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The United States Navy: a model of accountability that should be used to reorganize the other military services.

Unlike the other military services, the single greatest thing about the United States Navy is that everybody is accountable up and down the line. An unbroken chain of responsibility extending from the lowliest seaman recruit to the top-ranking fleet admirals.

As a Navy officer, you are responsible for every aspect of those serving under you: ranging from personal habits and hygiene to specialized training and daily activities. All with continual in-depth testing and performance reviews. No man or woman is beyond the responsibility for acts committed during their watch – even if they were not directly responsible for the act itself.

If there is any informal guideline to follow in the performance of your duties, it has always been “do the right thing at the right time.”  A mantra drummed into the heads of all naval personnel by generations of unheralded Chief Petty Officers who serve as the supervisory backbone of the Navy and the carriers of its rich traditions. The fastest way to get action on the docks or underway is to ask the Chief.

While military courtesy (RHIP - Rank Hath Its Privileges) is strictly observed, it does not extend to making allowances for shirking one’s formal or informal obligatory duties.

Therefore, when the following story was released by the Navy, I, once again, was positive that the other services need to modify their organizational behaviors along Navy lines.

A deadly serious situation …

Because of the speed at which a shipboard fire may spread and the difficulty accessing many parts of the ship with enough manpower and fire suppression equipment, there are few more dangerous situation than a fire aboard a ship.

According to the investigators of a fire that occurred aboard the USS George Washington (CVN 73) on May 22nd, “the investigation determined that the likely cause of the fire was unauthorized smoking that ignited flammable liquids and other combustible material improperly stored in an adjacent space.”

“The fire and the subsequent magnitude of the fire were the result of a series of human acts that could have been prevented. Specifically, the storage of 90 gallons of refrigerant compressor oil in an unauthorized space contributed to the intensity of the fire.”

“The fire, which occurred in an unmanned Auxiliary Boiler Exhaust and Supply space, took approximately 12 hours to extinguish due to the location and geometry of adjacent spaces and ventilation systems that created a chimney effect.”

“Thirty-seven Sailors were treated for minor injuries incurred during fire fighting efforts, with one Sailor requiring treatment for first and second degree burns.”

“Approximately 80 out of over 3,800 total spaces aboard the carrier were damaged by the fire. The estimated cost of repairs to George Washington as a direct result of the shipboard fire is approximately $70 million.”

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It should be noted that USS George Washington is a Nimitz class nuclear-powered supercarrier that serves as home to approximately 6,250 crewmembers.

Resulting in serious consequences …

“USS George Washington Investigation Complete, Senior Leadership Relieved”

“Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Robert F. Willard, issued a final endorsement to the investigation of a fire that occurred aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73) on May 22.”

As directed by Admiral Willard, Vice Admiral Thomas J. Kilcline, Jr. relieved the both the Commanding and Executive Officers of USS George Washington of their command duties. 

                               RELIEVED OF COMMAND

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Captain David C. Dykhoff, Commanding Officer of USS George Washington (CVN 73) Captain David M. Dober, Executive  Officer of USS George Washington    (CVN 73)
Relieved due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command and his failure to meet mission requirements and readiness standards. Relieved for substandard performance.

The Navy does not take the removal of highly-trained and distinguished line officers lightly.

Lest you be left with the impression that these men are either incompetent or personally responsible for the mishap, it may be instructive to briefly review some of the highlights of Captain Dykhoff’s background.

“Dykhoff’s operational background includes tours with two F-14 Tomcat squadrons, Fighter Squadron (VF) 154 and VF-24. He was also executive officer and commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 97, flying the FA-18 Hornet.”

“While commanding officer of VFA-97, the squadron won awards for excellence in ordnance handling, aircraft maintenance, carrier landing excellence, and battle efficiency.”

“After leaving VFA-97, Dykhoff took over as executive officer of USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and then as commanding officer of the fast combat support ship USS Seattle (AOE 3). During his tenure aboard Nimitz, the ship completed the first refueling of a Nimitz-class carrier and also changed homeports from Norfolk to San Diego, returning to full operational capability.”

I have no doubt that both men served honorably and were measurably proficient in the performance of their personal duties. Or they would have never been allowed to command others.

The Navy way …

However, the mishap occurred on their watch and it is apparent that the crew was permitted, officially or unofficially, to smoke in non-designated areas and that flammable liquids were stored improperly.

While I personally feel sorry that these officers had to suffer a career-ending disgrace for the actions of others, they, more than anyone else aboard ship, were responsible for setting the tenor and tone of the required behavior of the ship’s supervisory leadership. Unfortunately, somewhere in the chain of command, unnecessary laxness in storage procedures and crewmember behavior led to a tragic accident. This is an intolerable condition aboard a ship, especially one loaded with aircraft, arms, fuel and a nuclear propulsion system.

The Navy system is self-correcting, for the most part, and I am sure that this action will result in renewed vigilance and enhanced performance in all venues, especially aboard naval vessels.

In all fairness to the Air Force, the Strategic Air Command also operated on the same “personal responsibility” model with its unofficial mantra being “ “"To err is human. To forgive is divine. Neither of which is current SAC policy."

Let us hope that our next Commander-in-Chief will realize that while certain military traditions must be preserved to maintain and enhance the esprit de corps, the military must be reorganized and modernized along an unbroken chain of command.

We wish both of these officers, their replacements and the entire crew of the USS George Washington fair winds and following seas.

-- steve

“Nullius in verba.”-- take nobody's word for it!

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”-- George Bernard Shaw

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“The key to fighting the craziness of the progressives is to hold them responsible for their actions, not their intentions.” – OCS

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