Marching into Trouble
Late this month the graduating midshipmen will march into the Naval Academy's Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Their college days over, they will now start their education. The new ensigns will have a lot to learn from those who have "Been there. Done that." And they better pay attention.
Something's wrong afloat. You could get the admirals confused with reality talk show hosts the way they're firing their captains. So far ten skippers have been relieved for cause.
It's baffling to this old sailor. Starting in 1947, I served 22 years, nine months, and 11 days, more or less. They called it a man's navy in those days. Today, thirty percent of our sailors, officer and enlisted, are women. The women aren't meek, compliant ones either. One recently lost her job as skipper of a cruiser because she was a foul-mouthed martinet.
This un-meek lady punctuated her orders with the same cuss words I used in boot camp. She threw coffee cups. She threatened to throttle a junior officer, and demonstrated how it would be done by grasping his throat with her hands. She ran over a whale.
One would expect that most of the firings would be for mistakes in ship handling or for abuse of power. But no. Most were for the very human failure of personal misconduct, usually involving sex or liquor. That's not surprising because lots of guys sign on because of sex or liquor, usually both.
And they love going where it is. Ask any old salt to name his favorite liberty port. Don't be surprised to learn Adak isn't on the list.
Their alleged acts in several "good" ports in the Mediterranean included drunkenness, inappropriate dancing, fighting between chief petty officers, and fraternization up and down the pay grades -- Sounded about like what we called one helluva liberty. The commanding officer, command master chief, six other chiefs, one junior officer and one petty officer were removed from the ship as of March 1.
The commander of a aviation patrol squadron near Seattle, did what an officer is expected to do after he'd screwed up and got caught doing what he wasn't supposed to do. When a cop arrested him for driving drunk he was assured no report would be made to his superiors. Regulations stipulated that personnel arrested for DWI be reported to his command. He reported himself and got fired. Our Navy lost another good officer. Navy Times reported last year he was a finalist for the 2010 Vice Adm. James Stockdale leadership award. I hope his fitness report mentions his honesty and courage for doing what he was expected to do.
The executive officer, and presumptive captain of the USS Enterprise was rated by two of his former commanding officers as being perfect. From his fitness reports we would assume if there had been a category "better than perfect," he'd have been marked up to that status.
Perfect wasn't good enough, not when he did was what sailors of all ranks have done after their ships slip over the horizon and out of sight of land. He entertained his shipmates with bawdy jokes and by filming skits which crossed that ephemeral line of propriety.
Was he guilty? Sure. Was it offensive? Yeah, most skits of this sort are. Did he have permission? No. but others above him sat in on the skits and laughed along with the crew. He was fired.
But, is it as bad as all that? Yes. In spite of automatic responses about a small percent of a bad apples, it is a fetid mess when Navy Times blares "five firings in ten days" from the front page. Something is wrong here that cannot be cured by bromides. The command structure that has allowed the mess to grow was put together by nabobs who were once ensigns. Today's new ensigns will find themselves caught up in a frenzy to fix a broken system.
So is there a lesson in all this for those brand new ensigns? Yeah. the sailors down in the crew's quarters know what it is -- Cover your derriere. Some of the sailors might not use those exact words though.
Have a fair wind and a following sea maties.
//Keith Taylor retired from the navy as a junior officer some forty years ago. He can be reached at email@example.com