Navy Reading

The CPO Charge Book: A Writer’s Guide

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During World War II, Commanding Officers were authorized to advance and promote deserving and qualified Sailors to the highest enlisted rank of Chief Petty Officer. The determination of “deserving and qualified” could be difficult for the Commanding Officer. The situation also presented challenges to the Sailor who aspired to attain a Chief’s rating. How best to prepare? How to plan and track preparation? How to best display your qualifications? From these dilemmas sprang the original charge books.

Chiefs began to direct First Class Petty Officers to prepare themselves to assume the additional responsibilities by recording all the details of those responsibilities. Ship’s professional libraries were generally nonexistent or poorly stocked and much had to be learned directly from conversations with the Chiefs themselves and be taken down to be studied later. In addition to the technical aspects of the various ratings, Chief Petty Officers also talked to the First Class aspirants about leadership, accountability, supporting the chain of command, and other professional subject matter often using personal experiences to illustrate how something should (or should not) be done. The collection of notes and study material eventually came to be called by some a Charge Book perhaps because the Petty Officers who kept them were their charges (entrusted to their care) for professional development or perhaps because the entries included charges (authoritative instructions or tasking of a directive nature).

Today’s Charge Book, then, is a great tradition which has its roots in a magnificent period of our history. Chiefs have preserved it and have returned it to its original purpose. Today’s Charge Book is not entertainment and it is not a vehicle for hazing, however mild. It is a valid and valuable learning tool. It is treated with respect and as a badge of honor by all concerned. Even better, when CPO Initiation season is over, it becomes a treasured keepsake and the repository for the accumulation of the most precious of our career photos and mementos.

Why The Charge Book Remains Important Today

As a fellow Sailor we all hold the responsibility to train, develop, encourage, lead, and motivate those who are both Junior and Senior to us.   Nowhere is this responsibility more encapsulated than in the Chief Petty Officers Charge book.  This is intended to contain all the nuggets of wisdom that a new Chief can collect during his or her month-long induction.

Shortly after the induction is complete, the new Chief will very likely receive orders to a new job at a new command and be expected to lead as a Chief Petty Officer.  While there was little time to read the charge book during the induction process, the book will become increasingly valuable during that Chief’s next command. The wisdom, recommendations, motivation and guidance will be captured in the charge book ready to provide mentorship from the many leaders who signed their book.

History and knowledge does not only reside in books.  It resides in the stories, ditties, memes, cadences and anecdotes of those that have gone before.  This is why is we owe it to our new Chief Selectee(s) to provide him or her with the best wisdom and advice we can offer.  As such, I’ve compiled a list of ideas to pick from when your new Chief Selectee approaches you and asks, “Can you sign my charge book?”

CPO Charge Book Ideas

  • Congratulations & something specific you did that was deserving of this selection to Chief Petty Officer.
  • A motivational picture or meme on a Navy related topic
  • A motivational poem or quote that captures what it means to be a Chief Petty Officer. Think “If” by Rudyard Kipling, “Man in The Arena”, “The Doctrine of the Strenuous life” By Theodore Roosevelt or “Attitude” by Charles Swindoll.
  • A short story about how you have seen the Chief Selectee grow during the time you have served together.
  • One piece of advice that you would have for the Chief Selectee over the next year.
  • One thing that you wish you knew when you completed CPO induction.
  • An experience or lesson that you learned from your Chief.
  • Charge book Cutouts: TR’s Man in the Arena, Never Give up Frog
  • A mistake you made as a Chief, what you learned from that mistake and how those lessons can help others.
  • In closing, always spell out your name and include your contact information. You never know when the new CPO may want to reach out to you for advice or mentorship.

A Recent Example of a Charge Book Entry

Chief Smith,

Congratulations on this major accomplishment and selection to Chief Petty Officer. I believe you are well suited to make this significant step in personal development and leadership.

I hope that this is some of the toughest training you have experienced in your Naval Career. Because through that difficulty your lessons will stick, and you will be better equipped to lead your Sailors, mentor your Junior Officers and provide guidance to your Commanding and Executive Officers.

As a Chief Petty Officer you are now THE standard. You are no longer enforcing other people’s standards; rather you are THE standard that juniors  are measuring themselves by and that seniors are expecting you to enforce.   On September 13th you will be given the title of “Backbone of the Navy.” Hold that standard dearly, and be sure that the backbone is just as strong when you take it in 2019 as when the next group of selectees takes it in 2020.  

The “Never Give Up Frog”  that I taped into your charge book, was given to me by my Dad during plebe summer at the Naval Academy in the summer of 2000.  I photocopied it and gave it out to every member of my Platoon and used it as motivation when things got tough. I hope you can get the same type of motivation during your induction and at your next command where you put that training into practice.  

Lead Well,
All the Best, John

Please leave a comment below or reach out to me on Linkedin if you have additional ideas or examples of what should be included in the CPO’s Charge Book.