Master Chief Eric Antoine joined the United States Navy on 26 February 1985.
His early sea tours include USS GREENLING (SSN 614) and USS SAN FRANCISCO (SSN 711) as an Auxiliaryman. He advanced to Chief Petty Officer in 1996 and transferred to USS PARCHE (SSN 683) as the Auxiliary Division Leading Chief Petty Officer. He completed three missions onboard PARCHE.
Master Chief Antoine has served as Chief of the Boat on USS OKLAHOMA CITY (SSN 723) and USS GREENEVILLE (SSN 772). On OKLAHOMA CITY the ship conducted a WESTPAC Deployment in 2004, the first submerged launch of an UUV from a SSN and was the first submarine certified to electronically navigate with the Voyage Management System. On GREENEVILLE, the ship completed an extensive Depot Modernization Period and a successful change of Homeport to Pearl Harbor, HI.
His shore tours include instructor duty at Naval Sub-marine Training Center Pacific, the 4th Company Senior Enlisted Leader at the United States Naval Academy, Department Master Chief at Naval Submarine School, and as Command Master Chief of Naval Submarine Training Center Pacific.
He reported in June 2011 as Chief of the Boat on-board USS JIMMY CARTER (SSN 23). During his tour the ship was awarded two consecutive Battle E awards, and the Presidential Unit Citation. He was recognized as the 2013 FLEET MASTER CHIEF FRANK LISTER Award winner for Leadership and Motivation while serving as a Chief of the Boat by the Naval Submarine League.
From 2000 to 2003 I was a Company Chief at the United States Naval Academy. With a Brigade of 4,000 Midshipmen and a large cadre of the Officers that trained them, the twenty-five Chief Petty Officers and five Gunnery Sergeants were, and remain, a small minority at the Naval Academy. I came to very much enjoy my time there and I am very proud of every Midshipman with whom I had the opportunity to serve. The Submarine Birthday Ball’s theme was A Salute to Heroes. At the Ball I sat at the table quietly eating, slightly self-conscience about being the sole enlisted person at the Ball. My wife was speaking to an elderly woman who was inquiring about my career, where I had been and what I was doing next. My wife told her that I hoped to be a Chief of the Boat. Her husband, who up until this point, had barely paid attention to anything but his soup, practically dropped his spoon, bolted straight up in his chair and shouted “CHIEF OF THE BOAT! I remember my Chief of the Boat!” I then spent the rest of the evening talking with a submarine legend, Captain Slade Cutter.
There is history with the role of Chief of the Boat that extends far beyond any Big Navy ideal of a Senior Enlisted Advisor, Senior Enlisted Leader or Command Master Chief program. He is a Chief Petty Officer the Skipper could rely upon to take care of the crew, train them, enforce good order and discipline, rally the Chiefs to perform, make the ship ready for sea and, along with the XO, be his personal confidant. How the COBs were selected, and their exact role was as varied as the ships they served upon. In the early days, before the introduction of Super Chiefs—as the old salts refer to Senior and Master Chief—a Chief’s selection as COB was performance based vice seniority based. Some of the older, more experienced Chiefs simply did not seek the hassle of additional responsibilities. One’s selection as Chief of the Boat is now a fairly formal process with a qualification card, an oral board, and its own Navy Enlisted Code of 9579: Submarine Chief of the Boat. But their charge remains essentially the same as we pass 114 years of submarining.
No one says you have to be a COB. There isn’t a career path that directly leads to becoming one. You can have a rewarding and successful career without achieving the title. You have to decide to become a Chief of the Boat. COBs come from every forward rate and there are even the occasional nukes. There is a qualification card but, completing the card doesn’t necessarily make you a COB, or worthy. You have to be a top-performing Chief Petty Officer, qualified Diving Officer of the Watch and have the drive to attain the skill sets needed. All COBs are all products of their individual experience, not the result of an established timeline of required tours.
As for myself, I had been a Chief about a week in September of 1996 before I decided to set my sights on one day becoming a COB and not a Diesel Inspector. At that point I had made the decision to become an expert in leadership and people, vice a specialized technical expert in an area in which I had a great aptitude and interest. To one day become a COB, my experience learning as Chief, the ability to develop my Sailors, my watch team, and working within an exceptionally talented Chief’s Quarters on PARCHE were essential. I was lucky to have great mentors in that Goat Locker. They were hot running chiefs and of course, my COBs. My COBs during three years on PARCHE were Danny McHugh and Mo Pollard. Two sides of the same coin, different techniques, same great product. I consider them both my mentors to this day and I value their friendship. That CPO Quarters on PARCHE developed ten COB’s and many others that would go on to become Master Chiefs, EDMC’s and LDO’s. The experience to work within a winning team and build great Sailors—because we were mentored and held to a standard—laid the foundation that allowed ten of us to go on and become a Chief of the Boat.
The COB represents the institutional knowledge of the Navy and the Submarine Force. Consider that prior to becoming a COB he has made two deployments as a Junior Sailor, two as First Class, two as a CPO, and maybe two more in a Department Chief position and will have eleven years of sea time to the Department Heads three or four years, the XO’s seven years and the Captain’s eight to nine years of sea time. He understands preparing for deployments and getting families ready to ensure what we now call individual readiness. Also consider that his shore tours have kept him close to the waterfront. He has, either as a technical expert or a leader stayed connected to the Submarine Force. Then, that institutional knowledge is leveraged to train and prepare Sailors to go to sea and operate in forward areas alone and unafraid. He uses that institutional knowledge and experience to improve the performance and capabilities of his Chiefs. Other CMC’s in the fleet are good order and discipline, heads, beds, program leaders on the deckplate. The COB is that as well but, his institutional knowledge and his deployment experience is required to be used in the operational planning and execution of tasking of the ship by his crew. His experience is invaluable when training a crew and gives him the ability to provide sage counsel to the Commanding Officer. The training and proficiency of the Ship’s Control Party, topside line handling and damage control, basic submarining and submarine qualifications fall under the responsibility of the COB. All of his experience as a Submariner up to point of him becoming a COB is brought to bear to ensure the success of his crew. And a COB’s experience—where he has been, and what he has done-is evaluated immediately by any Commanding Officer and the crew as they determine his credibility as soon as the orders pop up on the board.
As I had said before it seems we have always had COB’s. Dick O’Kane wrote about Pappy Rau, the COB on WAHOO, who while on war patrol would draw the trim system on the deck plates of the pump room for School of the Boat. Sailors on the NAUTILUS remember their first COB and reflect on his ability to know the crew and convey the pulse of the crew to his Commanding Officer. The COB knew the command tone. That tone is set in so many ways that are directly affected by the COB. The COB has to manage relationships: His special relationship with his CO, his relationship with the XO, his relationship with the Department Heads, his relationship with the Chiefs and Division Officers and his relationship with the entire crew. With the exception of his relationship with the Commanding Officer, there is no hierarchy in these relationships and the priority constantly rotates. Build confidence in the JO’s as watch team leaders, push Chiefs to lead and manage effectively, work with Department Heads to operationally plan and run the ship and work hand in hand with the XO to provide the best support, advice and back-up to the Skipper and take care of the crew by ensuring standards are met and upheld consistently and fairly. The latest Commander’s Guidance to the Submarine Force refers to the Chief of the Boat as the linchpin to command success. I think it is an excellent product that any COB can use to measure his effectiveness and performance. It is concise and eloquent. While my experience as a COB, the good days and the bad days in the seat, has taught me as much, it would have been great to have ten years ago when I was a young COB to use for self-evaluation. The COB is the one who receives the Commander’s intent, from the broad operational spectrum to the mundane, and makes it happen.
As a COB I have developed and used principles I refer to as Quality of Service to accomplish and meet the expectations that every level of the chain of command has in me as a Chief of the Boat. I wanted to capture a different tone from Quality of Life. Quality of Life has become off-duty centric, which is great but, I wanted to capture principles that enriched the job satisfaction of the Sailor in the performance of his duties, improved workplace efficiency and the alignment of priorities. The principles of Quality of Service dovetail with the Mission, Vision, Guiding Principles of the Chief Petty Officer, the Commander’s Guidance to the Submarine Force and MCPON Steven’s three Zeroing in on Excellence points. But, I could have never forwarded and implemented these ideals without the full support and buy-in and go ahead of my Commanding Officer. His faith in my experience and leadership allowed these principles to become part of his Commander’s Intent and set a positive tone and command climate on a ship with a tough operational schedule. An investment in a learning environment did not help me develop these principles, they were not developed in the classroom. They were developed from years of both success and defeat on the deckplate of submarines going to sea to perform critical missions vital to National Security and accomplishing arduous maintenance availabilities inport. The perspective of experience lent clarity to the reality of how to make things better. The principles of Quality of Service are:
1.Sailors understand standards and tasking. Standards are clearly communicated and reinforced.
2.Everyone has the opportunity for success.
3.Defined workday and schedule.
Our dedication to the principles of Quality of Service demonstrate to the crew the command’s commitment and respect for their service to our Country, our Navy, and our Submarine Force. It has set the tone for excellence on OUR ship.
So, as I read about the heroism of Pappy Rau or the impressions of the NAUTILUS crew of their COB, and reflect on their leadership and my own, our impact was not only in our ability to know the pulse of the crew but our important role in the operational success of our ship. I am satisfied that although as COB’s we all came from a different era, a different selection process or even different defined expectations of our responsibilities, the United States Navy’s Submarine Force has continued to develop and then depend upon the experience of its senior enlisted in a position of special trust: To develop the Sailors who are National Treasures and operate irreplaceable National Assets that navigate the world’s oceans with impunity.