VT-9 Maintenance Chief

Written by: Leo Lawton

As a neophyte Senior Chief I had been the Airframes Division Chief for about four months in April 1967. Senior Chief McLean who had been in the Navy much longer and a Senior Chief much longer also, was the Maintenance Control Division Chief. One day he asked me to come to the Maintenance Control Office to speak with him. When I arrived he said, “Let’s go down to the Chief’s Coffee Mess.” It was located a few doors down a passageway from his office.

While entering and pouring ourselves a cup of coffee he said to me, “Senior Chief Lawton, how would you like to be the Maintenance Control Chief”?

I was completely astounded. I was unsure if he had lost his mind or what. I knew that he was retiring, but whoever made such decisions had decided the billet should be filled by a Master Chief, a pay grade higher than me. For that reason one had been assigned to the squadron, and was in training to take Senior Chief McLean’s billet as Maintenance Control Chief. That billet controlled all maintenance within the squadron. Although not in direct control of most personnel, through various other Chiefs, indirectly he controlled all of them.

I said, “My quick answer to that question is that I would nearly give my right arm for the position, but you know as well as I do that is not going to happen.”

Senior Chief McLean said, “What makes you think it is not going to happen”?

I said, “I know that Master Chief Smith is here to replace you, and has been training for a month already. Also I am here only on a one year basis, which is nearly half gone now. Further, of nine Senior Chiefs in this squadron I have the least seniority of all. If I were in charge of the Maintenance Control Division it would put me in a de facto senior position to all of them.”

McLean said, “Are those the only reasons you can think of? They are all surmountable. I have been authorized to tell you the billet is yours if you so desire it.”

I never knew exactly why, nor do I know exactly who, chose me for the position, but I readily accepted the offer. As we walked back toward the Maintenance Control Office I asked, “What do we tell Master Chief Smith”?

McLean said, “You are now the Maintenance Control Chief, it’s your decision where his future position within the Maintenance Department will be.”

Within minutes I called Master Chief Smith aside, and advised him of my newly acquired status. While chatting with him he told me that he had never worked in a maintenance program in his entire Navy career, and he was uneasy there. I told him I thought his talents would be better in some sort of position not directly involved in aircraft maintenance. I suggested he might feel more secure in charge of the single enlisted men’s barracks, and so he became that barracks Master At Arms. With that assignment there would be no friction between him and me.

The following morning as I entered the Maintenance Control Office I overheard Senior Chief McLean’s assistant, another Senior Chief, say that he didn’t feel I should have been offered the billet. He felt he was more qualified having been the Assistant Maintenance Control Chief for over a year, and was also senior to me as a Senior Chief. Within minutes I advised him that I didn’t feel I needed an assistant, thus he was reassigned to take my former position as Airframes Division Chief beginning immediately.

Later in the day Senior Chief McLean said, “I knew I would like the way you would handle yourself. I’m glad you accepted this challenge.”

Soon Senior Chief McLean had retired, and for the next 2 ½ years I was the Maintenance Control Chief of one of the largest Aircraft Squadrons in the United States Navy.