‘When I became Chief of Naval
Operations in 1967, our Navy and our Nation, for that matter, was subject to
considerable discontent due primarily to the Vietnam War and the way it was
being fought. I was aware that the
concept of a MCPON had been under study for some time.. I approved of the
idea and was pleased to learn upon assuming office that Master Chief
Gunner’s Mate Delbert Black had been selected for the post..! was impressed
by our first meeting. It was clear to me that here was a man that radiated leadership and se1f-confdence, but I
was still not sure that he was completely aware of the job he faced.. He
quickly proved that he understood his job and knew how to handle
Step by step, MCPON Black established and
broadened his scope of activity.. I made several trips with Delbert Bjack
and we had many discussions about the many problems we faced particularly in
the personnel area. Boiled down we agreed
that it is not those that you work for that make you look good, rather it is those that work for you. They
deserve the most of your attention.”
Admiral Thomas M. Moorer, USN(Ret.)
In the fall of 1966, Master Chief Gunner’s
Mate Delbert Defrece Black was in ahospital
recovering from an appendectomy. When he heard that the Navy was looking for
a Senior Enlisted Advisor, he called his wife, Ima, to ask if he should put
in an application. The answer was a resounding yes. A former Navy
storekeeper, Ima Black was sure that her man was the one the Navy
needed for the job.
Captain William Homer, Black’s commanding
officer at U.S. Fleet Anti-Air Warfare Training Center, Dam Neck, Virginia,
was also convinced that his chief master-at-arms met the qualifications for
the job. In fact, he spent so much time working on the application package
that it arrived in Washington after
the board’s deadline. Ten nominees had already been selected but Black’s
package was so impressive they added one more.
Black competed against HMCM Arthur W. Abbey of NAS Barber’s Point,
Hawaii; HMCM Frederic H. Andrews, Naval
Support Activity, Da Nang, South Vietnam; BMCM Calvin L. Baker, NAS Point
Mugu, California; TMCM Samuel H. Bledsoe, Jr.,
James K Polk;
AVCM Jack E. Candland,
GMCM Peter De Hart,
AFCM Harold D. Noe, Patrol Squadron 30; STCM
John L. Robinson, Jr.,
Bronze Stars, Distinguished Flying Crosses,
Air Medals, and a Purple Heart decorated the 11
candidates. Candland was an All-Navy and
Interservice tennis singles and doubles
champion. All were married, ranged in
age from 42 to 52, and had between 20 and 29 years of service.
“My Husband is the Top”
When the board was finished, one man was
asked to come to Washington foran interview with the board. The interviewers
ignored the man’s wife who accompanied him.
When it was over and they were being ushered
from the room, Ima Black turned to the officers and said: “I don’t know who
you are going to select, but my husband is the top enlisted man in the U.S.
Shortly after their return to Norfolk, the
Blacks were called and told he had the job but to keep it quiet until the
official announcement was made.
On January 13, 1967, Black reviewed the
recruits at Naval Training Center (NTC) in San Diego, California, and was
officially appointed Senior Enlisted Advisor of the Navy by Vice Admiral B.J.
Semmes, Chief of Naval Personnel. It was Black’s triumphant return to the
boot camp he graduated
from 26 years before.
After the ceremony, Black’s first official visit was to Naval Hospital, San
Diego, where he talked with wounded Vietnam veterans. He also visited the
bedside of the commanding officer of NTC, San Diego, who had missed the
ceremony because of a bad back. The CO congratulated Black and said he hoped
that as Senior Enlisted Advisor, he could improve barracks life for the
Navy’s enlisted personnel.
“I’m all for you,” the CO said. “We
do everything we can down at NTC but I’m sure we can do more.”
Before Black could move Ima and their
nine-year-old son, Donny, to Washington, he had one more stop to make. The
Navy thought a short course in career information and counseling would be
The Blacks bought a home in Washington and
he began to settle into his small office on the third floor of the Navy
Annex. He was given a staff
of one, Yeoman First Class Jerry Scharf.
Letters began trickling in from sailors who
had read about the master chief who could talk to admirals. Black spent his
first few months in briefings and going through correspondence. The more he
settled into his job, the more he discovered that very few people in
Washington had a clear idea of what he was supposed to do.
Looking for guidance, he paid a visit to the
Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral David L. McDonald. He received less than
a warm reception.
“Admiral McDonald said he never believed in
establishing the office to begin with,” Black said, recalling the visit 25
years later. “So I asked him,
MCPON Black shares a
light moment with Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.
‘If this is what the enlisted people want,
will you give us a chance to make it work?’ And he told me at that point to
do anything I wanted to do. I thanked him and that was the last time I had a
conversation with him.”
To Black, the CNO’s brush off was like
receiving a blank check. Though his official job description was still in
the works, he had his own ideas about what he wanted to accomplish.
In his nomination package for the job, he
had written: “The office of Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Navy should
function as liaison between enlisted personnel and Chief of Naval Personnel.
His office should be open to all regardless of rank or rate. He should
solicit information and suggestions from any person he feels might in some
way benefit enlisted personnel, always keeping in mind his primary concern
is to give the Navy man a better life, which will, in turn, benefit the Navy
“The responsibility of this office will be
great and varied,” he added, “with a challenge never before faced by any
single enlisted man.”
Not Afraid of Challenge
On his way to the Navy’s top enlisted
billet, Black had survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor aboard the
battleship Maryland, earned eight combat ribbons in WW H and numerous
other decorations, served a
tour in recruiting, and put spit and polish
into the Navy’s most visible drill team, the Ceremonial Guard in Washington,
The 45-year-old master chief was not afraid
of challenge. He joined the Navy when he was 18 to get off the family farm
near Orr, Oklahoma. But he brought his work ethics with him. Through 21
years at sea, from seaman recruit to master chief, he built a reputation as
a sailor’s sailor.
“I was determined to be the best sailor I
could be so I wouldn’t ever have to go back to that farm again,” he said.
Black had also put much effort into
developing his own leadership style and philosophy. When he first came in
the Navy, he said leading seamen “ran things because most of the time, he
had eight to ten years in and was still a seaman but he knew everything. If
you had a problem, you didn’t talk to the chief or the first class. You
talked to the leading seaman.”
The leadership structure changed following
WW II and petty officers took over the role of the leading seaman. Without a
war to fight, practices began creeping in that detracted from the
effficiency and morale of some commands. Commanding officers ruled with an
iron fist, often making decisions for sailors that Navy Regulations said
they could make for themselves.
As a petty officer and a chief, Black became
a leader who tried to protect his men against such practices, using the
chain of command to make his objections known. He also learned that taking
the time to listen and help sailors solve their problems was key to being a
As the Senior Enlisted Advisor, he was
anxious to get out in the fleet and begin listening to sailors and solving
Black knew he would need a visible sign that
he was, in fact, the top enlisted man. Ima came up with a solution. She
suggested putting a third star above his rating badge. Black liked the idea
and so did the Uniform Board. He took one of his uniforms into a tailor’s
shop in Norfolk, Va.
“When I asked the tailor to put a third star
above my crow, he looked at me like I was a drunken sailor out of my mind,”
Black said. “When the word got out that there was a master chief with three
stars, there were wagers going around whether it was true or not. I had
sailors follow me into the head to ask me if I was really a
three-star master chief.”
In 1967, Black, like the other senior and
master chiefs, wore a chief’s cap device. It wasn’t until December, 1968,
that the Uniform Board approved a master and senior chief cap insignia,
similar to their collar devices, with one or two silver stars superimposed
on the anchor. The MCPON received approval to wear three stars on his cap
device while serving in that assignment.
Black knew that a three-star master chief might cause some raised eyebrows
in the fleet but in Washington, it would not be enough to open the
doors he needed to enter. Help came from Bob
Nolan, Executive Secretary and powerful lobbyist for the Fleet Reserve
“Black was a member of the FRA,” Nolan
recalled. “I asked him what the Navy was doing to help him get started and
he said not a blessed thing. His new office was a former closet. So small
you had to step outside to change your mind. I asked Black if he would* like
to meet Mendel Rivers, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Black said, ‘Tell me when and I’ll be there.’”
The meeting was set up as a breakfast at the
Congressional Hotel in Washington. It went well, according to Nolan.
“Rivers thought the creation of the office was
the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Nolan said. “He thought it would
give enlisted personnel another avenue for solving problems. He also
believed that he would get more down-to-earth answers to his questions from
an enlisted person. When he asked me how Black was doing, I told him that
the title of Senior Enlisted Advisor should be changed to Master Chief Petty
Officer of the Navy (MCPON) to match the other services. Rivers agreed. I
also told him that even though Black was getting proficiency pay, the senior
enlisted man in the Navy should be paid as an E-1O. After the breakfast,
Rivers’ office dictated a letter to SECNAV Paul H. Nitze on the
The FRA continued to help the office gain
visibility by encouraging its membership to stop and visit with Black when
they were in the Annex.
From the battlefields of Vietnam to stateside
training sites, MCPON Black’s second year In office put him on a whlrVwind
travel itinerary which brought him face-to-face with every level of the
enlisted community. In May 1967, MCPON Black inspected the Honor Guard at
RTC(W) in Bainbridge, MD.
Nolan also invited Black to go with him on
his visits with the hierarchy to talk about personnel issues. “It worked
well,” Nolan said. “The first thing a MCPON has to do is gain the confidence
of his superiors in the bureaucracy of Washington. He can’t be perceived as
a wise guy but still he should be very knowledgeable. The Navy was very
fortunate and blessed to have had a man like Black as the first MCPON.”
Black made some friends in Congress on his
own. As a native son of Oklahoma, he was invited by Speaker of the House
Carl Albert (Democrat, Oklahoma) to make the rounds on Capitol Hill. Before
long, Black was being consulted on personnel issues by Congressmen who
wanted the enlisted view.
While the CNO was not alone in his opinion
of the office, there were many more who believed that a senior enlisted
advisor was the shot in the arm the Navy needed to shore up retention and
morale. Among those were the Secretary of the Navy Paul H. Nitze and his
successor, Paul R. Ignatius, the Chief of Naval Personnel Benedict J.
Semmes, and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve
Affairs) Mr. James D. Hittle.
“They helped me to see from the top how
things operated and how to get things done,” Black said. “I began to get my
The Pecking Order
From that initial support base, Black began
to build the foundation for the office as well as the title. As the firsl
enlisted man to wear three stars, Black discovered that no one in Washington
was sure where he fit into official or social protocol. So, he picked his
own place in the pecking order. Anyone below rear admiral, he told his
yeoman, would be required to make an appointment before coming to see him.
If a rear admiral or above wanted to talk to him, he would make the
appointment to go see them.
“I wanted everyone to know that the office
was not just another office in the Bureau,” he said. “It worked pretty well
for official business but there was still a lot of confusion on the social
side. I’ve been introduced along with admirals at some things and after the
waiters at others.”
In the Bureau of Naval Personnel, the prevailing attitude towards the
three-star master chief was one of mild tolerance and curiosity. Black began
testing the structural flexibility of the Bureau. He knew that sailors would
be expecting him to do more than listen to their problems or suggestions. To
do the job right, he was going to have to make the system bend.
“I’d go to someone, a head of a division,
and ask them what do I do in this case?” he said. “And they would look at me
and say, ‘Well, Master Chief,
you make the decision.’ And it didn’t take
me long to find out why they would say that. If it didn’t work, I’d take the
blame. No one wanted to give you positive help because they were afraid it
would come back on them. They wouldn’t say I could not do something, though.
They wanted to see if I could.”
From his extensive fleet experience, Black
knew that the person behind the stars needed to project them in a way that
would build confidence and credibility from the top as well as the bottom.
In April of his first year, Black was given
a BUPERS, instruction listing his purpose, mission and tasks, and changing
his title to Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. The instruction
cautioned that “individual correspondence of an official nature or matters
which concern the traditional and appropriate mode of redress and hearings
shall continue to be processed in the normal manner via the chain of
command. The office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy shall in
no manner be interpreted as derogating the effective and necessary method of
communication between enlisted personnel and their respective
tenure, MCPON Delbert 0. Black toured Vietnam to hear views of the enlisted
sailor. Here he talks with Navy forklift driver at DaNang’s deep water
commanding officers accomplished through the
request mast procedure.” The instruction was signed by Vice Admiral Semmes.
Black was ready to travel. His itinerary the first year was hectic —
visiting Newport Rhode Island, the Naval Ammunition Depot at McAlester,
Oklahoma, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, Patuxent River, Maryland, Great Lakes,
Illinois, and RTC(W) Bainbridge, Maryland. In Florida, he visited MacDill
Air Force Base with his counterparts from the Army, Marines and Air Force.
William 0. Woolridge was Sergeant Major of the Army, Herbert J. Sweet,
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, and Paul W. Airey, Chief Master Sergeant
of the Air Force. During his visits to shore and sea commands, he became
acutely aware of a lack of communication from the policymakers down to the
fleet, as well as among the key links in local chains of command.
“When I started out, there were no contacts
out in the fleet to call when I wanted to schedule a visit,” he pointed out.
"You'd have some strange things happen as a result. I’d set up a visit and
when I’d get there, the command would have me scheduled to talk with
officers only. That was not the purpose of my visit. You’d also have
confusion about seniority, like at an aviation squadron. You’d have the line
chief and the maintenance chief. Who was senior? Well, the maintenance chief
was a master chief but the line chief is a senior chief and he runs the
squadron. Problems like that you would eventually work out but it would
distract you from things that are more important. You’d have to spend time
sorting them out.”
Black’s answer came in the form of a
fleet-wide network of senior enlisted advisors appointed by Fleet
Commanders, Type Commanders, and Naval District Commandants. The
authorization to create the positions had already been given by the
Secretary of the Navy when he established the Senior Enlisted Advisor (SEA)
of the Navy billet. Both were based on recommendations stemming from the
1966 Task Force on Personnel Retention.
By 1969, Black had the network humming from
London to Da Nang. SEAs met with troops in their respective commands and
listened for developing trends and problem areas. Problems that couldn’t be
solved locally or ideas that deserved further development were sent up the
line. Some came directly to Black.
While sailors were encouraged to work
through their chain of command first, many used the published Washington
address given for the senior enlisted man. Black read every letter that came
into his office. Very few, he said, were from sailors just looking to air
complaints. Most contained constructive suggestions or expressed concerns
about orders, housing, educational programs and pay.
“Most individuals were seeking information
not available to them or were pointing out areas which they felt needed
improvement,” he said.
Correspondence from the fleet increased with
every trip the MCPON made. Before responding, Black would go through the
Bureau, asking the same questions sailors were asking him. If the answer did
not make sense to him, he knew it would make less sense to the sailor on the
deck plate. Bureau personnel, officers, enlisted and civilians, learned
quickly that providing the MCPON with satisfactory answers was no easy task.
Through his questioning and search for the right answers, Black prodded the
system to examine time-worn practices that needed improvement or could be
Occasionally, Black discovered that sailors
themselves needed to change. While looking for answers to detailing
questions, Black learned that many of the problems in detailing could be
traced back to the individual’s failure to provide information to the
detailer. “The detailers have to assign everyone within their duty choices,”
he wrote in an All Hands Magazine article in 1969, “but good
personnel management dictates that the individual be placed where he can be
best utilized. If a problem develops after a man has been assigned, then I
am able to bring the ma’tter to the attention of the rating control branch.
The detailers, in turn, try to find a solution to the man’s problem.”
Much of his mail was about family housing
shortages. Aware that the answer he was given was not the one sailors were
looking for, Black tried to help them understand the system. He explained
that because Congress limits the funding available, the Navy would probably
never be in a position to provide quarters for all those who are eligible.
He pointed out, however, that he was recommending a cost of living allowance
to help families stationed near high cost areas. While he understood that
the cost of off-base housing was even more difficult for the lower pay
grades, ineligible for base housing, he believed that career personnel
should remain a priority on the housing list.
As his visibility grew, so did his
determination to make changes.
“It took patience, and more patience, to get
anything done,” he said. “My philosophy in dealing with the bureaucracy was
that there were no such things as wins and losses. There were wins and
disappointments and if you felt strong enough and you worked hard enough,
you’d turn those disappointments into gains. That’s how you accomplished
In August 1967, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer,
Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFLT), relieved Admiral McDonald
as CNO. As CINCLANTFLT, Moorer had a reputation as a leader responsive to
personnel issues. Unlike his predecessor, he saw value in having a senior
enlisted man to communicate with enlisted sailors. He invited the MCPON to
travel with him on trips to the fleet.
“Rumors were very active at that time,”
Admiral Moorer recalled. “The
MCPON could go down to the chiefs mess and
explain to them that everything that was going on could not be blamed on the
Navy. Congress shared much of the responsibility. It was a very difficult
time to develop an attitude among our people that would help to improve
Attitude development was just one of the
symptoms of the larger problem that was affecting the Navy and the other
services in the mid to late 60s. The Vietnam War was sending thousands of
young Americans home in body bags, college campuses were erupting in protest
of the war, racial rioting was dividing the country on civil rights, and a
strange, new youth culture was creating a wide generation gap. The divisions
and shifts in American society found their counterparts within the military
For the Navy these problems were reflected
in high attrition rates among first term enlistees, low retention rates
among career personnel, and high absenteeism and desertion rates. MCPON
Black tried to make a small dent in desertion rates while he was on a trip
to Hawaii with the CNO. He had heard that a church on the island was serving
as a shelter for deserters. He requested permission from the CNO to go to
the church and talk to any sailors who had deserted. According to Black, the
CNO told him to give it a try. So Black put on civilian clothes, went to the
church, and began talking to the deserters.
“I had several young sailors talked into
returning to their unit,” he said, “but church officials found out what I
was doing and they threw me out of the compound.”
Black used his visits to the fleet to gain
direction in areas that needed immediate attention. By October of his.first
year in office, he was able to tell sailors at Naval Training Center, Great
Lakes, Illinois, that he was working on the following issues: increasing the
number of permanent career counselor billets to allow every ship in the Navy
with a complement of 400 or more to have a full-time career counselor;
making the dungaree uniform acceptable in more on-base facilities such as
the Navy exchanges and commissaries; pushing for an increase in sea pay from
$15 monthly average to $110, based on a 74-hour work week for watchstanders
underway; eliminating the requirement for out of bounds passes for sailors
on weekend liberty with a round trip plane ticket; giving senior enlisted
more prestige through increased responsibility, and increased privilege such
as having civilian clothes aboard ship.
Leadership, or the lack of, among senior
enlisted was one of Black’s primary concerns. He believed that with the
right kind of leadership, a lot of the problems that he had to fix in
Washington could have been taken
care of in the fleet. He told a group of
chiefs at Great Lakes that a push was on to get signature authority for
senior and master chiefs on certain official documents, such as service
On his own job, he told the chiefs “What we
accomplish is not on a major scale — a lot of it is personal — the people in
the Bureau don’t know what an individual’s situation is. A man will write to
us and explain and then we can go to the Bureau to personalize the system.
When they don’t have anywhere else to go, they come to us. Anything that
goes out of our office is just as if Admiral Semmes signed it.
Anything that should be handled on a command level by the chain of command
is kicked back to the command.”
Especially revealing of his new job, he told
them, “No one has told me what I can or can’t do.”
At the invitation of the Commander, Naval
Support Force, Antarctica, Black visited the 1200 men of Operation Deep
Freeze, travelling some 32,000 miles to visit all the major U.S. stations on
“You know what amazed me?” Black said,
commenting in a newspaper article on the morale of the sailors in
Antarctica. “I never heard a single real gripe. I think this is because of
the close relationships between the officers and men, the closest I have
In 1968, the CNO and MCPON went to Vietnam.
MCPON spent most of his time with the Riverine Forces, telling sailors there
of an “easing of what the Navy’s Inspector General called ‘chicken
He also announced a change in the seniority
structure in the enlisted ranks, based on the number of years a man holds in
rate rather than on his particular rating. In a change to the BUPERS Manual,
the distinction was removed between “military matters” and “non-military
matters” for determining enlisted precedence and seniority. Under the old
system, a boatswain’s mate automatically was senior for military matters to
others in his pay grade who had ratings other than BM, because BM was at the
top of the precedence list. Quartermasters were number two on the list.
Black made two trips with the CNO. Although
he believed that having the admiral along was good “publicity to let the
enlisted people know you’ve got the contact,” he found it was difficult to
do his job.
“With Admiral Moorer, I would come on first
and give a talk but I couldn’t touch on things that he was going to talk
about so it limited me,” he said. “Travelling with the CNO, you are here,
here and here. I didn’t like that at all and I wasn’t there long enough to
go over to the club or down to the chiefs mess. That’s where you get the
His charter directed him to travel with the Inspector General, and he did on
occasion, but quickly discovered that being with the IG made his visits look
like an inspection. Future MCPONs had the IG removed from the
verbiage of the charter, but still referred problems
to the IG that couldn’t be handled through other channels.
Another Look at Retention
In March 1969, MCPON was the enlisted
representative to a four-day Navy-wide Career Motivation Conference at NAS
Patuxent, Maryland. Admiral Moorer called the conference through an OPNAV
Notice, stating that retention was adversely affecting fleet readiness.
“It is true that external factors over which
we have little or no control contribute significantly to this,” the notice
said. “Nevertheless, in those areas in which we do have a fair degree of
control, it appears unlikely that all possible worthwhile actions have been
taken. Better retention will result from better motivation. We in the Navy
must do a better job at all levels in motivating high quality people to
The recommendations that sprang from the
conference sounded familiar. Many of the them, including increased
educational opportunities, improved housing and ship habitability, improved
legal and medical services, and personnel management had been made by the
1966 Task Force on Retention. Establishing a meaningful sea pay — in 1969 a
mere $15 a month — was among the recommendations. It would be eleven years
before sea pay would receive a boost from Congress.
While the recommendations may have had merit
and received the blessing of the CNO and CNP, Admiral Moorer explained that
many were not implemented “because people were too busy with the war. We
were stretching our resources to the limit with our fleet commitments in the
PacifIc and the Caribbean. It became a n~iatter of priorities. May have been
a good idea but the general attitude was, ‘Don’t bother me with it now.’”
Black encountered similar problems.
“When you made a recommendation, no one knew
who was supposed to handle it and who would be the follow up,” he said. “I
had to do the leg work on everything that went on. Like with service
records. I’d request an individual’s service record after they would write
me with a problem. I would get a record with eight other people’s
information in there. It was one of the biggest messes I’ve ever seen. So I
went up there. A captain was running it, and he and I sat down. We worked on
it and worked on it and finally got it going.”
In 1971, the Microfile Conversion Task Force
was established to examine the feasibility of applying a micrographics
solution to the Navy’s records management problems. Authorization was given
for conversion of officer and enlisted records to microform.
In August 1969, All Hands reported
that 33,000 enlisted men and 4,000 officers were going to be released early
due to budget cuts. More than 100 “old ships” were scheduled for
decommissioning, training and other non-combat operations were cut back, and
the Navy’s manpower would be reduced by 68,000 enlisted men and 4,000
officers by the end of FY 70. Reenlistment quality control went into effect,
restricting shipover to petty officers or those in pay grade E-3 who had
passed a Navy-wide advancement exam for P03. Exceptions were made for non-rateds
who had been approved for rating conversion.
Spurred by a recommendation from Black to
the CNP, a Petty Officer Review Board was initiated in 1970. During the
first board, 4,061 Senior and Master Chief Petty Officers who had received
unfavorable evaluations were screened. Seventy five were considered to be
below performance standards and were either sent letters of warning, or
letters of warning plus a request for special six-month evaluations from
their commands, required to receive the approval of the CNP prior to
reenlisting or immediately transferred to the Fleet Reserve.
“We had a problem in those days in the
chiefs community,” Black said. “Ten percent of the chiefs were doing 90
percent of the bitching and none of the work. We cleared out a lot of
dead wood. The word got around.”
Admiral Zumwalt Takes Over
In June 1970, Admiral Moorer was relieved by
Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., and began the first of his two tours as
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In his parting remarks, he said, “If
the Navyman is given a goal and clearly shown the course of his work and the
reason for serving his country, he will not only do it well, but do it
better than those before him.”
Within two weeks of taking office, Admiral
Zumwalt issued the first of his famous policy Z-Grams that would set the
tone for his tenure. With Z-02, he established retention study groups (RSG).
In 1970, retention for first termers was 11 percent. “No other problem
concerns me as deeply as reversing the downward trend of Navy retention
rates,” the CNO said, “and I am committing myself to improving the quality
of Navy life in all respects and restoring the fun and zest of going to
RSGs were made up of young officers and
enlisted men representative of all branches of the officer corps and a cross
section of enlisted ratings. The group brainstormed policies or practices
which had a bearing on retention and morale. Their recommendations and
reports were presented to the CNO and other key Navy officials on a regular
Most of the 119 Z—Grams that followed during
the next four years were based on recommendations from RSGs. Before MCPON
Black’s retirement in March 1971, 80 Z-Grams had been issued. Among those
having the greatest impact on personnel were: Z-04, 30 days’ leave
authorization for all PCS; Z-06, civilian clothes aboard ship for POls;
Z-06, dependent air charter program; Z-07, Navy sponsor program; Z-09,
meritorious advancement in rate of career POs; Z-12, civilian clothing on
shore establishments; Z-15, statement of earnings; Z-21, compensatory time
off; Z-25, forces afloat liberty policy; Z-32, reenlistment ceremonies;
Z-57, eliminating abrasive regulations (Mickey Mouse); Z-66, Equal
Opportunity; Z-75, sea/shore rotation; and Z-80, MCPOs on E-8/E-9 selection
Black addressed the rapid changes in his
“From the Desk of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy” article in the
December 1970 issue of All Hands.
“There comes a time when tradition becomes a
hindrance and change is necessary. I believe we have reached that time.
Changes are taking place in the military and in the Navy today which will
bring about a better Navy tomorrow. In the CNO’s change of command speech,
he stated that his two primary objectives are: to achieve a balance in force
levels in order to meet the present threat as well as the acquisition of new
ships and weapons to meet future threats; and to achieve a balance between
the demands we make on our people and the rewards of a naval career. His
stress on people
as a major priority in these objectives can
only mean a change in our way of thinking about the Navy’s men and women.”
While Black believed the changes were
needed, in retrospect, he believed, like many in the fleet, that the rapid
fire approach taken by the CNO was creating problems for commanding officers
and the chain of command.
“Z-grams were coming out of Washington as
message traffic,” he said, “so the sailor in the communication center would
be the first to know. Sailors on the messdecks would be talking about ‘Z’s’
latest changes before the skipper even saw the message. That created quite a
bit of heartburn in the chain of command.”
Strong Leadership Needed
Black knew the Navy
would need strong leadership to weather the changes. “The chief petty
officer can, and should, take the responsibility of keeping every man under
his leadership informed,” he wrote in one article. “If one of his men has a
problem, he has a problem. There should be no excuses. There is a solution
to every problem, and it should be pursued until his man is satisfied that
every means has been exhausted in the effort to find a solution.”
leadership training: "I feel very strongly that we need to improve our
leadership abilities to keep pace with the high level of technical skill.
The rapidity of advancement has caused a need for
Thumbs Up! MCPON Black gives his approval of the food
at the Naval Support Activity at Phu Bai.
establishment of more leadership classes at
the command level. My feelings are that we must have a chain of command from
top to bottom, but even more important, we must have a channel of
communication and understanding.”
Black’s comments on leadership inspired
response from the fleet. One chief stirred the pot with his letter to All
Hands: “In recent years we seem to have become obsessed with the ‘let’s
keep this one, big, happy family’ idea in our approach to discipline. It has
reached a point where many of our personnel seem to be willing to overlook
faults in their juniors or bypass anything that may cause people to think
that they are not ‘nice guys.’ We are all in a military organization, not a
Another chief wrote: “Officers and petty
officers become nice guys for the following reasons: the decisions they make
are not supported; they do not know how to lead and their seniors don’t know
how to teach them; or they have been shorn of their authority.”
A first class wrote: “Making a decision that
will please everyone is next to impossible. Some young men who enter the
military service today seem to spend as much time learning how to
circumnavigate the rules as they do learning them.”
Like the opening of floodgates,
communication became the bi-word of MCPON Black’s tenure. It wasn’t enough
to turn the tide of retention nor to turn back the problems in leadership,
drugs and discipline that surfaced
in the seventies, but it was a beginning.
The Navy was beginning to learn that just because things had always been
done a certain way didn’t mean they had to be done that way in the future.
The MCPON’s office had been established with
credibility, doors had been opened, and changes were being made.
In his farewell message prior to leaving
office, Black wrote: “The office of the MCPON is at a point now, and it has
been for some time, where cooperation with various branches and offices here
in the Bureau is at its best. What has been accomplished is a good example
of the importance of teamwork and working through people for people. It
appears to me that the time to ‘stay Navy’ has never been better. I can tell
you about many career Navymen about to retire, who are wishing they could
stay on longer. I am one of that group. But there comes a time when every
Navyman must take his leave of active duty. It just seems that NOW is such a
tempting time to linger on a bit longer.”
During his retirement and change of office
ceremonies held at the Washington Navy Yard, Secretary of the Navy John H.
Chafee, Admiral Zumwalt and Vice Admiral Dick H. Guinn made remarks. The CNO
presented Black with the Distinguished Service Medal.
Today, MCPON Black and Ima are retired in
Winter Park, Florida. Still active in the Fleet Reserve Association and as a
member of the USO board of directors, he continues to be available to help
sailors with their problems. Ima is also an active member of the FRA
Auxiliary, the Navy Wives Club and the CPO Wives Club.
This text was added December 15, 2009 to the orginal published text of the Winds of Change book that is duplicated here on these web pages.
Retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Delbert Black passed away Sunday, 27 February 2000 at his home in Winter Park, Florida, from a heart attack. He was 77.
He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 11, Site 496 LH. There is more infoamrtion about him on the Arlington National Cemetery's web site at http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/dblack.htm