By Edward Lundquist
Commander Master Chief Mark Davidson becomes the U.S. Navy's “Old Tar,” symbolic of the senior Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist. The award was presented by Surface navy Association executive director, Capt. Bill Erickson, USN (Ret.), at the USS Constitution in Boston. (Photo by Edward Lundquist)
For Master Chief Mark Davidson, becoming the “Old Tar” doesn’t mean he’s old, it signifies he’s a seasoned and experienced Surface Warrior, just like the USS Constitution. Davidson, the command master chief at Navy Recruiting District
St. Louis, recently was presented with the “Old Tar” award from the Surface Navy Association (SNA), signifying that he has the earliest qualification date as an Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) among all Sailors in the U.S. Navy at a ceremony held next to “Old Ironsides” August 24th in Boston.
Davidson and his wife, Linda, were guests of SNA as the CPO selects conducted their final day of training aboard the world’s oldest commissioned warship as part of CPO Heritage Training Week Davidson, who enlisted in the Navy in 1977 as a machinist’s mate, got underway on Constitution as the CPO selects helped to raise sails in Boston Harbor.
Davidson was presented with a letter signed by the president of the Surface Navy Association, Vice Adm. Kevin Green. Davidson received his ESWS designation after successfully completing his board on USS Preble (DDG-46) on October 19th, 1981. The president of that board was Lieut. Cmdr. Kevin Green.
“I recall very clearly your thorough preparations for that board, based on your years of service at sea, especially in that demanding destroyer,” Green said in his letter to Davidson. “Our Preble was a steam-driven destroyer leader equipped with the Navy's best AAW system of the time, the long range Terrier missile system, along with the SPS-48C radar, Harpoon missiles, 5"/54 gun, PAIR sonar, NTDS, and ASROC. I mention those systems because as a Preble-qualified ESWS you knew them well. In fact, you mastered the whole ship, from the steam plant, where you stood engine room watches as part of M Division, to the combat systems, the two-level CIC, the ship's three boats, the signal bridge, the supply system, small arms, the main deck and replenishment stations, and of course the pilothouse. You learned it all and led the way to help qualify many others in that hard-working crew.”
Davidson said the audience was a very special one. “The Chief Selects are definitely the future of our great Navy. As Chief's are considered the backbone of the Navy, I consider no other task as important as that of training our future Chief Petty Officers. They will have to continue with the training, mentorship, and leadership that will define our Navy's future. I told them that I was humbled by their presence and that the future of the Navy depends on their leadership, guidance, and dedication. They must be the technical experts in their chosen field and that they must aspire to be the best leaders that they can be.”
The ship’s company and soon-to-be CPOs impressed Davidson. “I marveled at the teamwork that the crew of the USS Constitution and how well trained and prepared that they were. The teamwork by the Chief selects was awesome.”
Davidson acknowledges the importance of providing the CPO selects with their training experience aboard the world's oldest commissioned warship. “It brings our heritage and the basics of being a Sailor to the forefront. It allowed the CPO selects the chance to understand the hardships that our long departed Shipmates endured.”
The “Old Tar” award is a counterpart of the “Old Salt” award which recognizes the officer with the earliest designation as a Surface Warfare Officer. The actual “Old Tar” award is a replica of the statue of “The Chief” which stands at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. The statuette is mounted on original planking from the USS Constitution, and remains in Davidson’s custody as long as he is on active duty. Upon his retirement, it will be transferred to his successor as the “Old Tar.” Davidson will then receive an engraved and mounted miniature of the award as a permanent reminder of his designation.
Davidson assumed the mantle of being the “Old Tar” from Command Master Chief Petty Officer Ashley Smith, who served aboard USS Kitty Hawk before retiring in May after 32 years. Smith received his ESWS qualification in 1979, the first year it was offered, instituted as a key element of our Naval Surface warfare heritage.
The 1977 graduate of Wakulla County High School in Medart, Fla., comes from a navy family. Davidson was born in the Naval Hospital at Naval Station, Millington, TN in 1959. “My father was an Aviation Machinist Mate Second Class attending ‘B’ school.”
“I knew that I was close to being the longest serving active duty ESWS qualified Sailor based on when the program started and the date that I earned the qualification,” Davidson said. “But, when I was told I was the longest serving ESWS still on active duty I was
very surprised. It makes me feel humble and proud that I have been given the opportunity to serve our great nation for thirty years. This honor is a great one and it is one of the most special moments of my career.”
Davidson and his wife enjoyed their visit to Boston. “Linda enjoyed the long walk around the city discovering the history of ‘Bean Town.’ Our voyage on the Constitution while under sail was definitely the best event. The presentation of the "Old Tar" award in
front of "Old Ironsides" and the camaraderie at the luncheon with the Boston Area Surface Navy Association combined with the National Representatives was a most memorable experience.”
Being the Old Tar entitles Davidson to share some advice with young Sailors.” “They have a very important task at hand and that there is no greater honor or privilege than that of being a Sailor in the United States Navy. I would also challenge them to learn as much about their rating and Navy as possible, to become the technical expert and the "go-to
Sailor.” I would challenge them to read the instructions that we use every day to conduct our business and to be bold and fearless in conquering our enemies.”
Furthermore, the Master Chief says enlisted Surface Warriors should join and maintain SNA membership. “I would advise our Surface Sailors to become involved in the Surface Navy Association at the local and national level. This will allow them to
learn more about our chosen profession and to start a network that will allow them to work more efficiently.”