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Ask The Chief
by U.S. Navy Lt. Devin Arneson
Public Affairs Support Element East - (Active)
January 3, 2019

“Ask the Chief” is a common utterance heard in the United States Navy. Why, you might ask? Chief Petty Officers are the backbone of the fleet.

In early September 2018, Equipment Operator First Class Dennis Hill, from Clinton, Tenn., found out he would be referred to as “Chief Select.” He had recently deployed in support of Southern Partnership Station’s (SPS) water-well drilling exploration project. He began wearing the rate of Chief Petty Officer on September 15, 2018.

October 3, 2018 - U.S. Navy Equipment Operator Chief Dennis Hill (left), Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133, describes the water-well process to U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker (right), after a ribbon cutting ceremony in Riohacha, Colombia as part of Southern Partnership Station 2018. The ceremony marked NMCB-133’s completion of a water-well drilling project focused on providing water to the rural Colombian department of La Guajira. Southern Partnership Station is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted annual deployment focused on subject matter expert exchanges and building partner capacity in a variety of disciplines including medicine, construction and dive operations in the Caribbean, Central and South America. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kalie Frantz)

Chief Equipment Operator Hill demonstrates the hallmarks of what it means to be a Chief.

“I am very honored. It’s a humbling experience making it to this point,” said Hill. “A sacrifice of a lot of people, not just me, but my family, my wife, all the things the troops have done to make things successful. There’s a lot of hard work and people believe in you.”

Chief Hill joined the Navy following high school in August of 1999, and throughout his career, he has constructed nearly 40 water wells. The expertise Chief Hill was able to bring to this project is remarkable, according to his team of Seabees.

“To me, experience is a better resource than fundamentals,” said Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Hunter Patterson. “You can go to school and learn as much as you can about drilling a well, but without experience, you won’t be successful.”

Aside from being the subject matter expert, a Chief Petty Officer takes on a more significant role. The Chief is the leader. The Chief knows the answer. The Chief is the mentor to those of the most junior rank to the most senior rank.

“I feel honored when the Sailors come to me with a question they could have asked someone else,” said Hill. “They know that I will provide them the right answer or be able to find it.”

A lot of Sailors may say they stayed in the Navy because of the people they’ve served with. Chief Hill indicated that the people have kept him in the Navy so long.

“It’s the people,” Hill added. “Yeah, I love being a Seabee. I love the job, but the troops, they’re why I stayed.”

Throughout the water-well construction project, Chief Hill has been an inspiration to his team and has truly lead the team to success. He has not only been an integral piece to Southern Partnership Station, but has made a lasting impact on his Sailor’s lives.

“Chief Hill, to me, he’s kind of like a dad the way he holds us to a standard. The way he leads us, he instills in us sort of a “we have to win” type of standard,” said Patterson. “He is molding us into becoming leaders and in being the best we can be. Chief Hill is the best leader I’ve ever worked with.”

No matter where Chief Hill is, he provides leadership, guidance and expertise. Location or situation doesn’t dictate when a Chief is a leader. It’s a 24 hours a day, seven days a week lifestyle. He’s a leader in their homeport of Gulfport, Miss. He’s a leader all the way down in Riohacha, Colombia conducting humanitarian relief efforts.

“Seabees are great at humanitarian relief. It’s kind of where we fit in, off the grid type of missions. It’s been an experience for the guys, embarkation on two different ships, convoy across the country, and the well-site set up,” said Hill. “We took the rig from Gulfport, came to Colombia, drilled a well, and now we are taking it home with us. It’s pretty much the whole package put into one. It’s been a great experience.”

Seabees, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133, traveled from Gulfport, Miss. to Riohacha, Colombia to construct a water well in the region of La Guajira. The goal of this project was to find a useable natural water resource for the local indigenous Wayuu community, who have been living in a drought for nearly a decade.

“The team has changed lives for generations of people,” Hill added. “Now they have water in their backyard. It’s amazing the generational change they supported, the impact is phenomenal.”

SPS supported Colombian development efforts in the region of La Guajira. Held on an annual basis by U.S. Southern Command and executed by U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet, Southern Partnership Station is a U.S. Navy deployment focused on subject matter expert exchanges with partner nation militaries and security forces in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

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