Thursday, May 28, 2009

Solving the Commander Crisis

The number of com­manding officers relieved of their duties is a serious threat to the Navy, one the service can’t seem to shake. Commanders are fired at the rate of more than one per month.

While it’s possible to view this as a positive
the Navy holds its leaders accountable the matter raises questions about how officers are screened for command; how they are trained and prepared for the job; and what is expected of them once they are in charge.

Three threads seem to come up in this context, all of which point to possible systemic prob­lems: (1) significant maintenance failures, perhaps related to un­dersized crews, not enough training and inadequate yard periods; (2) underway accidents, possibly indicating training and experience shortfalls; and (3) im­proper personal behavior, typi­cally including either alcohol problems, extramarital relation­ships or both.

From Navy Times - 4 tips for the new SECNAV

AND MORE FROM A NAVY TIMES EDITORIAL circa 2005 - not a whole lot has changed

The Navy won’t tolerate CO shenanigans, that much is clear.

What’s not clear, however, is exactly what sort of behavior won’t be tolerated.

Six commanding officers have been fired in the past six weeks, and at least one more case remains under investigation. The skipper of the frigate Samuel B. Roberts remains in command after the ship went dead in the water or possibly ran aground near Argentina.

The Navy is understandably loath to publicly humiliate a fallen leader. In most cases, sackings are explained with a terse, three-word descriptor: “loss of confidence.”

Five of the six recent firings were unrelated to mishaps or operational errors. So it’s unclear what caused these sudden losses in confidence. Possible causes range from incompetence to fraternization to an allegation that a captain struck one of his sailors.

Only in the case of Cmdr. E.J. McClure, skipper of the destroyer Arleigh Burke, do we know why she lost her job: She ran her ship “soft aground” in a Norfolk-area shipping channel, officials confirm. Other circumstances surrounding that grounding, however, remain under investigation, including the status of Destroyer Squadron 2 commodore Capt. Ralph “Larry” Tindal, who was aboard the ship at the time of the incident.

There are limits to privacy concerns. Warship commanders don’t deserve a free ride when their personal behavior fails to meet Navy standards. They have been through a rigorous selection process and their numbers are a precious few. They hold a special trust. And when they violate that trust, they shouldn’t get a free pass to their next assignment.

This recent rash of firings comes only two years after another run in which more than 20 COs were fired from their commands in 2004 and 2005. Bringing these matters to the fore helps make clear what the Navy’s standards are, and what the penalties can be for violating those standards. Hiding the truth may protect the guilty, but it does little to inform or assist the innocent. Instead, by trying to avoid scandal, leaders fuel the rumor mill.

By getting the word out, other leaders can learn from these past mistakes, rather than be doomed to repeat them. The Navy takes care to make sure that happens in the operational realm. But because the risks are no less severe when it comes to personal conduct, it should treat those issues in no less a public light.

No comments: