Getting Fired By The Navy Isn't Hard To Do

An F/A-18F Super Hornet lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). The ship's commander is currently under investigation for raunchy videos he made when he was her executive officer. i i

An F/A-18F Super Hornet lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). The ship's commander is currently under investigation for raunchy videos he made when he was her executive officer. MCSN Jared M. King /U.S. Navy hide caption

itoggle caption MCSN Jared M. King /U.S. Navy
An F/A-18F Super Hornet lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). The ship's commander is currently under investigation for raunchy videos he made when he was her executive officer.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). The ship's commander is currently under investigation for raunchy videos he made when he was her executive officer.

MCSN Jared M. King /U.S. Navy

The news this morning that the US Navy is investigating the commanding officer of the USS Enterprise for a number of frat boy-esque videos he made a few years ago, that Mark wrote about earlier, brought to mind the number of COs that were relieved of command last year.

That number is 17, the highest number in 7 years and the second highest in a decade. The reasons for dismissal covered the gamut, from "cruelty and maltreatment" of crew, to soliciting a prostitute, to hitting a pier. Interestingly, 11 of the 17 were relieved for personal, rather than operational, misconduct. The Navy has the reputation of quickly firing skippers who crossed the line, the average is about 12 a year. The Army is perceived to be far more hesitant to relieve commanders.

In fact, the Navy has gotten so trigger happy in relieving officers, that some argue that they've gone too far. In this month's Proceedings of the Naval Institute retired Captain Kevin Eyer, who commanded three different ships, points out this wasn't always the case:

It is the 1980s. A commanding officer strikes his operation officer in the head with a phone handset that he has torn from the bulkhead. In another ship, one mandates that officers who displease him will wear bags over their heads until the captain is satisfied that they have been sufficiently chastened. Another is arrested multiple times for driving while intoxicated, and he is regularly drunk on duty. Those are not apocryphal cases. None was relieved. The metric for success at that time was “mission accomplishment.” We were in a Cold War that could go hot at any time. For better or worse, command was largely about substance rather than style.

Eyer says nowadays, because of changing social norms both without and within the Navy, there are far more social tripwires that commanders must avoid. He also argues that the change to mixed gender crews has made some "inappropriate relationships" among crew members inevitable. "To expect otherwise is to become detached from reality," he writes.

The Navy Times, in its December 27th issue (sorry behind a subscriber pay wall) had a piece on the firings. In it they interviewed the man who handles the cases, Capt. Leo Falardeau at Navy Personnel Command. He attributes the growing dismissals to two things, one being the loneliness and "headiness" of command.

The other, he said, is the widespread us of social media and e-mail. Before e-mail, Falardeau recalled, when investigators arrived at the ship to examine an alleged incident, they had to rely primarily on interviews to gather evidence. This was especially tough in cases such as fraternization, where the allegations might have limited evidence. Now, investigators can seize hard drives or search emails, even deleted ones. Proof is much easier to find.

NPR's Tom Bowman has a piece on the current investigation into the videos on All Things Considered.

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