Most organizations establish some form of structural hierarchy that delineate clear lines of authority. Frequently referred to as a chain of command (COC), this structure allows everyone within the system to understand their positional relationship to all others within the organization.
This formal framework facilitates well-ordered operations in critical areas such as decision making, responsibility, accountability, communication, and reporting. Without such a structure, chaos, confusion, and in-fighting are bound to occur, slowing the progress of the organization, making it far less successful in meeting goals.
Every member of the military must understand their chain of command. Within it, orders are issued from those higher in the chain to be carried out by those lower. When there are problems or questions, these are sent up the chain of command for resolution or clarification. As orders, issues, and information flow through, it’s critically important to strictly follow the chain of command without skipping over any of the links in that chain so that everyone is aware of the activity.
Within the United States military, the President sits atop the chain as the Commander-in-Chief. After the President is the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF), who is responsible for the planning, development, and execution of U.S. military affairs and national security. Below SECDEF the chain of command splits into chains specific to each branch of the military, such as the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV), currently held by the Honorable Kenneth J. Braithwaite. The SECDEF and service secretaries are civilian presidential appointees who have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The highest position with the Navy’s chain of command held by an active-duty officer is the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), who also serves as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The position of CNO is held by a four-star admiral, who serves as the military advisor and deputy to SECNAV. As current CNO, Admiral Michael M. Gilday is responsible for the command, utilization of, and operating efficiency of Navy operating forces. Answering to the CNO are the component commands, such as Fleet Forces Command and Pacific Fleet, with the numbered fleets, like 4th Fleet and 10th Fleet sitting below the component commands.
Within the numbered fleets are military units grouped into specific task groups who deploy together such as Carrier Strike Groups (CSG) or Amphibious Ready Groups/Marine Expeditionary Units (ARG/MEU). And finally, within these task groups are Navy ships, boats, and squadrons representing individual commands.
Within the Navy’s organizational structure and chain of command are the active-duty officers and enlisted personnel who must also follow the chain of command within their command according to rank. In the enlisted ranks, there are 9 levels designated by an E and the number representing the level achieved. For instance, the entry-level rank in the Navy is Seaman Recruit or E-1. Subsequent advancements are Seaman Apprentice and then Seaman. Upon reaching E-4, the status of a noncommissioned officer (NCO) is attained with the title of Petty Officer 3rd Class. The Petty Officer rank increases to 2nd Class, and 1st Class before becoming a senior NCO at E-7, also known as Chief Petty Officer, followed by Senior Chief, before topping out as a Master Chief at E-9.
The ten Officer ranks within the Navy are similarly designated but with an O. Starting at O-1 as an Ensign, junior officers advance through ranks as Lieutenant Junior Grade, Lieutenant, and Lieutenant Commander. Status as a Senior Officer is achieved at O-5 as a Commander followed by Captain. The final 4 ranks are the Flag officers, Rear Admiral Lower Half who wears one star, Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, and finally Admiral at O-10 who wears 4 stars.
The Navy’s Chief Warrant Officers (CWO) are prior enlisted members with demonstrated proficiency in their occupational specialty. While CWO-2 ranks just above a Master Chief and a CWO-5 below an Ensign, CWOs are highly respected for their many years of dedicated service and exceptional technical achievements.
The COC within the Brigade of Midshipmen follows a similar organizational structure, with MIDN 4/C (Midshipman Fourth Class) being the lowest ranking, then advancing each year to MIDN 3/C (also known as a youngster), MIDN 2/C, and finally, MIDN 1/C, or Firstie. The highest ranking midshipman, known as the Brigade Commander, is always a Firstie, who is charged with leading the Brigade of Midshipmen.