What’s in the box, Chief?

Source: Author

Today’s question comes from Bobby in Virginia Beach.  He writes:  “What’s the deal with the boxes the chief selectees are always carrying around?  What’s in them?  I asked one of the selectees about it and he told me to mind my own business.”

What a great question!  I’m sure the vessel carried by chief petty officer selectees (and for that matter, the entire initiation process) is a curiosity pondered by many.

So, to answer your question Bobby, mind your own business.

No, I’m just kidding, I will answer your question.

 Before we get started let me give you a little background.  In the U.S. Navy, the advancement to E-7 is like no other.  In addition to being advanced in paygrade, it also involves entering a fraternal organization referred to as the Chief Petty Officers’ Mess.

Just like all fraternities, there is an initiation process that you will absolutely hate while subjected to it, but will love when you are subjecting others to it. The chief initiation is a grueling six week marathon for selectees. Although some might disagree, the purpose of initiation is not to kill anyone, that is only a side benefit. I’m just kidding, it’s very rare that a selectee dies, over 75% survive. The purpose of initiation is to create a bond with the newest chief petty officers by training them, testing them, and subjecting them to a reasonable (high) level of humiliation.

What about “the box” referred to by Bobby?  During the initiation season the Chief Selectees are required to carry a locked wooden box, called a vessel, everywhere they go.  At no point during the process are they permitted to be without it.  Chief selectees are very protective of their vessels, never letting them out of their sight.  Losing the vessel is severely frowned upon and normally results in additional training.

A chief petty officer selectee vigilantly guards his vessel during an uncommon restful moment. (Source: Author)

The question remains, what is the deal with the vessel?  Why is it so important?  Just what is in it?  These are great questions but, unfortunately, as it happens, the true purpose of the vessel is one of the biggest secrets of the initiation season.  As such, it is absolutely forbidden to reveal its contents.

Got that?  It’s a secret, I can’t tell you.  If you want to know the answer you are going to have to be selected for chief yourself.

Okay, tell you what, if you promise never to tell anyone, I will tell you.  Here goes:

The CPO initiation season culminates with the last day of the season.  While the whole season has been difficult and challenging, this last day is grueling.  There are endless challenges that test physical and mental fortitude.

After satisfactorily completing these, the final test commences.  It is by far the most secretive and challenging.  It is also the most decisive.  This final test will profoundly affect these individuals as they transition to chief petty officers.  Standing before the Chiefs’ Mess, each selectee must cut out his own soul and lock it in the vessel where it won’t interfere with his new duties.

From this point on, the vessels will be displayed prominently in their offices or homes until the day they retire, when they may retrieve their souls.  Of course, by this time many of them have been living quite happily with their souls locked in a wooden box and choose to leave it there, where it won’t interfere with any future job opportunities.

You don’t believe me?  You think I’m just making all this up?  Well, just stop and think about it for a moment.  Think about all your shipmates who have made chief.  They were normal sailors until that last night, right?  The next day you saw them in their new khakis and they were a different person.  They were a chief now, and they weren’t willing to put up with any of your crap.

How do you think that kind of a change can take place so quickly?  Do you think the khaki uniform does it?  The anchors on the collar?  The mustache?  Of course not.  That kind of immediate change can only occur with the traumatic act of wrenching out your own soul. 

So there you have it Bobby, all chiefs are soulless and you too will be when you make chief.  Just don’t tell them I told you about the vessel, try to act surprised.

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