For more than 125 years the gold-fouled anchor has served as a symbol of deck plate leadership throughout the Navy’s ranks.

In no other branch of the U.S. military does the rank of E-7 hold such clout, reverence and serve as the embodiment of its service’s heritage and traditions as it does with the chief petty officer (CPO).

The process of becoming a CPO is one that is steeped in these traditions and a group of CPO selectees have been going through that process for more than a month now.

More than 1,000 CPOs (retired, active duty and selects) from areas spanning the entire Southeastern U.S. gathered together at the Veterans Memorial Wall in Jacksonville for CPO Pride Day on Sept. 6.

This year’s event kicked off with remarks from Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars and retired NFL coach Tom Coughlin.

“I love the three words that the U.S. Navy lives by – honor, courage and commitment,” Coughlin said. “I’ve spent most of my life in football and those are three words that I’ve always preached to my football teams – honor, courage and commitment.”

Following Coughlin’s remarks, retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Duane Bushey addressed the crowd.

“This is the greatest honor you’ll ever have,” Bushey said. “This is the greatest promotion. There are a few of you out there who will become warrant officers and a few of you will be limited duty officers and maybe one MCPON. However, this is the promotion that you’ll always remember.”

Following the ceremony, the selectees marched to Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena to continue the day’s events.

Special guest speaker Ima Black, honorary master chief and widow of the Navy’s first MCPON, Delbert D. Black, spoke to the selects and formally kicked off the day’s competitions.

“Today let’s have another Navy Pride Day!” Black said. “Let the games begin!”

The first of the events consisted of a tug-of-war, a sit-up competition and a push-up competition. Other events taking place were the judging of vessels, and a cadence and command coin design competitions.

Though the day was filled with events, many of the selectees knew that the meaning behind it all was to bring them closer together.

“Today’s event means a lot to me because this is our heritage,” said MAC (select) David Belville, assigned to Naval Station Mayport. “Being out here with my brothers and sisters - it doesn’t matter where you come from because we are coming together as one.”

“Today’s evolution is to bring that comradery in the mess,” said Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville Command Master Chief Jeffery Waters. “We’re bringing the message from all over – from as far north as Virginia.”

Many of the selectees took the opportunity to have their charge books signed by Ima Black.

“I got the signature of Ima Black in my charge book and that is something that I deeply cherish,” said MAC (select) Michael Langehennig, assigned to NAS Jacksonville.

“I will be able to look back on this day and remember the pride I felt, marching and competing with other selectees,” Langehennig added.

After six weeks of intense training and learning, on Sept. 14 these CPO selectees will finally be able to don the coveted gold fouled anchor and become CPOs.

“We are a unity of brother and sisterhood that’s not created in any other branch of the military,” Waters said. “We really take a whole lot of pride in that. That’s why we are unique in the United States Navy.”