The Naval Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC) community is about to have a new herd of mustangs—officers promoted from the ranks of enlisted—on the deckplate. Gone are the days of Limited Duty Officers (LDOs) taking on the responsibility of learning the ropes from Aerographer’s Mates (AGs) and leading them in their mission; a new wave of Chief Warrant Officers (CWOs) selected from within the AG ranks is on the way. But what exactly is the METOC mission? How will this change in leadership strategy help them accomplish their goals?
“We provide analysis and predictions of the environment from the bottom of the ocean to the stars,” said Cmdr. Douglas Pearman, commanding officer of Naval Information Warfare Training Group, Gulfport (NIWTG). “METOC kind of touches every part of mission planning and mission execution across the United States Navy.”
However, everything was not going swimmingly in the METOC community. According to NIWTG Command Master Chief Robert Picchi, they were having issues making sure there was a viable promotion opportunity for all of the officers in their designators.
“At the time, we were losing the way the LDOs were being utilized,” said Picchi. “It was very difficult for them to maintain the level of expertise that we wanted them to maintain. The warrant officers are purely technical. And we wanted an extension of the expertise that lies with senior 1st classes or the Chief’s Mess; someone that just wanted to continue to hone their craft as a METOC professional.”
In 2010, the Chief of Naval Personnel directed the LDO/CWO Officer Sustainability Initiative. Ideas were being thrown around on how to fulfill the initiative. It was in 2014 when Capt. Christi Montgomery became the Officer Community Manager for Oceanography, and a plan started to form. Three Master Chiefs; Master Chiefs Ken Walker, Bobby Picchi and Brian Wells, all came to her with an idea. They proposed bringing the warrant officers back. Not since the 1980’s had the METOC community had chief warrant officers. Their logic was that a warrant officer program would help increase retention of talent for both the enlisted and officer community. Capt. Montgomery was impressed with the idea.
“One of the cool things about our Aerographer’s Mate rating is that our senior enlisted don’t just care about their specific little stovepipe,” said Montgomery. “They care about the community as a whole. They have a vested interest in making sure that the officer community is the best community it can possibly be.”
Throughout 2015, the team researched how to implement the program. Eventually, they found a way to create a warrant officer program out of the LDO community at a cost-neutral amount, which was an important selling point. In November of 2015, after briefing Admiral Philip Davidson, then Commander of US Command, and getting the endorsement from the budget office and Fleet Forces, they put the package together and were able to get it approved by Admiral Richardson, the Chief of Naval Operations at the time, for the establishment of the warrant officer designator.
Once created, the warrant officer community had its fair share of challenges. At first, it seemed that awareness of the program was low.
“Initially, I was nervous that we weren’t going to get enough candidates to apply,” said Picchi. “We were a little low on applications. But since then, it has picked up quite a bit. I think the Sailors are starting to understand what the warrant brings to the community and what they’re going to do in the community.”
According to Cmdr. Pearman, another problem they had to face was creating a community culture. Admiral Okon, the Commander of Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command recognized this problem.
“One of the big things that we did recently, is we brought all of the current warrant officers down to the Stennis for a warrant officer leadership seminar, or symposium,” said Pearman. “We finally had enough of an inventory to justify bringing them all together and having them come up with their own identity. ‘Who are you, basically, and what are you going to bring to the fight?’ So, the admiral laid out his intent and gave them the commander’s guidance. And the warrants really took ownership over where it is that they intend to take the warrant officer community.”
According to Montgomery, the symposium was seen as a huge success by all. It focused on creating a unique oceanography warrant officer community culture and even resulted in the establishment of a warrant officer creed.
The final warrant officers in the program will commission in 2028. For such a long timeframe of implementation, it was important to Capt. Montgomery that each new officer community manager to take her position would pick up where their predecessor had left off. The position has changed over several times since she held it, but she has always kept in communication with the current community leader to make sure that the historical perspective and oversight continue uninterrupted.
“The current community manager, Commander Stephanie Johnson, she and I have had some conversations,” said Montgomery. “She’s got a very good grasp of all the history and all the billets and I know she’s going to give a great turnover to the next person.”
Thanks to the ongoing efforts of all involved, it seems that the METOC Mustangs are off to the races. Master Chief Picchi said he is happy with how the program has been implemented and is hopeful for the future of the community.
“I hope it expands,” said Picchi. “And then the Navy, even outside of our community, look at our warrants and say, ‘Hey, we can use those guys.’ The responsibility is on the warrant officers now. To not only set an example but make Sailors want to be them.”
All Hands Magazine | Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Bender