On 24 April 2016, in a column in the Tampa Tribune, retired Navy Admiral William McRaven (recently Commander, Special Operations Command) objected strongly to what he saw as the politically motivated and disrespectful handling of Rear Admiral Lower Half Brian Losey, who was denied promotion following an investigation into charges of retaliation against whistleblowers.
McRaven’s column has not received wide attention, but it should. There was evidently much more on McRaven’s mind than a defense of Losey: McRaven indicts lawmakers who he says held the Navy hostage until Losey was denied promotion, despite the Navy’s considered recommendations to promote. McRaven also lashes out at Congress for its disrespectful treatment of the military: “I watched in disbelief [at] how lawmakers treated the chairman, the service chiefs, the combatant commanders, and other senior officers during Congressional testimony . . . some lawmakers showed no respect.” Further, “I saw the DOD Inspector General’s Office frequently act as judge and jury, apparently accountable to no one, dismissing the recommendations of the services and ruining officers’ careers.”
Finally, he makes a suggestion, however veiled, that perhaps the foundation of civil-military relationships—civilian control of the military—is being compromised by the behavior of these civilians. “In light of the challenging times in which we find ourselves, politically and strategically, we cannot afford to have a military that loses respect for its civilian leaders. . . . The strength of America always rests with our nation’s civilians. God forbid we should ever see it differently.”
Beginning in 2011, while assigned as Commander, Special Operations Command, Africa, Losey was the subject of investigation in five separate cases in which subordinates complained he had wrongly fired, demoted, or punished them during a search for a person who had anonymously reported him for a travel-policy infraction.
Although three of the five charges were substantiated, the Navy Inspector General (IG) recommended absolution of Losey, and his promotion to rear admiral was confirmed in late 2011; however, that promotion was put on hold pending a final DODIG disposition. Ultimately, DODIG upheld the charges and recommended the Navy take action against Losey. The Navy declined to act, planning to promote him in the fall of 2015. In October, the matter came to the attention of Congress, and a number of senators objected. In March 2016, under intense pressure, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that Losey’s promotion was canceled.
This is the way our system operates. McRaven absolutely knows this, and for him to publicly excoriate the system, following decades of incredible, obedient service, seems more than surprising: It may be that McRaven’s unprecedented column is about much more than his dismay over Losey.
But is this unprecedented? In 1947, reacting to the Truman administration’s plan to scrap the carrier fleet, Rear Admiral Dan Gallery wrote a series of articles for The Saturday Evening Post in which he was critical of the plan. The final article, published in December, was titled “Don’t Let Them Scuttle the Navy!” It cost him his career.
As it turned out, Gallery’s shot was but the opening salvo of what became known as the “Revolt of the Admirals.” Soon, many admirals would join Gallery in sacrificing their careers in defense of their convictions.
Is McRaven’s column a shot across the bow in this sense? Is he setting the stage for a larger fight?
The flags of 1947 were making a stand against emasculation of the Navy. What might be on the minds of today’s flags? McRaven’s column may give some clues. The centroid of his concern seems to be the political workings that occur at the intersection of the uniformed services, Congress, and the Obama administration. Neither Congress nor the administration, he suggests, are responsive to the reasoned advice of the uniformed services, nor are they acting in the best interest of the nation.
The microcosmic view of this may be captured in the long-running and contentious “Fat Leonard” case, in which as many as 40 admirals remain DODIG “persons of interest,” freezing their nominations for other jobs or promotions and strategically hobbling the Navy through extended denials of either justice or the best leadership possible.
Is there more evidence McRaven is hunting bigger game? When questioned about the column, which he said he had seen prior to publication, Chief of Naval Operations Richardson made this comment: “I read Admiral McRaven’s piece with great interest; he raises a number of important issues that deserve additional consideration, and I welcome that conversation.”
Are flag officers preparing to put their stars on the table, again?