Arlington, Virginia - Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education (MPT&E) Fleet Master Chief (AW/SW) April D. Beldo, one of the most accomplished Sailors in the Navy today with many "firsts" in her career, reflected on the role of the Chiefs' Mess on the chief petty officer (CPO) birthday, April 1.
Her resume is filled with titles such as: the first female command master chief (CMC) of Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Ill.; first African-American female CMC of an aircraft carrier when assigned to USS Carl Vinson and the first female and African-American force master chief (FORCM) for Naval Education and Training Command. She is currently one of four fleet master chiefs (FLTCM) in the Navy and the first female FLTCM of MPT&E, her current position.
"This took 31 years of training. I didn't wake up one morning and boom, I'm here," said Beldo. "Every single day and even now I learn something new about our organization. It took 31 years of paying attention, staying focused, knowing that I won't always get it right, that I would make mistakes but I'd learn to not make them again. This has been a process and I owe a lot to my mentors."
Beldo began her career as an Aviation Maintenance Administrationman in 1983 and was selected for CPO in 1995. She terminated shore duty early to spend her first tour as a chief on a ship at sea, following the 1994 repeal of the Combat Exclusion Law, which allowed women to serve aboard combatant ships for the first time.
"I wanted to serve aboard an aircraft carrier, so that's what I did," said Beldo. She received orders to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 6 and embarked aboard the first West Coast aircraft carrier to deploy with female Sailors, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 73).
"It was awkward at times getting used to each other, males and females, and a learning experience for all of us," said Beldo.
She likened the experience to one of blending families and the adjustment to a new authority figure.
"I was on that ship as a chief," said Beldo. "I went into the work center and told Sailors they weren't doing what they were supposed to do. Now, they weren't going to talk back to a chief, but they'd look at me for three to four seconds, and I'd look back at them for six seconds so they knew I meant business. There were adjustments, but we were still able to be successful," Beldo said.
During that time, Beldo was consistently reminded by other female chiefs who worked with her, "It's not about you being a female, it's about you being a Sailor. So concentrate on your job."
That bit of instruction and the career development of her leadership helped Beldo along her way.
"After I made chief, Master Chief Aircraft Maintenanceman Ibarra approached me and said, 'Let's talk about you making senior chief'. I had only been a chief for six months, so senior chief was three years away. But it was his responsibility to help me develop," Beldo said, and once again, she paid attention.
In addition to the mentors she has had and the mother she considers her rock and sounding board, Beldo attributes her success to two main character traits.
"I try very hard not to get too excited or stressed about my day-to-day challenges, especially if I can't control the situation. Humility is a beautiful attribute," said Beldo. "I also hold myself accountable, just as I would any of my Sailors."
Humility and willingness to be accountable are what define her vision for leadership. It wasn't until during a tour at Recruit Training Command in 1998 that she developed a deeper, more personal understanding of the role of the Chiefs' Mess, though.
"It was my first opportunity to meet a master chief petty officer of the navy (MCPON). I met MCPON Delbert Black, and through that encounter I really began to understand what the Chiefs' Mess was about and what the office of the MCPON was about," said Beldo.
Black, who became the Navy's first MCPON in 1967, was a representative for all enlisted Sailors. He was a "champion, and the first of a line of MCPONs who would stand in front of leadership, like the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of the Navy and say, 'this is what enlisted Sailors need,'" said Beldo.
When Beldo thinks about April 1 and the CPO birthday now, she reflects on those who created the legacy for the Chiefs' Mess to carry on. She said unity will keep the Chiefs' Mess strong into the future and she is grateful for the opportunity they have to hold enlisted Sailors and the wardroom together.
She also believes she is in a position to impact where the Chiefs' Mess is headed in the future, and that credibility is what enables the Chiefs' Mess to continue to have a positive influence on the organization and the command.
"Having worn the anchors for as long as I've worn them, my expectations for chiefs are high," said Beldo. "I want chiefs to understand that just because you get to wear that uniform doesn't mean you automatically have credibility. You have automatic respect, but it's a beautiful thing to have credibility and respect," said Beldo.
Beldo's own credibility and leadership experience have helped her at her current duty station, where she attends fleet engagements with Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Adm. Bill Moran.
"One of the things he acknowledges before he starts a visit is that he has a chief petty officer with him that makes sure he is in tune with what enlisted Sailors are talking about," said Beldo. "That's what the credibility and glue of the 121 years of chief petty officers have done."
Beldo is quick to credit the Chiefs' Mess with her success and mentioned two of the roles she is most proud of - "two CMC tours, one shore and one sea: Recruit Training Command and USS Carl Vinson," Beldo said.
"I felt like a proud parent," Beldo explained. "When visitors to the commands talked about the outstanding Sailors and the hard work they exhibited to meet the command mission, I would get pumped up!"
"But what's even more impressive, I had nothing to do with it," said Beldo. "It was the chief petty officers' mess directing the orchestra. I made it a goal to be a role model for the Chiefs' Mess and they did the rest. Poetry in motion - I was so very proud."
Beldo's proudest moments are still profoundly simple - watching young men and women make the decision to join the Navy, and seeing the excitement of young Sailors at a new command.
She knows the future is in their hands. It's why she continues to challenge herself to lead them, to show them the laser-sharp focus of a Sailor determined to demonstrate honor, courage and commitment, because of love for country.
"I want every single one of us to just act like we're asked to act from our Oath," said Beldo. "That's my expectation of a Sailor. Just do the job you volunteered to do, whatever it may be. You volunteered to do anything that's asked when you raised your right hand and took that oath. That goes for all regardless of color or gender...Sailors."
Despite advocating the same service goal for every Sailor, Beldo encourages female Sailors to be aware of the new opportunities available to them.
"We're affording every qualified Sailor, including women now, the opportunity to serve in the riverine units. And in the future, we'll have enlisted women on submarines," said Beldo. "The qualification process is still the same, the criteria are the same, but the opportunity is there. Go for it!"