Comment & Discussion

On average, fired COs had almost two fewer years at sea than their contemporaries in the general CO population. In the most egregious case, the day one eventually fired CO took command, he did not have enough time at sea to qualify for sea pay (three years at the time). Like other “let-go” COs, he had been short-toured, in a shipyard, and then on an equivalent non-operational tour, resulting in virtually no real-world at-sea experience. He was relieved after the ship he commanded during a multinational exercise turned across the bow of an allied oiler during night refueling maneuvers and almost had her stern taken off.

Compare that and many other similarly dismal cases with the experience of Captain Fred Bailey, a legendary Pacific Fleet CO during the 1970s and ’80s. When I reported aboard the USS Leahy (CG-16) as her executive officer in 1985, Captain Bailey had been at sea in various commands since 1969, with only one year ashore. The Leahy was his sixth command. After he went ashore, presumably for the last time, he was subsequently reordered to command of another ship for seven months after it had run aground in WESTPAC. His mustering-out total was seven ships commanded, during a period of more than 17 years.

Lest we lose sight of the operational forest for the behavioral trees, remember that our Navy’s mission, as Title X instructs, is to “conduct prompt and sustained combat operations at sea .” Before we get too wrapped up in solving the behavioral problems that contribute to command failures, we need to remember that commanding naval vessels at sea, in war or peace, is a complex challenge and not suited to the faint of heart or the inexperienced. In these times of competing demands for a surface-warfare officer’s career-track time, it is doubly important that one be given enough experience to learn the craft—at sea!

Commander Tyrone G. Martin, U.S. Navy (Retired) —I think the leadership problems in the Navy began much earlier than Captain Eyer believes. The young people we were getting into service in the late 1960s and early ’70s had been affected by the general disillusionment of the Vietnam War, by the hippie culture and the widespread use of drugs, and by tensions associated with the civil-rights movement.

I returned to sea duty in 1970, to my second destroyer command, and found a ward room markedly different from the one I had left in 1966. Gone was any shred of a feeling of “calling” or “service.” Instead, being an officer was just another 9-to-5 job. There was no dedication and no thought given to the possibility of having to lead men in mortal combat. Pointing that out brought a change in perspective in most of these young men.

The laissez-faire attitude was further complicated by the plethora of then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt’s policy directives (“Z-grams”) inundating the Fleet at the time, overturning long-held traditions and standards. Suddenly, it was all right to grow hirsute adornment of almost any sort. One could wear dungarees in public. Someone called an “ombudsman” was inserted into the traditional chain of command. And an attempt was made to do away with the traditional “Crackerjack” uniform. The racial environment of commands was being inspected by teams led by inexperienced junior officers who also were charged with conducting group sessions on race relations. It was a zoo.

The incoming officers of those days who remained in service became the COs 15 to 20 years later. At least some of the baggage of their early service came along with them, to be further “enhanced” by later experiences.

Captain David L. Rausch, U.S. Navy (Retired) —How are the mighty fallen? In the case of the most recent firing of Captain Owen Honors, the former commanding officer of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) may have tripped over the high-tech communications wire composed of ubiquitous social-media networking sites such as Facebook, Skype, Linked-in, Twitter, etc. In his case, instead of a well-placed e-mail regarding an errant skipper, the skipper (then the executive officer of the Enterprise ) found himself the victim of the very same social-media vehicle that had endeared him to his crew.

Did he run his ship aground, collide with another vessel, or through personal or professional negligence cause loss of life or unacceptable loss of government property? No. Evidently, there was no basis to relieve Captain Honors for “operational misconduct.” So, in the absence of the former, it most assuredly had to have been for “personal misconduct.” That must have been it. He conducted himself in a manner that was “unbecoming of an officer” by engaging in the use of social media to usher forward allegedly politically incorrect commentary. Because of that, he lost the confidence of the Navy’s senior leadership? Hogwash!

You have to ask yourself: After nearly five years, why was this grounds to conduct an investigation and relieve an officer who by all accounts had an otherwise impeccable record that would have most certainly led to flag selection? More important, why now, on the verge of a combat deployment? In his article, Captain Eyer points out that during the Cold War, “command was largely about substance rather than style.” For nearly ten years this country’s armed forces have been engaged in two simultaneous wars, and weeks before taking his ship and embarked air wing into harm’s way, Captain Honors apparently was relieved for “style.” Lesson learned: Live by the Net, die by the Net. Digital forensicologists need not hunt far for either the smoking gun or the fatal bullet in the new age of social-media networking.

Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, U.S. Navy (Retired) —You are to be congratulated on one of the better issues of Proceedings . The magazine was balanced and the articles and features were timely, focused, and well written. Especially intriguing was the juxtaposition of Captain Eyer’s “How Are the Mighty Fallen” with Captain Parker’s and Captain O’Connor’s “Command Performance.” There seems to be an omission in “Command Performance,” however.

Although an excellent essay on command at sea (and such essays seem to be written about every four or five years), there is not an iota of information on how a commanding officer is expected to conduct him/herself in this era of mixed-gender crews, continuous access to all sorts of communications (both formal and informal), and intense media focus. That omission is especially egregious when one considers the litany of troubles awaiting commanding officers such as those described in “How Are the Mighty Fallen.”

One would like to think that somewhere, somehow, the facts of life involved in commanding a mixed-gender crew would be imparted to proactive commanding officers. Perhaps it is in some schoolhouse somewhere, but I most certainly missed it in “Command Performance.” One course of action always available is common sense and logical reasoning, but they are not mentioned, and from a reading of “How Are the Mighty Fallen,” one might conclude they’re in short supply. Perhaps the reason so many mighty fall is because of the refusal to recognize that commanding a mixed-gender crew has nuances not present when commanding a single-gender crew.

If the Question is China. . .

(See J. L. Holloway III, pp. 54–57, January 2011 Proceedings )

Norman Polmar —Admiral Holloway’s discussion of the future role of aircraft carriers has one serious flaw: reality. His discussion avoids six key factors that must be addressed:

Survivability . True, the carrier USS Enterprise (then–CVAN-65) was out of action for “only” four hours. But in a combat environment, during those hours what would have happened to her aircraft that were aloft? What would have occurred in the battle without her fighter, tanker, and attack aircraft? Would she have steamed out of the battle area for those four hours? And then have to steam four hours to get back in the battle, i.e., an absence of eight hours? The “Big E” lost 15 aircraft in that accident—how would such a loss affect one of today’s already-emaciated air wings?

And what of the carrier Oriskany (CVA-34), ravaged by fires and out of service for months after the mishandling of a single aircraft flare? Or the carrier Forrestal (CVA-59), devastated and out of service for seven months after a single 5-inch Zuni rocket misfired? Aircraft carriers are highly vulnerable.

Surveillance . In the future, forward-operating carriers will be subject to continuous real-time surveillance. Satellites—military and commercial—coupled with long-endurance (multiple-week) unmanned aircraft could enable a potential enemy to locate and keep track of carriers in specific areas of interest. This would be especially true in crisis periods, before shooting begins.

Threats . Beyond the Chinese antiship ballistic missile, China and other nations have land- and sea-launched antiship cruise missiles, including torpedo-tube-launched missiles, while wake-homing and high-speed torpedoes are “commercially” available. The threats to carriers are multiple and proliferated.

Numbers . Beginning later this year, the Navy will have only ten carriers in commission, with one out of service for about four years for refueling/overhaul. Thus, perhaps three can be continuously deployed in forward areas. Looking at the number of probable crisis-and-conflict areas of interest to the United States in the coming decades, large carriers cannot be the principal answer.

Capabilities . If there is a need for a demonstration or combat strike against shore targets, rather than use one of the limited number of carriers, it is increasingly more likely that the national leadership would use Tomahawk cruise missiles from the (current) 130-plus cruisers, destroyers, and submarines that carry them. Tomahawks have longer range and, in several scenarios, more accuracy than aircraft weapons, and do not risk pilots being lost or captured.

Further, the modern aircraft carrier lacks effective antisubmarine and tactical-reconnaissance capabilities. Other, more numerous platforms are now employed in those roles. Similarly, the future availability of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter could allow the smaller LHA/LHD carriers to operate high-performance fighter/attack aircraft.

Cost . Finally, the cost of new 100,000-ton, nuclear-propelled attack carriers has become prohibitive in the current economic environment. The recently begun carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) will cost at least $12 billion and, according to credible sources, could cost up to $16 billion. The Navy must provide more realistic and effective capabilities for such an investment. Aircraft carriers are not the answer “If the Question is China . . .” or numerous other crises or combat areas in the coming years.

Book Review: Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal

(See R. Love, p. 68, January 2011 Proceedings )

James D. Hornfischer, author of Neptune’s Inferno —I was pleased that Neptune’s Inferno attracted a reviewer of Professor Love’s stature, though my ambitions for the book were not academic. Dr. Love takes me to task for my research, but ultimately misses what the book offers: the first comprehensive narrative of our Fleet’s fight against the Tokyo Express, August through November 1942.

Neptune’s Inferno is the first book to make use of the newly opened Ghormley Papers at East Carolina University, which permitted, among other things, the first account of Admiral Chester Nimitz’s real reason for relieving our first South Pacific commander. It is the first book to detail Rear Admiral Norman Scott’s combat training regimen in September 1942, which built the foundation of our light forces’ first victory at Cape Esperance. Personal accounts by veterans such as Robert Graff, the Atlanta ’s signal officer, who has never before spoken about his experiences on that martyred ship, were also important to my account.

Dr. Love laments the omission from my bibliography of Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics . Contrary to Dr. Love’s claim, that good monograph on surface warfare has very little to say about Guadalcanal, offering just four short pages on Cape Esperance-to-Tassafaronga, not a word on the Battle of Savo Island, a single passing mention of Daniel Callaghan, and not a one of Willis Lee. That volume and others, such as Dr. Spector’s wide-lensed survey of the Pacific war, were not essential to my task of developing an intensively concentrated campaign narrative. That explains their omission from my 47 pages of notes and bibliography, unintentional as that happens to have been.

Enough Talk of Suicide, Already!

(See D. Devaney, p. 8, January 2011 Proceedings )

Commander Peter Wilson Gregory, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy (Retired) —In 23 years of active service with the Navy and Marine Corps, I have personally counseled, in the high four figures, Sailors and Marines in various degrees of psychic, emotional, and spiritual turbulence in their lives. Their troubles usually involved interpersonal, romantic, or love relationships, as well as the nexus of military duty and the inner life of love, sex, or relationships. Who was potentially suicidal or who potentially could cause harm to him/herself or others was not always as clear or clinical as one might think from the countless stand-downs or talks on the subjects I have either led, facilitated, or attended in my career.

Sergeant Major Devaney does make a valid point that the active-duty and reserve forces share similar demographic profiles with civilian populations prone to suicidal and self-destructive behavior patterns. And yes, we in the military do have a tendency to beat the horse into the ground.

I have found that suicidal behavior is usually an acute stress-reaction to some trauma or crisis in one’s life. What really makes the difference in literal life-and-death terms for the average Sailor or Marine is his or her buddies, their sense of obligation and response to the person in crisis, and the speed of intervention when the person is identified. And you cannot train the troops on those matters enough.

Don’t Break Up the ‘BMD Yankees’!

(See N. Polmar, pp. 86–87, November 2010; and pp. 86–87, December 2010 Proceedings )

Rear Admiral Joe Horn, U.S. Navy; program executive, Aegis Ballistic-Missile Defense —While I am not a Yankees fan, I take a backseat to no one in my respect and admiration for Rear Admiral Wayne E. Meyer and the history and success of the Aegis program. That said, as the current program executive for Aegis BMD, I am obliged to respond to Mr. Polmar’s two-part series.

It is difficult to cite specifics, as the series made several vague references to ill-defined future organizational and process changes that Mr. Polmar believes will damage the culture within Aegis BMD. I am a product of that culture, having served in four Aegis ships and commanded two. Were I to see proposed changes that negatively impact the culture and performance of this organization—or the authorities of its program executive—I would raise objections with my Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Navy chains of command, as appropriate. The facts are, there have been no “captain to the bridge” moments, and the director of the MDA is actively seeking to push additional authority to his program executives. I remain convinced that Aegis BMD continues to embrace the true essence of the Aegis culture—disciplined, rigorous systems-engineering.

While I agree with Mr. Polmar that the presence of seasoned Navy operators and engineering duty officers at Aegis BMD is important, I reject the notion that people without “sea time” under their belts are somehow less important to success. Inferring so diminishes the important contributions made by brilliant, hard-working experts who have never served in a ship. To put it another way, NASA was built around rigorous, disciplined systems-engineering processes implemented by a legion of talented engineers. Very few of them did so with any “space time.”

Mr. Polmar accurately recounts the record of success enjoyed by the Aegis BMD program from 2002 to the present, and it is a record of which the Aegis BMD team can be justifiably proud. He writes that “much of the success of Aegis BMD can be attributed to the intensive, comprehensive, seven-year test program involving 23 live firings between January 2002 and the end of 2009.” This refers to the first seven years of the direct command relationship between Aegis BMD and the MDA. Elsewhere, however, he writes that since 2002, the MDA has “slowly but surely (and sometimes arbitrarily) put in place new and at times unproven processes, contracting structures, reviews, reporting channels, and organizational changes.” One is hard-pressed to tell what the true story is here—is it one of enviable success or bureaucratic decline? Surely if what Mr. Polmar suggests is true, there would have been a clear, negative impact on the success of the program.

Finally, if the past eight years are any indication of the future of sea-based ballistic-missile defense as executed by Aegis BMD under the leadership of the MDA, then perhaps Mr. Polmar’s anticipatory fears are unfounded.

Tonkin: Setting the Record Straight

(See L. R. Vasey, pp. 66–71, August 2010; and R. R. McDonald, D. M. Showers, and C. E. McDowell, pp. 81–82, January 2011 Proceedings )

Rear Admiral Lloyd R. “Joe” Vasey, U.S. Navy (Retired) —In response to comments of Captain McDonald and Rear Admirals Showers and McDowell on my article “Tonkin: Setting the Record Straight,” they follow a common thread of all such critiques to dismiss, discount, or ignore the compelling evidence presented by on-scene participants on board the two destroyers. The 18 crewmen including the commanding officer of the USS Turner Joy (DD-951) were all highly trained, competent, and experienced. Two or even three may have been in error on parts of what they saw—but not all of them on everything. Even the two senior officials subsequently sent by the Secretary of Defense to Subic Bay to conduct an inquiry, meeting with Sailors and officer-witnesses from the two destroyers, were convinced and reported to the Secretary that “attacks against our destroyers the night of August 4th had occurred although the details require further refinement.”

The failure of critics to weigh or even mention such positive evidence is simply reprehensible and an affront to our servicemen.

Another common thread of most critiques is the inclination to cite “confusion at the scene” and “confused and contradictory visual, radar and sonar reporting.” Yes, it was a confusing picture at first, not uncommon with enemy actions as I well know from personal combat experience in World War II. The unit commander, Captain John J. Herrick, and the two commanding officers did a remarkable job in unscrambling the situation and reporting the facts to higher commands and Washington.

One of Captain Herrick’s early messages stated, “Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful.” After extensive evaluation with both ships’ captains, Herrick sent a clarifying message: “Certain that original ambush was bonafide.” He made it clear that his doubt was only of the validity of some contacts. Later, at hearings before the Senate Commitee on Foreign Relations in 1968, he testified he had no doubt that an attack had occurred. 

Rear Admiral McDowell quoted a 1995 comment from North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap to former Secreatary of Defense Robert McNamara that “On the 4th of August there was absolutely nothing.” Since neither Giap nor his government has ever had anything to gain by acknowledging that there had been an attack, his word that none occurred is far less persuasive to me than the visual sightings and radar contact evidence submitted by the aforementioned destroyer crewmen whose testimony was subjected to detailed assessments by senior officers and officials of the U.S. Defense Department. 

And finally, as indicated in my article, I am also not persuaded by the Hanyok analysis, which is often cited as proof of no attack and which prompted the following comment in the December 2005 memo of Louis Giles, the National Security Agency’s director of Policy and Records, that “the COMINT(communications intelligence) does not prove that an attack did or did not occur.”



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