my two‑year tour as the Chief of Naval Personnel it was my great privilege
to receive the forthright, candid, and always accurate advice of Master
Chief Bill Plackett. He, and his wife, the charming Karen Plackett, were a
strong team who always had the very best interests of the Navy Enlisted
Family at heart. It was Bill Plackett who first suggested mentioning real
sailors' names and problems when testifying on 'The Hill.' Like all his
advice, it was good, right on the mark, and helped us gain support for
important personnel improvement initiatives."
Vice Admiral Dudley L. Carlson, USN (Ret.)
As a small boy in the rural town of Paxton,
Illinois, William "Bill" Plackett saw lots of soldiers coming back home
after WW II, but it was the few sailors returning with their
seabags that captured his imagination.
Growing up in Paxton, he did his time as a
farm hand, a grocery store clerk, and a pin setter at a bowling alley.
But, when he married his childhood sweetheart, Karen Mullinax, he began
looking for stability in a career that would offer challenge and
educational opportunities. The Navy was his answer.
He enlisted on October 18, 1956. After
graduation from boot camp, he began training as a radioman at "A" school
in Norfolk, Virginia. His first duty station was with the Naval Control of
Shipping Office on Bahrain Island in the Persian Gulf. There, he met
Radioman First Class Travis Short.
"The thing that impressed me about Short was
the fact that he never stopped trying or buying academically to improve
himself," Plackett said. "He started out just about like I did, a non‑high
school graduate from a small town. He came into the Navy and with his boot
straps, pulled himself up. He made chief and was selected for Limited Duty
Officer (LDO). He retired as a lieutenant commander. He had a very
positive impact on me."
Plackett made third class petty officer while
in Bahrain and transferred in August 1959 to the staff of Commander,
Amphibious Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, embarked in Mount McKinley.
In May 1960 he advanced to second class.
During his next tour, he served on the staff of Commander in Chief, Allied
Forces Southern Europe in Naples, Italy. While on the staff of Commander
in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, he advanced to first class.
Following that tour, he went back to the
schoolhouse for Radioman "B" school and was assigned to Representative,
Commander East Force/Naval Control of Shipping Office. He was there during
the Arab‑Israeli War. In
September 1967, just 11 years after joining
the Navy, he was selected as a chief petty officer.
After a tour aboard Forrestal, which
included an extended ten‑month deployment in the Mediterranean, he served
as an instructor at Radioman "B" school at Bainbridge, Maryland.
Plackett applied and was selected for the
Associates Degree Completion Program (ADCOP) in April 1971. Four months
later, he enrolled in classes at Pensacola Junior College in Pensacola,
Florida. While a student, he was advanced to senior chief. He graduated
with honors in December 1972 and was awarded an academic scholarship at
the University of West Florida in Pensacola. One year later, he graduated
Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor of science degree in vocational education.
Following a second tour on Forrestal
and his selection as master chief, he assumed duties as Director of the
Communications School, Fleet Training Center, Norfolk, Virginia. In 1979,
he was named Command Master Chief for Commander, Training Command, U.S.
Atlantic Headquarters and subsequently became the first Force Master Chief
of the Atlantic Fleet Training Command in July 1981.
Admiral Harry Train, Commander in Chief, U.S.
Atlantic Fleet, selected Plackett to be his fleet master chief in July
1982. When nominations were solicited for the job of Master Chief Petty
Officer of the Navy in the fall of 1984, Plackett submitted his package
with a strong endorsement from Admiral Wesley McDonald, then CINCLANTFLT.
From the 41 candidates selected by the E‑8/9
board, Plackett emerged as one of the four finalists invited to Washington
for interviews with CNO Admiral Watkins and others. His fellow candidates
were: Master Chief Electronics Technician Barry L. Fichter; Master Chief
Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator Ronnie D. Cole, and Master Chief
Aviation Boatswain's Mate Donald E. Benson.
During an interview with Navy Times
reporter John Burlage on the eve of his selection, Plackett echoed many of
the concerns his predecessors had for the professionalism among the senior
"We're on a brink now of stepping over the
boundary of traditional uses and employment of enlisted personnel," he was
quoted. "..We're going to have to work smarter with fewer people doing
more jobs, we're going to have to develop a professional progression
through (all the enlisted ranks) as we go along. We need to tighten up our
leadership training at all levels."
In the rough draft of that same interview,
which included the other three candidates as well as MCPON Sanders, a
quote from Sanders, not used in the published article, reveals that
Plackett had hit on a key point that perhaps gave him the edge in Admiral
"I know from my conversations with Admiral
Watkins," Sanders said, "that
he has a definite idea also of what these
people (senior enlisted leaders) should be doing, and I think he is going
to work with the next Master Chief of the Navy in achieving those things.
We've got the foundation; now I think we can go ahead and build."
On July 17, during the press conference in
which he announced Plackett as his choice for MCPON, Admiral Watkins said
the job of MCPON was "a very important job and one which I assign the
On August 19, 1985, Plackett was relieved by
Master Chief Air Controlman William "Bill" Smith as the Atlantic Fleet
Master Chief. Admiral McDonald, CINCLANTFLT, set a precedence by calling
for a special ceremony to mark the transfer of duties.
"This job is so important to me that I felt
we should have a special ceremony for this change of office," he said,
according to an article in the Norfolk‑based
Free of his duties at CINCLANT, Plackett
began travelling with MCPON Sanders during his last month in office. As a
fleet and force master chief, Plackett had lots of experience listening
and talking to sailors in large or small groups. During a visit to
Memphis, Tennessee, where Sanders was the
the Armed Forces heads (E‑10s), MCPON Plackett discusses quality of life
in the Navy with members of the House of Representatives during an annual
guest speaker at the Navy Memphis Khaki Ball,
Plackett fielded a question from a young sailor who wanted to know why he
had stayed in the Navy so long?
"Well, there are a lot of reasons," answered
the incoming MCPON, "but it's mainly because no matter where I am or what
I do in the Navy, I'm always having fun."
After assuming office on October 4, Plackett
shared his view of the next three years with Chief Journalist Fred J.
Klinkenberger, Jr., of the Norfolk Naval Base newspaper, Soundings.
not anticipate recommending any sweeping changes for the Navy's enlisted
community," Klinkenberger wrote.
He quoted Plackett, "I want to set a tone for
the three years that I'm going to be there that indicates basically
keeping a steady strain or 'steady as she goes.' Let's not tinker with
success, let's not change for the sake of change."
In 1985, Plackett and the rest of the Navy
was riding on a wave of pride in the wake of the recent U.S. attack on
Libya as a retaliation for terrorism.
"We were on a roll," Plackett said in
retrospect. "We still are, but to have been a leader during that time, to
see the pride on sailors' faces after we bombed Libya, they beamed. We had
some problems but we were willing to admit it and say, 'Let's take them on
and fix them the best way we can.'"
A "Road Map"
In his first issue of The Direct Line
and his first column in Link, Plackett listed eight goals, his
"roadmap" for his first year in office:
1. Enhance the "One Navy" concept through
improved cooperation and communications across all warfare lines;
2. Maintain currency in attitudes and issues
in the Fleet and the Naval shore establishment. Identify problem areas
affecting welfare and morale of the Navy and work within the chain of
command to correct them;
3. Continue to promote individual pride and
unit esprit de corps through improved professionalism throughout the Navy;
4. Promote improved military professionalism
through entire enlisted community of the United States Navy;
5. Improve dissemination of information on
personnel related matters down to the deckplates;
. Place the command master chief program on
7. Enforcement of the Navy's drug/alcohol
8. Stimulate interest in the Navy‑wide 'Get
out and vote' program."
On the Road
Plackett adapted quickly to his new job and
began travelling soon after taking office. In November, he was in San
Diego telling sailors on board Cape Cod:
"We're more than 500,000 members strong. I
cannot express the importance of enlisted folks and the involvement
we have in our Navy. I will seek to improve our methods of management and
leadership in order to become a more professional Navy .. to improve
military professionalism, technical expertise, our methods of training and
the way we conduct our day‑to‑day business."
Back in Washington, D.C., in December, he
addressed a group of El‑E6 sailors at Naval Security Station:
"We don't need a bunch of new programs. We
need some good stable application of the programs that we have in place.
Nothing would please me more than to walk away from here three years from
now without a single uniform change taking place in the Navy. We need to
have that stability and I'm going to work toward that in every
On his favorite subject, he told the sailors:
"If we can provide role models, the opportunity to get leadership
experience, and formalized instruction in leadership skills, reinforced at
various stages in career development, then we can foster the development
of professionalism; the rounding‑out of the enlisted community as a
totally professional military community."
A Role Model
In the January‑March 1986 issue of Link
magazine, Plackett offered his own story as a role model:
years ago, one young American entered the Navy. He was a high school
dropout and definitely under‑educated. Fortunately, that sailor recognized
early the need for a sound technical education in order to succeed.
Additionally, there were off‑duty educational programs available to him. I
am proud to say that this young man did take advantage of all training
opportunities available and used that education to become the Master Chief
Petty Officer of the Navy. Since I am that sailor, I can say with
conviction .. education is the key to success."
For his own role model, Plackett admitted to
an All Hands' reporter that the third MCPON, Master Chief
Operation's Specialist Robert Walker inspired him with his openness and
"At that point I was still a young,
hard‑charging chief. He was an individual who awakened in me a desire to
do better. I never saw him back down from a confrontation. If you're
right, you continue going. You have to have perseverance, and he had a
high level. That's something I admire in people."
and C M/C Program
Like Walker and the other MCPONs before him,
Plackett looked to the Fleet, Force and Command Master Chief Program to
keep him informed on fleet issues.
"The program not onlygets the seamen's
feelings up to me, but it gets those feelings to the chain of command at
all levels," Plackett said. "And that's what's encouraging to me about the
command, fleet and force program ‑ the fact that the chain of command now
is much better apprised of how their people feel than they were before."
But Plackett created quite a stir among the
command master chiefs in the same Navy Times article mentioned
previously. One of the questions reporter John Burlage put to the MCPON
candidates was, "Where would you like to see the Navy's command master
chief program go?"
Plackett's answer in the published article
was: "This is going to sound like a political cop out, but I would like to
see the command master chief program self‑destruct. I would like to
believe that in the Navy of the future that our chain of command and our
professional development are going to progress to the point that they're
going to be able to take care of all those things in the normal day‑to‑day
operation of that division, department, whatever, so that we don't have to
have a specialized individual who does those things. Keep in mind, that is
an idealistic and a philosophical projection into the future, and I think
everything we do should work toward that."
The rough draft of the article shows that
Burlage asked a follow up question: "Manage so well you manage yourself
out of a job?"
Plackett's answer: "Exactly. You know, that
was a stated objective of Admiral Watkins when he first talked to the
fleet and force master chiefs three years ago come October. I had never
thought of it in that context, but it makes a lot of sense. The key to
that whole thing is to reinstill in the chain of command the wherewithal
we've had taken away to a large extent, to take care of our people.
Doggone it, that's our job, to take care of our people, and we've got to
have those resources available to do it."
In the October 1985 issue of The Direct
Line, his first as MCPON, Plackett ran the following article,
headlined, "C M/C Article Results in Strong Feedback:"
"As a result of the feedback on my comments
regarding the C M/C program during a recent Navy Times interview, I
would like to remove any doubts in anyone's mind as to my commitment to
"Yes, I do stand by my words ‑ I would like
to see the chain of command take up the job of our C M/Cs. But is that a
realistic philosophy reflective of the situation as it is? No, it is not
and that's what the article said.
"I stand by my record as a strong advocate of
the program and can assure each and every one of you that there will be no
voice more adamant in support of a program which has proven to be a highly
valuable tool in the chain of command.
"The Command Master Chief program will be
here for a long time and I am committed to making it a vital and
professional entity in our Navy."
While Plackett was not responsible for the
change, his first issue of The Direct Line also carried the
announcement of a major revision to the fleet and force program.
"Effectively immediately," the article began,
"the position of Fleet Master Chief for Naval Shore Activities has been
disestablished. This move was taken as a result of the continuing review
of OPNAV associated billets and in an effort to delete those billets which
are redundant in terms of overlapping areas of responsibility with the
major claimant fleet master chief. All of the functions now provided by
the NAVSHORE Fleet Master Chief will be incorporated by the MCPON's
office. The Shore Sailor of the Year will be reassigned to that office.
Those force master chiefs who were grouped under NAVSHORE will forward
personnel related issues destined for the CNO Advisory Panel through
Plackett also moved the Shore Sailor of the
Year Program to his office, and with it the responsibility for
coordinating and planning SOY Recognition Week for the CINCPACFLT,
CINCLANTFLT, Shore and Reserve Sailor of the Year.
The February 1986 issue of The Direct Line
announced changes to the C M/C program. OPNAVINST 5400.37 made all E‑9
personnel (including those promoted without pay) eligible for the program.
NMPC was given the job of identifying selectees and assigning them in
accordance with the program's instruction.
Another change was the requirement that after
one tour in a C M/C assignment, a master chief would be assigned within
their rating unless specifically requesting continued assignments in the
program. Master chiefs who demonstrated satisfactory performance in a C
M/C tour could request consideration for the Navy Enlisted Code (NEC) 9580
(Command Master Chief).
In the following issue, Plackett addressed
the issue of the command/senior/chief badge.
"The policy on who is authorized to wear that
badge is clear," Plackett wrote. "The badge is authorized for only command
representatives. If that unit's officer is titled anything other than
'commander' or 'commanding officer' then the badge is not authorized.
Before hanging a badge on your uniform it is incumbent upon you to
determine if you rate it."
Leadership Management and Education Training
(LMET) was a favorite topic of Plackett's. Though the program had its
roots in Whittet's era, it evolved through the next ten years with changes
made by Walker and Crow. It wasn't until Sanders' tenure that the program
really began solidifying but
it was still experiencing problems with
attendance. Plackett believed the program was essential to the development
of good petty officer leadership skills. He pushed to make attendance a
prerequisite for advancement to the next pay grade for senior petty
"As a second
class, I had quite a lot of responsibility and I had many leadership tasks
that I had to go about but I wasn't trained in any of them," he said.
"That's when I consciously started thinking about leadership training.”)
Plackett had what he called "major heartburn"
with the existing curriculum for LMET.
"We had a touchy feely course of
instruction," he said, "and we don't need that. We are a military
organization. We need to teach human behavior, practicality of human
behavior, we need to do case studies to show situations and let people
work the situations. We need to do role playing and those kinds of things.
But we don't need to try to make a brain surgeon out of a boatswain's
mate. What we need to teach is practical leadership skills that work."
In June 1987, Plackett attended a military
leadership conference at the United States Naval Academy. The level of
participation included 12 flag officers, active and retired, including the
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Trost, a former chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Moorer and a number of academic researchers noted
for contributions to the field of leadership. Plackett gave a presentation
at the conference on 'Milestones in Leadership Development."
Following the conference, Plackett used the
presentation as the basis for an article distributed through Navy Editor
Service (NES). It was given space in numerous internal publications,
including Sea Services Weekly at the Washington Navy Yard, Kings
Bay Periscope in Kings Bay, Georgia, and The Golden Eagle at
The article provides a historical look at the
development of formal leadership training in the Navy. It read, in part:
“With me, as with my contemporaries, leadership was largely developed
through on‑the‑job training. Until the late '70s, formal 'schoolhouse'
leadership training was not considered essential in developing good
leaders. Historically, we were dealing with a non‑volunteer Navy, and poor
leadership that led sailors to leave the Navy was tolerated.
"Fitful attempts were made at establishing
leadership training for some groups prior to 1978: instructor training the
'60s and early '70s had a two‑week leadership course as part of the
curriculum; chief petty officer academies were established at several
sites; and some individual type commanders established leadership schools.
The mid‑1970s marked the establishment of leadership management training
at a number of shore sites. Then, in 1978, the Chief of Naval Operations
directed a more well‑defined program of leadership instruction in the form
of the leadership and management education and training courses (LMET),
designed to provide leadership instruction to second class petty officers
through chiefs. In the early '80s,
petty officer and chief petty officer
indoctrination courses were implemented to be administered at the command
level. Each program has a different sponsor and there is no connectivity
between the programs.
"Currently the Navy is reaching only about
nine percent of the eligible population with the LMET program.
"Advancement prerequisites, including
required formal training, internal command training on the job ‑ either
through general military training or correspondence courses ‑must be
formulated in recognition of the importance of leadership growth and its
relationship to personal excellence. These things are not out of the realm
of possibility now. If we are going to realize the potential of limited
manpower resources from now into the next century, we must better prepare
our enlisted professionals for the challenges they face as leaders."
During the Fall 1987 session of the CNO
Master Chief Advisory Panel, the CNO tasked the members to look at
developing an Enlisted Leadership Training Continuum that would put
enlisted leadership development coursesunder one sponsor and would provide
a building platform for training leaders from third class petty officer to
Command Master Chiefs
Training for command master chiefs also
became a primary concern for MCPON Plackett. As the Atlantic Fleet Master
Chief, he had called together command master chiefs from throughout the
fleet to form a study group for the purpose of establishing a training
program for C M/Cs.
'We had a
command master chief program but nobody knew what the hell it was about,"
Plackett pointed out. "There were command master chiefs out there who
didn't know the resources that were available to them. Were not familiar
with the Navy directives that would have been helpful to them."
One of the members of Plackett's study group
was AVCM Duane R. Bushey, destined to become the seventh MCPON.
"I brought in ten successful command master
chiefs from good commands who were doing their job in my estimation," he
said. "I broke them into two groups."
Both groups were directed by Plackett to list
individually every task that they performed as a command master chief. The
groups were then asked to make a list of the tasks that were common among
to all five members, and finally, the two lists were combined to make a
list of the most common tasks that the master chiefs performed that
contributed to their success as command master chiefs.
'We took that list down to Training Command,
Atlantic and asked them to write a syllabus and a curriculum based on the
list of tasks," Plackett said. 'We took the finished product down to Naval
District Headquarters and asked them to run a pilot on it. It's things
like that that start evolving and will transcend MCPONs."
Plackett would retire before the Navy‑wide
version of the C M/C Course was completed and made available throughout
Nine months into the job, Plackett shared
some of his observations gained through his travels around the fleet in
the July 1986 The Direct Line.
"The morale throughout the Navy is probably
as high as it has been in my memory," he wrote. "The performance of our
ships, aircraft, and their crews during the Libyan raids has been a source
of pride to all of us."
He reported that the "material condition of
our ships and stations is outstanding," retention "is still good despite
continuing budget actions and their impact on quality of life," and
leadership was the "best in recent memory."
He added a warning to his positive
assessment, however, that senior enlisted leaders "cannot go to sleep at
"Be ever alert for the person who is putting
out bum dope and correct theirinformation quickly," he stressed. "KEEP
RUMORS UNDER CONTROL."
Plackett reminded leaders to "recognize your
people at every opportunity" and "work to remove 'petty'
In that same issue of The Direct Line,
second quarter fiscal year 1986 separation statistics showed family
separations holding steady as the number one reason for voluntary
separations from the Navy. In the mid‑80's, the Navy was developing a
trend for reducing the amount of time ships and aircraft squadrons spend
away from home port. The goals were: limiting time away from home port
between overhauls to 50 percent; making six months the maximum length of
deployments; requiring no less than a two to one turnaround ratio for
deploying units, allowing one year of non‑deployed operations out of home
ports after a six‑month deployment.
Quality of life programs took on even greater
emphasis during Plackett's three years. Family service centers were
springing up and taking an active role as command resources both in and
out CONUS. Ombudsmen were earning a respected place alongside the chain of
command and medical care for dependents was expanding through a new dental
care program and the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).
In the fall 1986 edition of
Wifeline, the new CNO, Admiral C.A.H. Trost outlined his, commitment
to "people programs."
"Over the past six years we have witnessed
the careful buildup of our Navy and the fruition of our many people
programs," he pointed out, "including the more than 60family service
centers around the world. These personnel programs must be sustained
because people are clearly the primary determinant of readiness."
Armed Forces Senior Enlisted
Advisors joined MCPON Plackett: (center) at Wait Disney World in Orlando
to dedicate May as the Armed Forces Appreciation Month by the city of
Orlando. This one‑of‑a‑kind photo at the American Adventure Showcase in
Epcot Center caught the services' E‑10s with their favorite Disney
characters in colonial costume.
Admiral Trost said he had seen firsthand
while serving as Commander of the Atlantic Fleet that a "secure and 'well
taken care of Navy family was vital to motivated sailors and fleet
"My top priority as CNO will be to maintain
the best quality of life for all members of our Navy family through
continued support of our personnel programs and working hard with Congress
and our own defense establishment," he said.
True to his word, the FY 87 budget approved
by Congress included many items having direct impact on families. Funding
was approved for implementation of a voluntary dependent dental insurance
program, beginning August 1, 1987 which covers 100 percent of preventive,
diagnostic, and emergency dental care and 80 percent of filling and dental
appliance repair costs. Military spouse employment preference was expanded
to include GS‑5 and GS‑6 ratings. And, family service center and ombudsman
volunteers could get reimbursed for certain out‑of‑pocket expenses.
In the fall of 1986, the CNO and MCPON
Plackett invited the spouses of the members of the CNO Master Chief
Advisory Panel to come to Washington with their husbands for the fall
conference. Chaired by Mrs. Karen Plackett, the first spouse conference
discussed eight specific areas of concern for Navy
families: the impact of limited family
housing; the effectiveness of Family Service centers; spouse perceptions
on quality of life issues; the effectiveness of Navy publications;
internal information; spouse employment issues; the Family Advocacy
Program; and overseas screening.
While their husbands were studying and
forming recommendations on policies impacting the overall quality of Navy
life, the spouses were putting together their own recommendations for
improvements. Their point papers were presented to the CNO at the end of
the week, along with the final report out by the CNO Master Chief Advisory
On March 6, 1987, OPNAVINST 1752.2, detailing
the Navy's position and guidance for operating the Family Advocacy
Program, was issued. The Navy had established a child advocacy program in
1976. An expansion in 1979 included spouses and the name was changed to
The role of the MCPON's wife as an ombudsman
gained further recognition in January 1988 when Karen Plackett was
officially appointed Ombudsmanat‑Large by the CNO. Procedures were
established to allow for reimbursement of expenses associated with her
Women in the
Women in the Navy were granted increased
opportunities for sea duty in FY 87. Based on increased availability of
berthing, submarine tenders began taking on more women, E‑6 and below,
over a period of several months.
In December 1986, the CNO convened a working
group in Washington to discuss issues concerning women in the Navy.
Members were the MCPON; CINCUSNAVEUR Fleet Master Chief Ronnie D. Cole;
CNET Force Master Chief Tommy L. Connell; CINCPAC Fleet Master Chief
William R. Huie; CINCLANT Fleet Master Chief William "Bill" Smith;
Commander, Naval Reserve Force Master Chief Larry L. Sorenson; Master
Chief Kathleen Seader; and Senior Chiefs Beverly Brennan, Bonnie Peters,
Ginger Simpson and Donna Williams.
Based on a recommendation from the CNO Master
Chief Petty Officer Advisory Panel, the group looked at effective use of
women, good rating mixes, and the impact of pregnancy on readiness. Upward
mobility for women with regards to General Detailing (GENDET) and Rating
Entry General Apprentices (REGA), non‑traditional ratings and promotional
opportunity were also discussed. Member‑to‑member marriages, collocations,
and the impact on fleet readiness, single parents, and childcare centers
also received the group's consideration.
Briefings on current policies concerning the
subjects addressed by the group were given by NMPC experts. Included on
the agenda was a briefing by the Navy representative of the Defense
Advisory Committee on Women in the Service (DACOWITS).
The final report with recommendations from
the group was given verbally to VCNO Admiral J.B. Busey with a written
report to the CNO.
Another issue concerning Women in the Navy
surfaced in 1987. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger formed a DOD
senior level task force to study women in the military and to address the
existing policy on sexual harassment. In September, 1987, Secretary of the
Navy James H. Webb, Jr., announced the formation of a Navy and Marine
Corps panel to study women's issues. The group was tasked with a
comprehensive examination of current policy on utilization of women and
the implementation of that policy within the Navy. The study group's
findings were released in December and were incorporated in the DOD task
Visiting NAS Lemoore, California, in
December, 1987, Plackett addressed the issue of sexual harassment and the
findings from the study group.
'We are not using the controls we have to
make things right," he was quoted in The Golden Eagle, the base
newspaper. "The majority of the women surveyed said if they raised the
problem of sexual harassment it would not be addressed by the chain of
command. Some commands are doing nothing but making a paperwork shuffle
while others have their programs squared away."
"This is a very sad comment and I think we
will see more programs and classes come about because of this current
situation," he prophesied.
Communicating with "Snuffy"
In July 1988, a few months before leaving
office, Plackett talked with a reporter from Navy News in Norfolk
about the commitment he made two years earlier to improve communication.
"How do we communicate with the deckplate?"
he asked. "How do we talk to Snuffy in the fire room? And how do we get
the word down to Snuffy?"
Even when he is in his office at the Navy
Annex, Plackett said that he sought direct communication with sailors
"I will get up from my desk in this big
office I have and walk out into the passageway and look for a third class
or a seaman or whoever's walking by and I'll just snag him," Plackett told
the reporter. Then he asks the sailor to read a new Navy policy or message
that's headed for the fleet and he asks the sailor to explain it.
"What we're doing is sanity checks," he
explained, "trying to improve the communication."
Among the concerns that sailors were
communicating to Plackett during his visits to commands at sea and ashore
were enlisted housing, health care, the AIDS epidemic, and retirement
benefits. Nearing the end of his career and his term of office, Plackett
told Navy Times reporter Brian Mitchell that he had seen
improvements in all those areas with the exception of housing.
"Housing costs in many cities have exceeded
the overall rate of inflation," Plackett told Mitchell. 'We don't find
ourselves in the Navy in many low cost‑of‑living areas, so consequently
the impact on our junior enlisted particularly is more pronounced today
that it was three years ago."
his tenure, MCPON Plackett was known as a strong advocate of the feedback
program. In December 1986, he conducted the First Women at Sea Symposium
to discuss issues such as: single parenthood, pregnancy, sea/shore
rotation, advancement, and career opportunity.
Members of the
panel were, from left: PNCM Beverly Brennan, YNCM Kathleen Seader, NCCS
Ginger Simpson, MCPON Plackett (seated), HMCS Donna Williams, and PNCS
The "Paranoia" that was associated with the
AIDS epidemic and mandatory HLTV‑III testing early in Plackett's tenure
had been controlled by a fleet wide message on the Navy's policy.
"Navy health care has improved since 1985
with the creation of contractor run medical clinics for service people,"
Plackett said in the article, "but more improvements are needed."
Retirement concerns were created by
Congressional action to reduce future retired pay for service members
entering after October 1986, Plackett said.
"That change caused and still is causing
today a lot of senior and master chief petty officers to leave the Navy,"
he said. "They're at the 22‑or 23‑year mark and they're looking at changes
going on around them that impact on their pay or on their potential
High Year Tenure (HYT)
While concerns about retirement benefits may
have caused some senior enlisted to leave the Navy, many more were staying
‑ perhaps a bit longer than they should.
In 1987, MCPON Plackett began working on a
problem that had long plagued the Navy's advancement system. To provide
upward mobility for
junior personnel, senior personnel must move
up or out. Stagnation at the toplimits advancements at the next level and
all the way down, impacting retention and morale, particularly in
research revealed that, while a reenlistment policy existed to prevent
such stagnation, some 7,500 people, E‑9 and below, were serving beyond
their mandatory retirement dates. Among that group were an estimated 550
with more than 30 years in. The source of the problem was tracked to
commanding officers, including top level flag officers, who were
circumventing the system by reenlisting those people they considered
valuable, despite longevity standards. Enforcement of the existing policy
was too weak or nonexistent. Tracking violators proved time consuming and
too often nonproductive.
Plackett began hammering out a revised policy
that included a board to consider requests for waivers from commanding
officers who wanted to keep an individual beyond High Year Tenure (HYT)
Master Chief George "Dave" Monroe, Plackett's
administrative assistant, recalls the "bloody battles" his boss
encountered as he tried to get the revised policy approved.
were not against HYT as a concept," he explained, "but neither did they
want to lose that experienced petty officer. And it isn't easy for anyone
to have to tell a sailor, who is still willing and capable of contributing
to the mission, to go home. But it had to be done."
Prior to his retirement, Plackett received
approval for the revised policy from the CNO. It was left to his successor
to fine tune it and push forimplementation.
On the eve of his retirement, Plackett was
interviewed by Chief Journalist Gwynn Schultz, editor of Sea Services
Weekly. He spoke of the challenges he faced as MCPON.
"The challenge as Master Chief Petty Officer
of the Navy is to face that new situation, deal with each with dignity,
and overcome the problem," he said. "My goal as MCPON was to do these
three years and finish knowing that I have not made any chief petty
officer ashamed of being a chief. It goes back to ethics and being able
and having the courage to stand up to the CNO, or any flag or captain,
because you hold those individuals in high esteem, and say to them that
they are wrong. It's a very lonely feeling, but that's what this position
After retirement, Plackett and his wife,
Karen, went back to the home they left in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is
currently the Military Marketing Director for Metropolitan Life Insurance
Company. He shuttles from Norfolk to the company headquarters in New York
City. Both he and Karen remain active members of the Navy community.