PEARL HARBOR - Knowing what's on the minds of Sailors, relaying information up and down the chain of command, and acting as an enlisted ambassador are some of the main tasks of the Fleet Master Chief, and for the Pacific Fleet Master Chief, that's no small task.
Getting around and talking to more than 140,000 Sailors spread over half the globe, "from Hollywood to Bollywood," separated by the world's largest ocean, Fleet Master Chief Susan "Suz" Whitman makes the most of her time spent away from Hawaii.
Visiting Sailors in Japan alone takes three weeks. All Hands calls, meetings with Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force leadership, including their MCPON equivalent, and meeting with U.S. Navy leadership is a full time job. But Whitman doesn't do it alone. She typically travels with Pacific Fleet Navy Career Counselor, Master Chief Navy Counselor Ty Jiles and picks up local senior enlisted leadership when she arrives, like Fleet, Force and Command Master Chiefs. Between these subject matter experts, Whitman can address most questions and concerns from Sailors.
Recently, Whitman spent time recalibrating Sailors' views on alcohol related incidences, a hot topic in Japan. After a rash of incidents, and the region on a perceived lock down, Whitman reassured Sailors that the majority was doing the right thing, and trends were actually down from past years.
"The truth is, if you look at the numbers, alcohol incidents have decreased each year since 2014. So why is there still such a big spotlight on this area compared to other Navy concentration areas like Norfolk and San Diego?" Whitman asked at an all hands call. "Because we can still do better and we need you to continue to be true ambassadors and leaders wherever you serve."
Alcohol Incidents, or AI's, are a touchy and hot topic for Sailors in Japan. Whitman's job is to address those issues head on; to hear the Sailors' concerns and provide feedback, and take the Fleets' questions and thoughts back to Navy senior leadership. AI's aside, Whitman's visits provide results.
"Your voices were heard," Whitman told Sailors at another all hands call. "We have our rates back because leadership heard you. Now we need your support to continue making it better and all ideas are welcome."
Many of the issues Sailors bring up are personnel related. Jiles helps keep Whitman up to date on the latest changes in the Navy personnel system; topics like blended retirement, manning, and the overseas screening process.
"We get to bring the newest instructions and guidance directly to the Sailors without any filters," Jiles said. "And the Sailors get that direct feedback from leadership to clear up any questions or concerns they may have; and that helps them do their job better."
When travelling overseas, Whitman splits her time with U.S. Sailors and our partner nation leadership. These meetings help build a stronger relationship between our two nations as well as help seek opportunities for working together.
"Japan is one of our long standing allies and we share a great relationship," U.S. Naval Forces Japan Command Master Chief Joe Fahrney said during one of Whitman's visits. "When we have the opportunity to bring more senior leaders out to meet with our Japanese counterparts it opens up the conversation for more joint initiatives."
Opportunities can include combined training and exercise opportunities, but it can also be about sharing experiences. According to Fahrney, the U.S. Navy is interested in learning how the Japanese instill leadership at a more junior paygrade. The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force is interested in growing a more diverse senior enlisted corps.
"We would like more leaders like you," said Master Chief Hideyuki Seki, master chief petty officer of the Maritime Self Defense Force (MCPOM), referencing Whitman. "We would like more female voices in SEL [senior enlisted leadership] positions and sea duty positions to model where we can go as a force."
These joint initiatives, according to Fahrney, provide both groups of Sailors with fresh perspectives on their allies like understanding that in Japanese culture, women are expected to prioritize family over service, which means it is difficult to keep women after they have a baby.
Centrally located in the Pacific Fleet, and Pacific Ocean, Whitman spends a lot of time on planes getting around the Pacific. She says it's a good time to catch up on emails and work, but really, it's worth it to meet the Sailors throughout the Fleet.
"She [Whitman] knows how to connect with today's Sailors," said Jiles, a frequent companion on these trips. "This is where she really makes her money."
At each stop, there are lines of Sailors waiting with a notepad in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Even after a long flight, Whitman smiles bright for countless selfies before (and after) all hands calls.
"You can tell she really loves having these one-on-ones with Sailors," said Jiles.