“For Jack Whittet the Navy was the greatest activity on earth. As the MCPON, he retreated only in the face of logic and debate; his only fear was of those who could not think. True patriotism required Whittet to act at times contrary to what the Navy required. The Zumwalt changes were inspired by imagination, without which reform is deadly, and spurred by Whittet’s common sense, he put his trust in evolution, not upheaval, to help create conditions under which a sailor could be more productive and of more account. Jack Whittet had a great capacity for quick appreciation and rapid execution of new ideas, adapting his own experience to their implementation. His performance as the MCPON, in one of the most difficult periods of our Navy, showed once again the extraordinary capabilities of our Navy enlisted men.”
Admiral David H. Bagley, USN (Ret.)
Former Chief of Naval Personnel
In the foyer of the Washington Navy Yard Chief’s Club hang the portraits of the Master Chief Petty Officers of the Navy. On the evening of May 7, 1989, the light over the second MCPON, John “Jack” D. Whittet, flickered briefly, then went out. The next day, club employees gathered around the darkened portrait, talking in hushed voices. They had just received the news that MCPON Whittet had drowned in a diving accident the previous day.
As news of Whittet’s death spread through the Navy, many remembered him as “Zumwalt’s MCPON,” a label that had both positive and negative connotations, depending on which side of the fence the speaker was in the tumultuous years between 1970 and 1974. No other period in the history of the U.S. Navy could claim as many changes or as much internal turmoil.
So significant were the reforms introduced by Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. that it was rare to find anyone serving in the Navy at that time that remained neutral. You either believed in the CNO’s reforms or you didn’t. MCPON Whittet did and it was his job to convince those who didn’t.
Jack Whittet had been in the Navy for 28 years when he became MCPON. He loved it with the dedication and commitment of an adopted child. He was 17 when he left his home in Providence, Rhode Island, to enlist in the Navy. It was 1943 and the Navy was still two years away from victory over Japan in the Pacific. After almost a year of training as an aviation machinist, Whittet was sent to Guam with Torpedo Squadron 38. He won his combat aircrewman wings flying 31 missions from the carriers Lexington and Anzio.
After the war, he changed to the PB4Ys serving with east coast squadrons and making a deployment to Saudi Arabia. When the Korean War broke out, he was aboard the carrier Bon Homme Richard with Carrier Air Group 102, which flew combat air strikes against the North Koreans. During the next 15 years, he would serve at various air stations, with a patrol squadron, two fighter squadrons, two attack squadrons, and as the flight crew plane captain for the Commander, Naval Forces at the Continental Air Defense Command at Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In the meantime, he was advanced to Aviation Master Chief (AFCM) in 1967. He was serving as the aircraft maintenance control chief and the senior enlisted advisor (SEA) to the Commander, Fleet Air Argentia, Newfoundland, when he was recommended by his commander for the job of MCPON.
While the selection process was underway, Whittet was transferred to Norfolk to serve as the senior enlisted advisor to the Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. From there, he was summoned to Washington on November 8, 1970, as one of the four finalists.
The first day, Whittet and his wife, Helen, along with HMCM Herbert V. Miller and his wife, Elizabeth; BMCM Edward R. Pellom and his wife, Glenice; and AFCM Newsman E. Wolf and his wife, Oliva, made office calls on the Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP) Dick H. Guinn. In the evening they were guests of honor at a cocktail party attended by the CNO and other officials.
On the second day of their visit, Admiral Zumwalt issued one of his most famous Z-grams, Z-57, labeled “Demeaning and Abrasive Regulations, Elimination of.” In his book On Watch, Zumwalt said his original title was “Mickey Mouse, Elimination of,” but it was changed by his Vice CNO, Admiral Ralph Cousins, who feared that “Mickey Mouse” would be considered “flippant.”
Z-57 was an order liberalizing Navy regulations or practices on hair styles, beards, sideburns, civilian clothing, dungaree uniforms, conditions of leave, motorcycle operation on base, and others. The successful candidate for MCPON would spend a good part of their tenure clarifying the intent of Z-57 to the fleet.
Six days later, the CNO announced Whittet’s selection as MCPON Black’s relief.
On March 31, 1971, Whittet was appointed the second MCPON by Vice Admiral Dick H. Guinn, Chief of Naval Personnel. The letter of appointment differed from the one given MCPON Black four years earlier. In addition to reflecting the title change from Senior Enlisted Advisor, the new MCPON was given the added responsibility for advising the CNO, as well as the CNP, “on matters affecting the morale, retention, career enhancement and general well being of the enlisted personnel of the Navy.”
The Whittets moved into Quarters J at the Washington Navy Yard.
Like his predecessor, Whittet used the first few months to learn his way around the Bureau and visit a few East Coast commands. According to Admiral Zumwalt, he immediately began including Whittet in his daily lineup at 7:15 a.m. when his “mini-staff” reported on significant happenings over the past 24 hours in intelligence, operations, etc. The MCPON was there to report “any astonishing news in the personnel field.”
“He was a full fledged member of the inner sanctum that was dealing with daily developments,” Zumwalt said. “He had complete access to me.”
Whittet also worked closely with Rear Admiral David Bagley, the Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Personal Affairs (PERS P), the new post created by Adm. Zumwalt. PERS P was the Navy ombudsman within the Bureau of Naval Personnel. All Navy people could write or call the office for help on matters concerning conditions of service and personal affairs. The ombudsman office also provided data, based on its contact with Navy people, for initiating programs or modifying existing ones.
In his first two articles in All Hands, Whittet said that “enlisteds have been talking about their grievances and problems for years. A few people have listened, but very little has actually been done. Now there’s someone at the top who is listening and taking action. We’ve moved further ahead in the past 11 months with our personnel programs than we have in the past 100 years. People are realizing that if we treat our sailors like responsible individuals, most will respond accordingly.”
Whittet inherited the majority of the major personnel programs initiated through Z-Grams. By the time he took office, the Navy had changed dramatically. Petty officers and above were allowed to have civilian clothing aboard ship. Beer machines were authorized in senior enlisted barracks. Motorcycles were allowed on bases. Commissary hours were extended to give Sailors more time to shop after working hours. Detailers were going out to visit Sailors at sea or shore commands. A more lenient leave policy was in effect for post deployment periods. Inspections were limited in the 30-day period before and after ship deployments. Sailors were no longer required to have out-of-bounds or liberty passes. The dungaree uniform was authorized for wear to and from work. A liberal grooming policy allowed sailors to express their individuality through longer hair and beards.
Other changes emphasized improved services in areas such as disbursing, household effects, dispensaries, and tailoring. Procedures for checking in and out were simplified to reduce waiting time. Personnel involved in providing such services were carefully scrutinized and proper training was stressed. Those individuals who performed below standards were reassigned.
Paychecks also received attention in Z-Grams. Where deemed more convenient, cash replaced checks, rapid processing of disbursing claims was stressed, personal check cashing ceilings were raised, and the Navy Finance Center instituted a 24-hour service desk to respond to callers around the world. For the first time, a statement of earnings was made available on request to show sailors where their money was coming from and where it was going.
Whittet praised one command that he had visited for proving that “ZGram-ism” really works.
“It works because of communications up and down the chain of command,” he wrote in his All Hands column. “I did not hear one major complaint or gripe. There were some minor problems, but the command is aware of these and is seeking solutions. Morale was outstanding and a feeling of esprit de corps was everywhere.”
Whittet explained that such a command starts with “the sincere concern of the commanding officer, down to their officers, chief petty officers, petty officers and finally to the seaman, until there is a relationship of mutual respect and understanding.”
Retention at this command, he pointed out, was at 54 percent first-term while the Navy’s average was “about 15 percent.”
Retention, Recruiting and Uniforms
In the early seventies, recruiting and retention drew even greater emphasis in anticipation of the President’s announcement to end the draft. The Department of Defense set July 1, 1973, as the target date for achieving an all-volunteer military force. While the Navy did not take draftees, it was estimated that as many as one-third of those who joined the Navy were reacting to the draft. Making the Navy more attractive to prospective enlistees and to those already in was a motivating factor behind many of the programs and incentives that surfaced during the next few years.
During this time, “cracker jacks” or “bell bottoms,” the traditional uniform worn by sailors up through E-6, came under renewed fire. While “bells” had been the subject of change for many years, a Navy-wide survey conducted in December 1970 showed that 80 percent of the 1,700 enlisted men polled favored a switch to the double-breasted coat uniform worn by officers and CPOs.
Whittet supported the change and reported to the CNO that Sailors were complaining that “bells” did not make them feel like men. At the same time, the CNO was getting letters from wives who said they were “embarrassed to go in the store or to church with their husbands dressed like little boys.” They wanted to know why their husbands couldn’t wear suits like grown men. With the anti-military feeling in the country, sailors were being made targets of ridicule in their “crackerjacks.”
On June 13, 1971, Z-Gram 87 went to the fleet, advising of a uniform change that would put recruits to admirals in the same type of uniform. The new uniform would be issued to recruits beginning July 1, 1973. All sailors would be wearing the new service dress blues by July 1, 1975. Also announced was the pending demise of service dress khaki for officers and chiefs, effective July 1, 1975.
The announcement of the change to what later became known as the “salt and pepper” uniform heralded the beginning of more than a decade of upheaval in uniform guidance. The dungaree uniform had also been changed from denim to a 50-50 blend of cotton and nylon with a light blue pullover shirt and dark blue trousers that had straight legs, cuffs, and fore-and-aft creases. The new uniform was designed to be more attractive for wear to Navy exchanges, commissaries and from and to work. In the following years, the constant revisions to uniforms exacerbated the problems the fleet would have in reaching stability in the wake of “Z-gramism.”
In the August 1971 All Hands, Whittet chided “a few thoughtless individuals” were “abusing the trust and respect given them” through the new privileges.
“The Chief of Naval Personnel and my office receive a large number of letters and phone calls from ‘concerned people’ about the continued violation of dungaree uniform regulations,” he wrote. “A few thoughtless sailors still persist in using the dungaree working uniform as a liberty uniform. We all know, or should know, that this was not the intent of Z-57.”
The wearing of beards also became a point of contention among active and retired Navy men. Admiral Zumwalt defended his policy by pointing out that Navy regulations had always authorized beards, but many commanding officers would not allow them.
“My Z-Gram just really said obey the regulations on neatly trimmed beards,” he recalled. “All my living CNO predecessors came in to remonstrate with me on the beards. I took great pleasure in taking them out in the hallway there in the Pentagon and showing them the portraits of our mutual predecessors in the Navy with long beards and I told them we were just getting a little more conservative.”
The “old salts” throughout the Navy resisted many of the changes that Zumwalt initiated. A poll conducted in the spring of 1971 showed 86 percent of enlisted and 80 percent of officers approved the new policies. The majority of those not happy with the new order were senior people, both enlisted and officer. The rapidity and volume of change, rather than the changes themselves, created much of the opposition. Commanding officers and senior enlisted personnel had difficulty in absorbing and interpreting the rapid influx of Z-Grams into command policy. A perception grew in the fleet that Z-Grams were directed to the sailors, bypassing the traditional chain of command. Commanding officers, accustomed to running their ships under established guidelines, chafed under the CNO’s intervention. Senior petty officers found themselves caught between junior personnel eager to explore their newly granted privileges and officers who sought to maintain some sense of control and authority. The result was an inevitable weakening of senior leadership, both officer and enlisted, in commands unable to adjust.
Responding to concerns in the fleet about the number and speed of the changes introduced through Z-Grams, Whittet acknowledged that “the potential and fulfillment of individual human and common natural resources are being sought in ways that often challenge established practices.”
“In this battle against petty and sometimes obsolete regulations and requirements, as well as demeaning practices,” he wrote in his February 1972 All Hands article, “some Navy people, particularly some of our more senior personnel, seem to have raised a banner of doubt.”
“Far from stripping senior enlisted men of their authority, which is a sometimes heard complaint, the hand of enlisted leadership has actually been strengthened. And the overwhelming majority of our senior petty officers are now ardent supporters of the Z-gram changes and developments.”
Admiral Zumwalt credits Whittet with “converting a large majority of the enlisted opposition.”
“When I would go to San Diego or Norfolk and so on, Jack would have me meet with chief petty officers to take their questions,” he said. “Of course, he was on the phone or out there every day with them helping to convert these fellows.”
“Some neither myself nor Jack were able to change,” he admitted, “and they just left the Navy when their time was up.” In his All Hands article, Whittet addressed those leaders who “were not willing to put forth the time and effort” to adapt to the changes and who had “reached the point where they just don’t give a damn anymore.” He called them a “lead link” and urged them to “step forward and join the team.”
Developing the Chain
In July 1971, Whittet was instrumental in the issuance of Z-Gram 95 which established the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Command (MCPOC) program. Twenty-three master chiefs became either Master Chief Petty Officers of the Fleet, Force or Command for the Pacific and Atlantic Fleet, Naval Forces Europe, Naval Air Force Atlantic and Pacific Fleet, Naval Air Training Command, Amphibious Force Atlantic and Pacific, Submarine Force Atlantic and Pacific, Naval Communications Command, Cruiser/Destroyer Force Atlantic and Pacific, Mine Force, Service Force Atlantic and Pacific, Naval Security Group Command, Supply, Medical and Civil Engineer Corps, Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois, San Diego, California, and Orlando, Florida.
To add visibility to the title, the MCPOCs and the MCPON removed their rating specialty marks from their uniforms and replaced them with a gold star. The two silver stars above the MCPOC eagle’s wing tips were replaced with two gold stars. They were also authorized to wear a Senior Enlisted Advisor badge on their uniforms. Today, career counselors wear a badge similar to the original SEA badge, which was changed in the 1978 Uniform Regulations to a gold badge.
According to Whittet in an All Hands article, MCPOCs would hold semiannual meetings on the East and West Coasts to exchange ideas on issues concerning enlisted personnel. From those meetings, recommendations and suggestions would be sent to the CNO, making the MCPOCs a CPO Advisory Board. In the last Z-Gram he would issue before leaving office, the CNO revised the program to include E-8s and E-7s, allowing commands without master chiefs to have representation.
In 1972, Whittet began using the term “enlightened leadership” to describe the petty officer who has an “open and obvious respect for the self-esteem and general welfare of his shipmates.”
“The enlightened leader will recognize individual differences and vary his appeals (positive and negative) accordingly,” he wrote in All Hands. “He will try to create a sense of trust, self-discipline, and responsibility that emphasizes the dignity and judgment of the individual Navy man or Navy woman as well as the operational needs of the Navy.”
In conclusion, he wrote, “I believe the enlightened leadership practiced by our Chief of Naval Operations has proven it can raise the quality of Navy life for young and old alike.”
Even “enlightened leadership” could do little towards improving the quality of Navy life for fleet sailors in 1972. On March 30, 1972, North Vietnam launched a major offensive against South Vietnam. The number of ships and units in Southeast Asia doubled. Reinforcements came from the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, impacting schedules and operating tempo all over the world. At shore stations, manpower was decreased to meet fleet requirements while support demands increased.
Admiral Zumwalt sent a message to the fleet: “As the current effort continues, its effects will be strongly felt throughout the Navy and some of the guidance established in previous NAVOPS must be temporarily held in abeyance. One of my greatest concerns had been to ease the burdens on our operating forces, and to enhance the attractions of a Navy career. Many of our efforts to do so are being strained by the continuing crisis.” He urged compassion and understanding to minimize “individual hardships resulting from the increased tempo.”
In August 1972, Zumwalt and Whittet visited 21 ships deployed off the coast of Vietnam. In his “WestPac Trip Observations,” the CNO wrote: “We now have in the Seventh Fleet 37 percent of our end FY 73 carriers (6 out of 16); 30 percent of our cruiser/destroyer—or warship-types (63 of 207); 25 percent of our amphibians (17 of 68); 51 percent of our replenishment ships (31 of 61); 24 percent of our total ships (145 of 595); and 41 percent of our VF/VA (aircraft) Squadrons (29 of 70).
“We cannot come close to one-in-three deployment ratios. With Atlantic Fleet (LANTFLT) carriers deploying to WestPac, all carriers are now averaging 6.6 months in CONUS between 7.6 month deployments; present deployments for both LANTFLT and Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) are projected as an average of 8.6 months.”
Certain ratings in the Seventh Fleet were critically low, according to Zumwalt, increasing time at sea.
“Of the career-enlisted men in the 23 ships,” Zumwalt reported, “630 men (16 percent) have been at sea continuously for more than four years. The impact of increased time away from homeport and tempo of operations is largely borne by the very group we wish to retain—approximately 77 percent of the men in the Seventh Fleet are first-termers.”
Yet, in Whittet’s All Hands wrap up on the trip, his mood was not so gloomy.
“From CNO to seaman, from flight decks to fire rooms, the spirit was there,” he wrote. “What deep pride, what serious professionalism. I cannot remember when I have been more impressed with the readiness and morale of our combat forces.”
The Vietnam cease-fire in January 1973 helped to create a more favorable climate in the fleet for Zumwalt’s personnel programs. By fiscal year 1974, retention for first-termers had risen from 10 percent in fiscal year 1970 to 32.9 percent.
While the majority of Z-Grams were aimed at die-hard Navy traditions, a few were targeted at the toughest foe of all—prejudice. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman had established a policy of equal opportunity within the military, declaring equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.
Also in 1948, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, allowing females, previously held in reserve status, to join the Regular Navy. The number of women was limited to two percent of the total force. On July 7, 1948, the first enlisted woman was sworn into the Regular Navy. In 1967, the two percent ceiling on enlisted women in the Navy was eliminated.
According to Admiral Zumwalt, the Navy had practiced “tokenism” in granting equal opportunity and in 1970 was “literally a racist and a sexist institution.” Z-66, issued in December 17, 1970, addressed the undercurrent of insensitivity surrounding minorities and the institutional discrimination in some activities and programs. It provided for the appointment of a Special Assistant for Minority Affairs for every command with direct access to the commanding officer. Suitable cosmetics and other products for black personnel and dependents were to be stocked in Navy exchanges, ship’s stores would stock black grooming aids, and qualified barber/beauticians for black personnel were to be sought for base and station shops. A representative selection of books, magazines, and records by and about black Americans were to be included in Navy libraries, wardrooms, clubs, and other reading areas.
In spite of the CNO’s efforts, racial conflicts erupted aboard the carrier Kitty Hawk and the oiler Hassayampa in October 1972 and aboard the carrier Constellation in November 1972. Naval and Congressional investigations were held but failed to identify discrimination as the primary cause of the conflicts. The CNO reaffirmed the Navy’s stance on equality, placing the responsibility on commands to “create an environment that makes equal opportunity a reality and discrimination, for any reason, an unacceptable practice.”
To increase awareness and sensitivity to discriminatory practices, all hands were required to attend race relations education seminars by July 1, 1974. The second phase of the Navy’s race relations program would concentrate on institutional and personal affirmative action for equal opportunity and the continuing effort to eliminate racism.
In a closely related policy statement issued in November 1970, Zumwalt had stressed proper utilization of the human resources available to the new Navy. Entitled “Human Resource Management,” Z-55 expressed the CNO’s concern and desire to achieve a high degree of competency and professionalism throughout the Navy. Drug and alcohol abuse control, race relations, intercultural relations and human resource management were targeted for improvements through Human Resource Development facilities. By September 1972, the first two Human Resource Development Centers opened in San Diego, California, and Newport, Rhode Island.
Z-55 also established a task force to make recommendations concerning people and communication areas in the Navy. The result was a recommendation for the basis of leadership training in the Navy. A model was developed for a ten week command development course first offered in 1972. A Human Resource Management School covering equal opportunity, race relations, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and intercultural relations was established in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1974. Also that year, Leadership and Management Training (LMT) became a sponsored program with 15 authorized training sites. Approximately five percent of Navy middle managers (E-6s, E-7s, and O-1s through O-3s), attended the school annually. By 1976, the number of courses had grown to 157.
Zumwalt also attacked the institution of male domination in the Navy by opening up ratings traditionally closed to women, including some sea-going billets. In 1972, anticipating the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, Z-116 introduced initiatives that would enable the Navy to make optimum use of women if and when ERA or statutes liberalizing the terms of female service became law. The ultimate goal was assignment of women to ships at sea. A pilot program for assignment of women to ships was initiated aboard the hospital ship Sanctuary.
Z-116 also authorized limited entry of women to all 70 enlisted ratings. Three years later, in 1975, 15 sea-intensive ratings were closed to women. Five of those reopened in 1978. Other ratings have been opened and closed during the past decade in an attempt to provide additional opportunities for women while preserving an acceptable sea/shore rotation for men.
Also in 1972, the DOD All Volunteer Force (AVF) subcommittee began pushing the services to develop plans to double the number of women in all services by 1977. The Navy established a goal of 2,000 women in the unrestricted line officers and 20,000 enlisted women by 1975.
As women in the Navy began breaking down barriers, some outspoken Navy wives objected to the integration of women into seagoing routine, claiming that even stable marriages were threatened. They were joined by a surprising number of Congressional leaders and the retired military community.
“For many Navy traditionalists, it is even harder to give up the notion that their beloved service should be all male than to give up the notion that it should be all white,” Zumwalt said. Three years later, Whittet would praise the performance of women in the non-traditional ratings.
“Many who doubted the ability of women to perform effectively in jobs that were once assigned only to males have by now seen the light,” he wrote. “For too many years women have been a much neglected resource in nearly every facet of American society. I, for one, am extremely proud of the continuing high level of achievement exhibited by our enlisted women and am confident that as more doors are opened to them, they will be better utilized and our ‘One Navy’ concept will be strengthened.”
Drugs and Alcohol
Drug and alcohol abuse was the subject of a number of policy statements by the Secretary of the Navy and Zumwalt from 1971 to 1974. Secretary of the Navy John H. Chafee addressed the issue through an instruction that granted exemption to “members of the naval service who make voluntary disclosures” of drug use and possession. In Z-94, Zumwalt explained that the program would enable drug users to obtain needed medical and other rehabilitative help without the fear of punishment on a one-time basis.
In July 1972, DOD began its random urinalysis drug testing program. All members of the armed forces became subject to random, periodic testing to detect possible drug abuse.
That same year, the first naval alcohol rehabilitation center was opened in Norfolk, Virginia, with expansion planned to 14 naval hospitals worldwide.
Dignity and Worth
Through his people programs, Zumwalt sought to “instill at all levels an attitude which clearly recognizes the dignity and worth of each individual and creates an environment in which every officer and enlisted man will be treated with respect and accorded the trust, confidence, and recognition each human being wants and deserves.”
Top performers were singled out and recognized nationally through the Sea and Shore Sailors of the Year program and the Recruiter of the Year. Meritorious advancement was granted to reward hard workers who could not advance through regular channels. The warrant officer program was opened to enlisted men in the top four pay grades. E-7s were granted certain signature privileges already granted to E-8s and E-9s.
Evaluation and advancement policies were revised. In 1974, BUPERS (Bureau of Naval Personnel) announced a new plan that would give more emphasis to job performance and leadership and less emphasis to written examination scores. Designed to benefit good performers whose exam scores fell below the cutoff scores, the plan began with lowering the exam score cutoff for the February 1974 exams. It expanded to include prospective E-4s through E-6s with the August 1974 exams. E-7s, E-8s, and E-9s would not be included in the plan until fiscal year 1976. For those interested in exam results, a two-minute recorded message at the new Education and Training Program Development Center in Pensacola gave callers information about probable and actual dates that examination results and late advancement lists would be released, effective advancement dates for those frocked, and general “how to” information.
Whittet was instrumental in establishing an E-7 selection board in 1974, eliminating the need for meritorious advancement for E-6 candidates. Under the selection board process, increased emphasis was placed on performance and leadership in determination of final multiples for E-6s.
Personalizing the System
Two Chiefs of Naval Personnel, Vice Admiral Dick H. Guinn and his relief, Vice Admiral David H. Bagley, guided BUPERS through the administration and management of the new or revised programs ushered in by Z-Grams.
“Personalizing” the detailing process also played a role in the retention effort. Aware that a trip to Washington was out of the question for many sailors, detailers began making more trips out to the fleet, armed with fleet commanders’ requisitions and enlisted assignment documents. Whittet accompanied a group of 8 officers and 59 enlisted detailers on a sweep through San Diego, Long Beach, Lemoore, and San Francisco, California; Hawaii; and Whidbey Island, Washington.
“It was gratifying for me to watch so many sailors express their duty preferences one day and have their orders in hand the very next day,” he said in his All Hands article following the trip. “It is significant that over 620 first-term reenlistment commitments were obtained and orders issued. We have come a long way in improving communications between the Fleet and BUPERS since I received my first set of orders.”
Part of that change was spurred by the 1966 Retention Task Force that created Whittet’s office. Included in its recommendations was a fully integrated computer assisted distribution system and a centralized process beyond the existing three Enlisted Personnel Distribution Offices: EPDO Atlantic, BUPERS, and EPDO Pacific. In July 1972, allocation and assignment came under BUPERS and manning control was placed under the newly created Enlisted Personnel Management Center (EPMAC) in coordination with the Manning Control Authorities (MCAs). The MCAs were designated as CINCPACFLT, CINCLANTFLT, COMNAVRESFOR, and BUPERS. During the 1970s, all enlisted Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders were produced through the Navy Enlisted System (NES), an automated order writing system.
Further improvements were made in 1978 when EPMAC created an automated input, the Readiness Information System (RIS) J File, to the NES order writer for seamen, firemen and airmen detailers. In 1981, automated input was extended to the rated detailers. In 1987, with the advent of more advanced computer technology, a second enlisted order writer was created with a plain English format capability. Orders are written through Enlisted Assignment Information System (EAIS), combining the functions of several systems already available in making assignment decisions. It calculates and tracks PCS funds, produces plain language orders, and tracks and reserves training quotas with real time information from the schools themselves.
Six More Years
Almost midway through his tour as MCPON, Whittet took the CNO up on his offer in Z-108 to allow “well-qualified senior petty officers” continuation of service beyond 30 years. On January 16, 1973, he reenlisted for six more years. The press release announcing the event, held in the CNO’s office, said Whittet felt he still had a “great deal to offer the Navy.”
“I don’t think a career Navy man should automatically feel that he has served out his usefulness to the service at the end of 30 years,” the release quoted Whittet. “The Navy has done a lot for me and I think I still have a lot to contribute. That’s why I made the decision to reenlist for another six years.”
According to the release, Whittet would revert back to his rating of Master Chief Aircraft Maintenanceman when he left the MCPON office. But one year later, he changed to the new Master-at-Arms rating.
Changing the Watch
Zumwalt rescinded all 120 Z-Grams prior to his retirement July 1, 1974, confident that his initiatives had been infused into the Navy directives system and that his successor, Admiral James L. Holloway III, could expand upon them.
One month before leaving office, he presented the Distinguished Service Medal to Whittet “for his outstanding contribution to the lives and careers of Navy enlisted men and women.” With the presentation, Whittet joined retired MCPON Black and Senior Chief Radarman Larry H. Nowell as the only enlisted men to hold the Distinguished Service Medal. Nowell received the medal for his work during combat operations in Vietnam in 1972. The Distinguished Service Medal ranks fourth in precedence and is signed by the Secretary of the Navy.
Admiral Holloway was commander of the Seventh Fleet in 1972 during the height of operations off Vietnam. He was the first nuclear trained CNO and had spent most of his career on the operational side of the Navy. He took office convinced that the Navy needed time to heal in the wake of Vietnam and the “social revolution” both inside and outside the Navy. His programs would focus on quality rather than quantity, increased training and education, and putting pride at the forefront of Naval service.
In April 1975, after two working conferences with the fleet commanders-in-chief, the CNO announced five major goals: readiness, flexibility, offensive capability, balance, and personnel professionalism and stability.
“The achievement of these goals lies in the hands of people,” Admiral Holloway said. “Therefore, every man and woman must strive for the highest possible degree of personal pride in work and professionalism. This requisite professionalism cannot be achieved without constant emphasis on stability in our daily lives. Programs which develop professionalism and stability must receive the highest priority.”
The MCPON he inherited adapted to the change of pace. In his final year and a half, Whittet’s All Hands column dealt with subjects such as ecology, Navy wives, humanitarian transfers, the rating classification system, and advancement. In his September 1974 column, he reminded “workaholic” sailors that dedication “beyond normal expectations” can be detrimental.
“Medical authorities have revealed that rest periods away from duty provide benefits to morale and motivation—two key factors in maintaining maximum efficiency,” he wrote. “Hard work will continue to be a Navy tradition! But, I wholeheartedly endorse the efforts to create an atmosphere that makes it possible for people to take leave when they desire. In the long run, it’s for our own good to have a time for work and a time for play.”
In one of his last columns, Whittet praised the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Command Program, describing a conference attended by the fleet and force master chiefs in Washington.
“Their two-day conference included meetings with 16 authorities who supplied expertise in a wide range of topics of direct concern to enlisted personnel and their dependents,” he wrote. “After each presentation, the master chiefs were given an opportunity to ask questions of the experts and provide input.”
Before leaving Washington, the master chiefs met with the CNO and the CNP, listened to their views and presented some recommendations of their own.
“The conference reaffirmed my belief that feedback from the fleet is invaluable to everyone working at the Bureau level,” said Whittet. “By utilizing information obtained from Navy men and women, programs which might have otherwise adversely affected enlisted personnel have been favorably modified. When modification has not been the appropriate solution, steps have been taken to provide a better and more meaningful explanation of policy decisions.”
In his farewell article, Whittet cited the “leadership and inspiration” of the three Secretaries of the Navy, two CNOs, and three CNPs with whom he had traveled and worked as MCPON.
“Under the leadership of these men, I have witnessed many beneficial and necessary changes within the Navy’s enlisted structure,” he wrote. “These changes have had a significantly positive effect on the enlisted community as is reflected in retention figures which have risen from 11.6 percent in fiscal year 1971 to 39.9 percent for fiscal year 1975.”
He recognized the efforts of his staff, the MCPOCs, his family, and his shipmates.
“I never traveled to a ship or station where I was not greeted warmly,” he said. “I will always be thankful that I had the opportunity to work and serve with the world’s finest men and women, my shipmates in the United States Navy.”
Following a change of office ceremony September 25, 1975, Whittet began his “twilight tour” with the Human Resources Management Program at Naval Amphibious School, Coronado, California. Within a few months after arriving at Coronado, he submitted his retirement papers. In 1976, after retiring quietly, he served on Admiral Zumwalt’s campaign staff in an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate from Virginia. Whittet then served briefly with the Noncommissioned Officers Association. Following that, he went into a home repair service with retired Admiral Worth Bagley, the brother of Vice Admiral David Bagley. Vice Admiral David Bagley had served as Whittet’s CNP.
In 1979, he became Director of Morale, Welfare, and Recreation at Coronado Naval Amphibious Base, where he remained until his death. Whittet, described by his family as an experienced scuba diver, drowned when he was entrapped in rocks while diving in the Colorado River in Arizona.
Admiral Zumwalt spoke at the memorial service held for Whittet on May 11, 1989, at the Coronado base chapel. Attending were the current MCPON Duane R. Bushey and former MCPONs Delbert Black and Tom Crow.
“I miss him badly,” Zumwalt said of Whittet during a later interview. “We loved each other. We were like a band of brothers in everything we did.”