The enlisted noncommissioned officer (NCO) ranks are E1 to E9. E1 to E3 are the non rates: E1 is ether a Seaman Recruit, Fireman Recruit, Airman Recruit, or Constructionman Recruit; E2 is ether a Seaman Apprentice, Fireman Apprentice, Airman Apprentice, or Constructionman Apprentice, or Hospitalman Apprentice; and E3 is ether a Seaman, Fireman, Airman, or Constructionman , or Hospitalman. E4 to E6 are the Petty Officer ranks: E4 is a Third Class Petty Officer; E5 is a Second Class Petty Officer; and E6 is a First Class Petty Officer. E7 to E9 are the Chief Petty Officer ranks.
Although Chief Petty Officers are technically still considered Petty Officers, they are considered a separate community within the Navy, unlike NCO's (NonComs, noncommissioned officers) of other branches of service. In the other services, E-7 to E-9 are just higher ranks in the overall hierarchy of ranks. Their duties and responsibilities are greater and they receive the benefits of the higher rank but they are nothing special. However, Navy Chiefs have duties and responsibilities that are greater than those of senior NCO's of the other services. One of the major differences is that Chiefs are specifically tasked, in writing, with the duty of training Junior Officers (Ensign, Lieutenant Junior Grade, Lieutenant, and Lieutenant Commander), a duty not expected of senior NCO's in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force. The Navy recognizes Chiefs as a special group and allows them special privileges, such as separate berthing and dining facilities (where feasible) and separate uniforms. Many times, Chiefs even stand in for officers in certain assignments.
The Chief is considered the backbone of the Navy. They are on the deck plates insuring the job gets done and that the orders of officers are carried out. When any sailor has a question of fellow sailors, petty officers, and even officers, the standard response is “Ask the Chief!”
Regular petty officers are advanced in rank by computers that use such criteria Navy-wide examination scores, performance evaluations scores, time in service, time in rank, etc. to determine who get promoted. However, advancement to Chief Petty Officer (E-7) or above not only requires the same criteria as for regular petty officers, it also requires a peer review by a board of existing Chief Petty Officers who review each candidate’s entire service and rate the candidate according to many factors. Only the top-rated candidates are selected for promotion on an annual list of Chief selectees that is authorized by Congress.
The proper form of address to a Chief Petty Officer is "Chief,” "Senior Chief" (or "Senior"), or "Master Chief" according to their rating.
Although the title "Chief" has been around since the Continental Navy in 1776, the Chief Petty Officer rate was not established until 1 April 1893. At that time, nearly all enlisted members who had carried the rate of Petty Officer First Class since 1885 were advanced to Chief Petty Officer, with the exception of Schoolmasters, Ship's Writers, and Carpenter's Mates.
The rates Senior Chief and Master Chief were established on 1 June 1958. To be eligible for advancement to Senior Chief, a Chief Petty Officer must have had three years in the current grade. For advancement to Master Chief, a Senior Chief must have a total of three years in the current grade. The percentage of the total enlisted force that may be E-8 or E-9 is set by law; it is usually only 2 to 3 percent of the enlisted force. The percentage of the total enlisted force that may be E-9 is set by law at 1.25 percent.
The dress blue insignia consists of a perched eagle or "crow" with spread wings atop a rating mark, with three chevrons and one 'rocker' above the rating mark. Inverted five-point stars above the crow denote the rank of Senior Chief (one star) or Master Chief (two stars). All other uniforms use the collar device to denote rank. It consists of a fouled anchor (an anchor that is entangled with its chain) with the initials U. S. N. (in silver) superimposed, with stars above the anchor to indicate higher pay grades, similar to the dress blue insignia.