. We came up with great ideas and he has supported and enforced that throughout the Navy Element,” he said.
The final plan calls for monthly classroom trainings, PT sessions, and either a social event, community relations event or group fitness event separate from PT. Notably, FCPOs will be able to volunteer to take on certain coordinator roles. This plan soon caught the attention of CPO 365’s key proponent.
During MCPON (AW/NAC) Mike D. Stevens’ visit to USSTRATCOM Oct. 29, 2013, he singled out the command’s CPO 365 program as a model for managing its demands with USSTRATCOM’s assigned mission set.
“The chiefs at this command have adopted the spirit of CPO 365 and figured out how to execute it in a way that doesn’t interfere with mission â€“ rather it supports the mission,” he said at a CPO lunch. “I’m proud of each one of you.”
At an E-6 all-hands call the same day, Stevens emphasized the program’s benefits.
“Participating in CPO 365 will help you be the best leader you can be, a more effective leading petty officer, and the by-product of great performance will be you making chief petty officer,” he said.
This validation reinforced Martin’s faith in the program’s effectiveness and potential.
“Any time you have the top enlisted Sailor putting his stamp of approval on what we’ve brought up together as a mess, it gives you confidence in the program moving forward,” Martin said. “We all put a lot of work into this.”
Martin noted support for the program extended beyond the Navy Element and to the highest level of USSTRATCOM’s enlisted leadership, USSTRATCOM Command Senior Enlisted Leader Command Sergeant Major Patrick Z. Alston.
“When this was pitched to him, he went straight to MCPON Stevens and let him know,” Martin recalled. “Sergeant Major Alston went to the directorate SELs and gave a really good endorsement of this program, and they’ve supported it all the way through. Sergeant Major Alston even came to the kickoff event where we briefed the program to the first classes, and I thought that was awesome.”
The kickoff event, held Nov. 18, 2013, laid out the plan for CPO 365 to the FCPOs. Yeoman 1st Class Minette Allen, a Granite, Okla. native and eventually one of two CPO 365 PT coordinators, welcomed the changes.
“This is my second year of CPO 365, and last year it was all formal classroom training,” she said. “I wanted to have the opportunity to impact the program, to make it an invaluable tool for FCPOs.”
Allen, along with six other FCPO coordinators, would have the chance to make that impact directly. The other coordinators consist of a chairperson, a community relations event coordinator, a training coordinator, a co-PT coordinator, and a webmaster. And while those five FCPO coordinators represent USSTRATCOM, Cole Camp, Mo. Native Master-at-Arms 1st Class Nathan L. Richardet serves as the SCW-1 detachment liaison, bringing an outside perspective to ensure the program is accessible beyond USSTRATCOM’s doors.
“Before, it wasn’t very structured. We sat in a room and discussed random topics. I believe there will be a great benefit received from this when we earn our anchors,” he said. “No one likes change, no one likes to give up personal time, but I feel this program can teach E-6’s how to let go of the ‘fight for the top spot’ mentality and learn how we, as a community, can have a positive effect on our commands, our base, and beyond.”
Allen noted one major benefit of the FCPO coordinator role is to serve as a direct voice for what the FCPO community wants from CPO 365.
“The program involves the FCPOs in the decision-making process through the coordinators; each CPO 365 event stems from an FCPO allowing our goals to mesh with the CPO goals, creating a well-rounded program,” she said. “CPO 365 is the FCPO’s chance to pull experience and ideas from peers and chiefs to better themselves as leaders.”
Making an impact is not just reserved for the seven FCPO coordinators, Martin emphasized. The monthly training sessions offer the chance for different FCPOs to develop training, share their experiences, and teach the topic.
“The idea is to put the onus on all the first classes to work with a CPO mentor/facilitator on any of the training topics we’ve come up with. The first classes can own and make the training theirs but still work with that chief who’s volunteered to help with the training topic,” he said.
On Jan. 6, 2014, Offutt CPOs and FCPOs met for the first CPO 365 PT session at the Offutt Field House. In the converted hangar, the Sailors completed a “52 Card Pick Up” functional strength-building workout. One week later, the Sailors gathered at the NOSC for three training presentations on the 21st Century Sailor and Marine, evaluation writing, and MCPON’s Zeroing in on Excellence initiative.
CPO 365 participants then made their first steps outside the PT and classroom training venues over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Over the course of two days, FCPOs and CPOs teamed up to help the personnel of Sarpy County Habitat for Humanity move their Bellevue office location. In addition to standard professional office items, there was the primary challenge of moving numerous pallets and bundles of construction items used for building and furnishing homes.
The final event of January 2014 was a team-building PT event that challenged the Sailors to accomplish a variety of physical tasks together as a team. Two days later, the FCPO coordinators met to discuss the lessons learned from the first month of the new CPO 365.
“We’re still in the early stages. As the program becomes more structured and more people jump on the bandwagon, I believe this will solidify into something sustainable,” Richardet said.
While administrative improvements and varying events will be key components to keeping the CPO 365 machine running well, Allen identified one element as crucial â€“ every FCPO and CPO contributing to the best of their ability for the collective betterment.
“I believe it’s up to the individual FCPO to choose what they put in and get out of the program,” she said. “I would like to see the program keep going full force and pick up as much momentum as possible. The ability to learn and achieve as a group is there, we just have to go full force and make it happen.”