Air Force Senior Non-commissioned Officers join the ranks of Navy Chief Petty Officers

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Brittany Kemp, Master Sgt. Robert Segarra
  • 725th Air Mobility Squadron
It’s not every day Senior Non-commissioned Officers (SNCO) of the United States Air Force get the unique opportunity, not only to fully integrate with sister services, but also be granted the privilege to wear a portion of their uniform and earn their rank. Just like past years, a group of SNCOs at Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, embarked on a journey that was unfamiliar and would forever change their lives.  They participated in the Navy Chief Season, a time-honored tradition that holds a special place in the hearts of the Chief Petty Officer (CPO), aka “Chiefs.” SMSgt Sienna Newton of the 125th Fighter Wing, Florida Air National Guard, and 725th Air Mobility Squadron’s (M)Sgt Nuri Muhammad, (M)Sgt Pheng Vue, and (M)Sgt William Zelaya were all Tried, Tested and Accepted as Navy Chief Petty Officers after completing a challenging six weeks of leadership instruction, team building exercises, and physical training.

When training concluded on September 21st each member was pinned with their anchor and donned a Khaki Combination cover. These four new Chiefs joined the ranks of five of their Air Force comrades increasing the presence to nine SNCO/CPOs currently serving at NAVSTA Rota.

“I am proud to be an Air Force SNCO and now I am proud to be a Navy Chief,” said (M)Sgt/CPO Pheng Vue. “Season taught me a different meaning of sacrifice and teamwork. The top Chevron on my rank, commonly known as the roof top, is there to act as a shield to protect my junior airmen and now I wear the anchor as well. The anchor is heavy because it symbolizes the responsibility I carry with my brothers and sisters to ensure we are leading the way, setting the example, and bringing sailors and airmen along with us.”
 The Navy Chief Season is designed to cultivate an environment where junior sailors are made into Chiefs by emphasizing the importance of sacrifice, teamwork, mentorship, professional development and physical fitness. Chiefs are known for their dedication and subject matter expertise in developing all junior sailors and junior officers no matter the career field. This unique aspect of the Chief’s commitment, tier cohesion, and process to mentorship offers a different perspective for Air Force SNCO’s. It enhances the leadership approach by encouraging different methods to promote growth of our Airmen, while wearing multiple hats across different fields and in a joint environment. Traditionally, once the junior member has successfully accomplished Season, they are then immediately frocked –authorized to wear a higher grade and execute the duties of a Navy Chief Petty Officer.

“The Navy Chief Season was truly motivating for me,” said (M)Sgt/CPO William Zelaya. It was an opportunity to gain insight on becoming a better leader for both my airmen and officers. It holds a special place in my heart as it serves as a profound way to honor and pay tribute to my dear childhood friend who served in the Navy and passed away in June. It reminded me that service is not just duty; it is a deep enduring bond that unites us all.”

With this newly accepted responsibility, Chiefs are expected to go out lead by example, hold themselves to the highest standards, setting the tone for the entire Navy. Air Force SNCOs are also charged to do the same, foster a culture of professionalism, respect, and accountability within the ranks. However, Season introspectively highlights blind spots and shortfalls for the SNCOs while challenging each of them to adapt to culture differences between services, operate in joint environments, and build meaningful partnerships.
One of the ways the new Chiefs build relationships is through their mess. The Mess is a community built on a brotherhood and sisterhood forged through accountability, vulnerability, trust, and mutual respect.  This sense of unity can be a valuable lesson for Air Force SNCOs, encouraging a deep sense of belonging and cohesion among fellow teammates to remain a united front. A Mess can be found in just about every Command, Base, and or ship, and now, this comradeship can also be found on Air Force bases that were fortunate enough to participate in the Navy Chief Season.

"Chief Season was by far the most challenging experience I've had in my Air Force career. It was through the moments of exhaustion, frustration, and being uncomfortable that I REALLY got to know myself,” said (M)Sgt/CPO Nuri Muhammad. The process has a way of shining a light on the weaknesses we tend to hide, the limitations we thought we couldn't exceed, and the distance we place between ourselves and others. It strengthened my understanding of sacrifice, self-reflection, growth, humility, connectedness, and collaboration. For me, season was transformational. It allowed me to shed a version of myself and rebuild with the support and strength of the entire Chief's Mess."
The Air Force Mess at NAVSTA Rota is bridging this cultural gap with their fellow SNCOs to foster an environment where open feedback should be expected between the ranks. Peer to peer feedback should not be confused with confrontation but seen as a way to enhance trust, transparency, and team cohesion. Facing challenges and receiving constructive feedback can also encourage vulnerability. It allows members to break down personal barriers and focus on self-reflection. The ability to be vulnerable with teammates and coworkers can be a challenging thing to do, but even harder when discussing subpar standards, lack of knowledge, or discussing challenges. However SNCOs are charged with setting the standard and leading by example and this begins with establish norms and changing the environment.
Ultimately, Season served as a different perspective of leadership and mentorship in joint environment that has inspired Rota’s Air Force SNCO tier. By enhancing an already sound foundation with the Navy's commitment to mentorship, excellence, and unity, we can strengthen our leadership ranks, become a unified front, and increase credibility with subordinates.
“Chief Season brings a Navy/Air Force integration full of valuable experience and lessons learned from our respective branches, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Kenneth Kirkconnell. By integrating us in joint training, we share lessons learned with our counterparts from other services. This cross-pollination of knowledge and techniques leads to continuous improvement in training and operational challenges. Chiefs learn how to adapt in different environments, embrace challenges. This exposure broadens our skillsets, perspectives and methodologies. It also enhances our ability to operate in stressful, diverse, and joint environments. Adaptability is crucial in today's dynamic and complex operational landscape. Most importantly, we learn how to develop a common language between services, enhancing camaraderie and fellowship, resulting in seamless communication and coordination towards a common goal.”
The 725th AMS participation in the Navy Chief Season continues to serve as a unique professional development opportunity for SNCOs while deepening the partnership between two commands, serving as reminder of the continued commitment towards mission success.