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Sailors Frocked at Walter Reed Bethesda


Story by Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications​

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center recognized more than 80 Sailors during a frocking ceremony June 1 in WRNMMC’s Clark Auditorium.

The frocking celebrated “the dedication and hard work of WRNMMC’s newly-promoted petty officers,” explained Chief Hospital Corpsman Sarah Pacquette, coordinator and master of ceremonies for the event.

In the Navy, frocking is the practice of a commissioned or non-commissioned officer selected for promotion wearing the insignia of the higher grade before the official date of promotion.

“On Sept. 24, 1894, the Navy introduced the now used rank insignias of today. The perched heraldic bald Eagle, commonly referred to as the ‘crow,’ with head to the right, and wings raised upward signifies intellect, strength, courage, and pride. The chevrons of a petty officer are equivalent to that of a non-commissioned officer. Commonly referred as the ‘backbone of the Navy,’ the expertise and leadership [of petty officers] drive our fleet to success,” Pacquette added.

Navy Capt. (Dr.) Mark Kobelja, WRNMMC’s director, explained to the petty officers that their new appointments carry with them “the obligation that [they] exercise increased authority and willingly accept greater responsibility.  Occupying a position of greater authority, you must strive with renewed dedication toward the valued ideal of service with honor.”

According to naval historians, the term frocking dates back to the Age of Sail, a period lasting from the 16th to the mid-19th century when communications between the Department of the Navy and ships at sea could take months. News of the promotion of an officer arrived, usually by letters brought by another ship, and often with orders for the newly-promoted officer to report to a new ship or station. The ship that brought the news would often take that officer away to his new post. Since the departing officer created a vacancy on the first ship, the captain would often forward a recommendation for promotion for one of the remaining officers, which was to be carried back to the Department of the Navy.

One of the symbols of rank was a frock coat, the newly-promoted officer would pass his old frock coat to the officer remaining behind and recommended for promotion. Since a lengthy period of time could go by until the captain's recommendation made it back to the Department of the Navy and acted upon, the officer recommended for promotion would be accorded the privileges and authorities of his "new" rank, but would not receive the pay for it, since it was not yet official. Because it was not yet official, and because he was still wearing the old frock coat of the recently departed and (officially) promoted officer, the officer recommended for promotion was considered "frocked."​