For the most part, executive officers, or XOs, are actually captains-in-waiting. They have been selected for command, and when an incumbent commanding officer (CO) departs, an XO ascends. Understanding this, it has been much asked of late: “Where was the XO when the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) suffered her collision at sea?”
While this is a worthwhile question, it begs what is perhaps a more important one: What was the dynamic between the CO and XO in the Fitzgerald? This is the heart of the matter, because what may not be understood by all is that despite the fact than an XO may be qualified for command, he or she cannot reasonably take an active role in the affairs of the bridge without the CO’s expressed invitation. The bridge is, by tradition and practice, the CO’s domain, where he or she reigns alone. None dare tread on this prerogative.