Captains get relieved for two primary reasons—operational misconduct or personal misconduct. Some examples follow.
- Collision or grounding.
- Personal misconduct. One might also think that a given number of COs, for example, are fired for alcohol-related incidents. Again, this is untrue. Even if alcohol is cited as a contributing factor, it is almost never the central issue.
- Fraternization and sexual misconduct. In fact, by far the main reason captains are being fired is for charges connected to fraternization, sexual misconduct, or reasons connected to either of these. That includes the commonly employed justification “inappropriate relationship”—however that is defined. And apparently a captain can be fired for just this sort of thing, even if he is completely unaware that the violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice are occurring in his ship.
- Loss of confidence. The main problem with loss of confidence is that it seems to be largely a catch-all, wildly inconsistent device by which the Navy makes examples of given commanders. No administrative proceedings are even required prior to relief. Someone just decides. In the recent past, two SWO captains collided with dhows in the Persian Gulf, yet they did not suffer loss of confidence on the part of their seniors. Another makes sexist comments in the heat of the moment, and he is relieved post-haste. Fair?
- Bad command climate. Nothing leads to a loss of confidence as swiftly as a “bad command climate.” What is a bad command climate, exactly? Ships have good days and bad days. How much badness of command climate is necessary to get fired? How is it measured? Over how long a period? Who is measuring it, and what are they basing their measurement on?
There are a number of commonly held misconceptions regarding why captains get fired from ships. In terms of operational misconduct, there is actually no risk of firing associated with warfighting incompetence. Also surprising, captains do not get fired for INSURV (inspection and survey of vessels) failure, or for that matter, any other kind of material inspection. In the past five years—a period of historically poor INSURV performance—only one ship CO has been fired for such a failure.
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