Prior to 1958, Chief Petty Officer was the highest enlisted rate in both the Navy and Coast Guard. This changed on 20 May 1958 with the passage Public Law 85-422, the Military Pay Act of 1958, which established two new pay grades of E-8 and E-9 in all five branches of the U.S. armed forces. In the Navy and Coast Guard, the new E-8 pay grade was titled Senior Chief Petty Officer and the new E-9 pay grade as Master Chief Petty Officer.
Chief Petty Officers serve a dual role as both technical experts and as leaders, with the emphasis being more on leadership as they progress through the CPO paygrades. A recognized collateral duty for all Chiefs is the training of newly commissioned Junior Officers. Like Petty Officers, every Chief has both a rate (unlike the land-centric services, rank only refers to commissioned officers in the Navy and Coast Guard) and a rating (i.e., job specialty, similar to an MOS in the US Army or USMC, or an AFSC in USAF). A Chief's full title is a combination of the two. Thus, a Chief Petty Officer who has the rating of Gunner's Mate would properly be called a Chief Gunner's Mate.
Each rating has an official abbreviation, such as QM for Quartermaster, BM for Boatswain's Mate, or FC for Fire Controlman. When combined with the petty officer level, this gives the shorthand for the chief's rate, such as BMC for Chief Boatswain's Mate. It is not uncommon practice to refer to the chief by this shorthand in all but the most formal correspondence (such as printing and inscription on awards). Mostly, though, they are simply called "Chief", regardless of their rating.
In the U.S. Navy, both commissioned officers and Chiefs are often colloquially referred to as "khakis." In the past, commissioned officers and chief petty officers wore khaki-colored uniforms while onboard seagoing vessels, in direct contrast to petty officers and seamen, who were referred to as deckplate sailors, or blueshirts. However, since the early 2010s, the U.S. Navy has adopted a digital blue and gray camouflage working uniform which replaced the khaki-colored ones worn by commissioned officers and chief petty officers on board ships, and also adopted a service uniform for petty officers and seamen in pay grades E-6 and below, consisting of a khaki shirt and black trousers. The latter has caused some dissent among some chief petty officers and naval officers as a result. In the Coast Guard, petty officers, chief petty officers, warrant officers, and commissioned officers all wear similar uniforms.
The United States Navy is distinct among the US' Armed Forces in that promotion to the paygrade of E-7 traditionally has involved a season of specialized activities known collectively as "initiation", "orientation","induction" or most recently, "CPO 365- Phase II". The "induction season", as it was called, has been replaced by a program called CPO 365, a year-round program for First Class Petty Officers. On January 7, 2013, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON)Michael D. Stevens announced:
Effective immediately, we're respectfully sun-downing the word 'induction', and in its place we'll use CPO 365 as the primary term," said Stevens. "I believe that induction is more about a moment in time, and CPO 365 and the development of our FCPOs to become CPOs is not about a moment in time. It's about a continuous time. This is something we're going to do every day, 365 days a year, and so we want to make sure the term we are using is matching what we are doing.
Unlike Petty Officer First Class and lower rates, advancement to Chief Petty Officer not only carries requirements of time in service, superior evaluation scores, and specialty examinations, but also carries an added requirement of peer review. A Chief Petty Officer can only advance after review by a selection board of serving Senior and Master Chief Petty Officers, in effect "choosing their own" and conversely not choosing others.
Advancement into the Chief Petty Officer grades is the most significant promotion within the enlisted naval rates. At the rate of Chief, the Sailor takes on more administrative duties. In the Navy, their uniform changes to reflect this change of duty, becoming identical to that of an officer's uniform except with different insignia. Sailors in the three Chief Petty Officer rates also have conspicuous privileges such as separate dining and living areas. Any naval vessel of sufficient size has a room or rooms that are off-limits to anyone not a Chief (including officers), except by specific invitation. In Navy jargon, this room is called the Chief's Mess, or tongue in cheek, the "goat locker". In addition, a Chief Petty Officer, no matter how much he was on "first name" basis with other petty officers before promotion, is always addressed as "Chief" by subordinates and superiors.
In naval terminology, the deckplate can roughly refer to the deck ("flooring"), or the area of the deck of a ship or boat (submarine). It can also refer to the Chief Petty Officer leadership. The term deckplate leaders is a colloquial term referring to the senior enlisted personnel of the rate of Chief Petty Officer and higher. They are generally charged with keeping good order and discipline within the lower enlisted rates.
Insignia and emblem
U.S. Navy arm insignia for a Chief Yeoman
The Chief Petty Officer's insignia is a perched eagle with spread wings (often, affectionately, referred to as a "crow") above three chevrons topped by a rocker[disambiguation needed]. These are red, but if a Navy chief has at least 12 consecutive years of good conduct service in the armed forces, the chevrons and rocker may be worn in gold. A Coast Guard chief petty officer's sleeve insignia is always gold regardless of the conduct of service. In either case, the Chief's particular rating emblem is displayed below the crow, within the area bordered by the rocker and the uppermost chevron.
On the dress blue uniform (and variants such as mess whites), the insignia is worn on the left arm of the uniform blouse (or "suit coat" in civilian terminology). On all other uniforms, the insignia used is worn on the collar and has become universally accepted as the symbol of the Chief Petty Officer, which is a fouled (entwined in the anchor chain) gold anchor superimposed with the letters "USN" in silver in the Navy, or a silver shield in the Coast Guard.
The Navy Chief Petty Officer emblem is symbolized by a fouled anchor with the letters "USN" centered on the anchor. Officially the letters stand for United States Navy. According to naval tradition, the letters are symbolic of the following:
Unity: to symbolize camaraderie of the fraternity.
Service: to symbolize service to one's god, fellow man, and the Navy.
Navigation: to symbolize true course before God and man.
The Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer emblem is symbolized by a fouled anchor with a shield superimposed on its shank. The anchor is emblematic of "The Chief" and represents stability and security. It serves to remind the Chief of their responsibility to keep those they serve safe from harm's way. The significance of the shield date to the days of the Revenue Cutter Service when Congress added the shield to the ensign of the Cutter Service to distinguish cutters from other naval vessels. The chain is symbolic of flexibility and strength and serves to remind the Chief that the chain of life is forged day-by-day, link-by-link. The chain also represents the reliance of one Chief Petty Officer on another to get the job done and reminds him not to be the weak link in the chain. The chain fouled around the anchor represents "the Sailor's disgrace" and serves to remind Chiefs that there may be times when circumstances are beyond their control in the performance of their duty, but a Chief must complete the task.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SW/FMF) Joe R. Campa Jr. (2007-03-30). "MCPON Reflects on 114 Years of Deckplate Leadership". Retrieved 2008-05-10. "...commemorating the establishment of the rate of Chief Petty Officer (CPO) in 1893."
The Coast Guardsman's Manual, ninth ed.,George E. Krietemeyer, Naval Institute Press,2000, ISBN 1-55750-468-7