“During 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.)
Former Chief of Naval Personnel
As a small boy in the rural town of Paxton, Illinois, William “Bill” Plackett saw lots of soldiers coming back home after WWII, 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 Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral James D. 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 enlisted community.
“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 Watkins’ final selection.
“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 highest priority.”
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 Navy News newspaper.
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 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.”
No Sweeping Changes
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.
“Plackett does 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 were 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;
6. Place the command master chief program on solid footing;
7. Enforcement of the Navy’s drug/alcohol program;
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 E1‑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 opportunity.”
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:
“Twenty-nine 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 Operations Specialist Robert Walker inspired him with his openness and honesty.
“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.”
Fleet, Force 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 only gets 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 the program.
“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 MCPON’s office.”
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, and 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. Navy Military Personnel Command 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.”
LMET a Favorite Topic
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 officers.
“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 Lemoore, California.
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 courses under one sponsor and would provide a building platform for training leaders from third class petty officer to chief.
Training for 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 the fleet.
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 the switch.”
“Be ever alert for the person who is putting out bum dope and correct their information quickly,” he stressed. “KEEP RUMORS UNDER CONTROL.”
Plackett reminded leaders to “recognize your people at every opportunity” and “work to remove ‘petty’ regulations.”
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-1980s, 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
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 inside and outside the continental United States. 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 Chief of Naval Operations, 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 60 family service centers around the world. These personnel programs must be sustained because people are clearly the primary determinant of readiness.”
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 readiness.”
“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 fiscal year 1987 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 Panel.
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 family advocacy.
The role of the MCPON’s wife as an ombudsman gained further recognition in January 1988 when Karen Plackett was officially appointed Ombudsman-at-Large by the CNO. Procedures were established to allow for reimbursement of expenses associated with her travel.
Women in the Navy
Women in the Navy were granted increased opportunities for sea duty in fiscal year 1987. 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 child care 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 Vice Chief of Naval Operations 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 force report.
Visiting Naval Air Station 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 there.
“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.”
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 retirement.”
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 top limits advancements at the next level and all the way down, impacting retention and morale, particularly in overmanned ratings.
Plackett’s 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) points.
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.
“Most people 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 for implementation.
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 is for.”
After retirement, Plackett and his wife, Karen, went back to the home they left in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He worked as the Military Marketing Director for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, shuttling from Norfolk to the company headquarters in New York City. Both he and Karen remained active members of the Navy community.