Crows and Anchors: The Differences Between First Classes and Chiefs

By Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Adam Ferrero, USS George Washington (CVN 73) Public Affairs

The path of an enlisted Sailor is paved with milestones. When it comes to advancement, one particularly important milestone is the transition from petty officer first class to chief petty officer. While only one rank apart, it would be a mistake to underestimate how different they are.

CSC Quwanda Burnett, the restricted personnel division chief petty officer aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), poses for a photo in the conference room of the floating accommodation facility. –photo by MC3 Adam Ferrero


“When I was a first class, I thought that being a chief would be easy,” said Chief Aviation Ordinanceman Kevin Kelly from North Kingstown, Rhode Island, a weapons department materiel maintenance management assistant aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). “They had meetings and made the plans while I executed them. Now, on the other side, I know that there is a lot more to it than I thought. While now I make plans, I’m also out to make sure that things are going as scheduled and provide solutions for any obstacles that may come up. I grossly underestimated the level at which chiefs perform.”

There can be vast differences between first classes and chiefs, not just in their day-to-day work responsibilities, but also in their mindsets and priorities.

“As a first class, my sights were set mainly on my division and weren’t as broad as they are now,” said Kelly. “I now track things at a departmental level, and there are a lot more responsibilities and things to get done.”

Being a chief may come with more responsibility, but petty officer first classes still play a vital role in the Navy.

“I believe that first classes bridge the gap between junior Sailors and senior Sailors,” said Chief Culinary Specialist Quwanda Burnett from Kinston, North Carolina, the restricted personnel division chief petty officer aboard George Washington. “Possibly, because the Sailors feel more comfortable with their leading petty officer than they do with their chief; the first classes are the buffers in the division and often times boost the morale.”

As a first class, Burnett already had firm ideas about what it meant to be a chief.

“Being a chief meant being an expert in my field, a positive role model, and the backbone of the Navy,” said Burnett. “My feelings now as a chief are the same, and I am beyond grateful to be a chief. As a young culinary specialist, at the time mess management specialist, I had amazing chiefs that always took care of me and showed me the way. I believe it’s my duty to give that to Sailors, if not more than what was given to me.”

For first classes looking to become chiefs, they should bear in mind what comes with the position will come in handy as they remember the traits that got them their current positions.

“Becoming a chief was a goal I set for myself when I decided to reenlist for the first time in 2006,” said Chief Logistics Specialist Dominique Sherrod from Portsmouth, Virginia, ship’s force work package leading chief petty officer aboard George Washington. “Once I reenlisted, I decided that I would strive to become a chief. There have been roadblocks and pitfalls, but there have always been chiefs, senior chiefs, and master chiefs who have been there for me, as well as peers and junior Sailors who have kept me grounded.”

The rank of petty officer first class is an important step to becoming a chief, but it’s also much more than that. Not all first classes become chiefs in the Navy, but both play separate and vital roles in its operation. By working together along with their junior Sailors, both petty officers first class and chief petty officers ensure the enlisted community will continue to display just why this is the world’s strongest Navy.

Summer 2019