Navy Chain of Command

The Navy is like other branches with one exception, its top officer

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One of the first things you will need to know upon joining the Navy is the Chain of Command. You'll be required to memorize it at the beginning of boot camp.

The chain of command shows who has the most responsibility and authority, and how that is delegated from the top of the chain to the bottom. The chain of command also directs information flow, with instructions starting at the top, and moving down to lower-level personnel.

What Is a Chain of Command?

Believe it or not, you’ve always had a chain of command in one way or another, even if that's not what it was called. For a loose example, let’s say you started work as a delivery person at a pizza joint – if there was a problem, you would look to your immediate supervisor for help or direction, who would (if necessary) go to the manager, who would go to the boss or owner for resolution.

Any changes to the job would likewise use the same route in reverse – the boss makes a decision that drivers must wear a company jacket when making deliveries – s/he tells the manager, who tells the supervisor, who tells you (and, hopefully, gives you the necessary jacket).

Even in the home and at school, there are various chains of command. The military just makes it more formal, in order to ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities and to whom they report.

The Navy's Top Officer

The Army, Air Force and Marines all have a general as their top officer. But like other navies, the U.S. Navy's top commissioned officer is called an admiral. The term comes from the Arabic phrase amir-al bahr, which translates as "commander of the seas."

The highest-ranking admiral in the U.S. Navy is a fleet admiral. The last time a fleet admiral was appointed, however, was World War II. And only once in history was the rank of Admiral of the Navy designated, to George Dewey by a special act of Congress in 1899. Since then, the four-star admiral has been the highest achievable rank by a Navy officer.

The Navy chief of operations, a four-star admiral, is its highest-ranking officer in the modern-day Navy, serving under the Secretary of the Navy. He or she also is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Admirals wear silver five-point stars (the number depends on the specific rank: one-star, two-star, etc.) and shoulder boards with the number of gold stripes that match their rank.

The Navy's Chain of Command

The Navy’s Chain of Command is used to maintain good communications within the Navy, and as a recruit, enlisted member or officer you will use it in everything you do – not just in basic training, but throughout your career. The Chain of Command is as follows:

  • President of the United States
  • Vice President of the United States
  • Secretary of Defense (SECDEF)
  • Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV)
  • Chief of Naval Operations (CNO)
  • Chief of Naval Education and Training (CNET)
  • Commander NTC (CNTC)
  • Commanding Officer RTC (CO RTC)
  • Executive Officer RTC (XO RTC)
  • Military Training Officer (MTO)
  • Military Training Assistant (MTA)
  • Division Officer (DO)
  • Division Leading Chief Petty Officer (LCPO)
  • Company Commander (CC)
  • Recruit