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Coast Guard History

Frequently Asked Questions

When was the rank of Chief Petty Officer authorized for the Coast Guard and who was the first to attain the rank?

While the term Chief originated during the Civil War, it usually referred to the ship’s cook with the most rank or authority. On 25 February 1893 President Benjamin Harrison issued General Order No. 409. This executive order established an enlisted pay scale which was divided into rates and included the grade of Chief Petty Officer. Shortly thereafter, on 1 April 1893 the U.S. Navy created the grade of Chief Petty Officer. Later, the changes resulting from the merger of the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life Saving Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915 demonstrated that there was a need for the establishment of a higher enlisted authority. On 18 May 1920, therefore, the 66th Congress authorized in Chapter 190, Section 8:

That commissioned officers, warrant officers, petty officers, and other enlisted men in the Coast Guard shall receive the same pay, allowances, and increases as are now, herein are, or hereafter may be prescribed for corresponding grades or ratings and length of service in the Navy; and the grades and ratings of warrant officers, chief petty officers, petty officers, and other enlisted persons in the Coast Guard shall be the same as in the Navy, in so far as the duties of the Coast Guard may require...

That same day U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters issued General Order No. 43, Article 817 which created the rank of the chief petty officers. The first uniform of the Chief Petty Officer appeared in the 1922 Coast Guard Headquarters Uniform Regulations. Similar to that worn by CPOs in the Navy, the Coast Guard CPO Uniform was distinguished by the inclusion of the Coast Guard Shield which was 1 inch in height and was affixed on the right sleeve midway between the wrist and elbow. The symbol of the Chiefs’ authority is the anchor. Emblematic of their stability and security, it also reminds Chiefs of their responsibility to those they serve, both senior and junior.

Although 18 May 1920 is acknowledged as the day the grade of Chief Petty Officer was authorized, who the first Coast Guardsman to attain that grade has not been determined. Therefore, no particular individual can be considered the first Chief Petty Officer in the Coast Guard.

When was the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer authorized for the Coast Guard and who was the first to attain the rank?

The heritage of Senior Chief Petty Officer and Master Chief Petty Officer are intertwined. In May 1958, Congress established two additional senior enlisted pay grades, E-8 and E-9, with the enactment of Public Law 85-422. Each service was left to define its two new pay grades. Although the Coast Guard adopted the Navy’s version, Coast Guard roles did not accurately match Navy roles as the two had different missions.

Service-wide examinations for outstanding Chiefs were held on August 5, 1958. 

On November 1, 1958, Master Chief Yeoman Jack Kerwin became the first Coast Guardsman to advance to E-9. A few months later, a second group of Chiefs from the February 1959 examinations were elevated to E-8 and E-9 effective on May 16, 1959.

Researched and written by MKCM G. L. "Roc" Della Rocco, USCG

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Last Modified 11/17/2014