Navy's former top enlisted leader bawled out staff, made sailors fetch coffee, investigation finds

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Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Navy's former top enlisted leader failed to set a good example for other sailors by yelling at his staff, making jokes at their expense, and having other enlisted personnel get his food and coffee, an investigation found.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano "failed to exhibit exemplary conduct," the Navy's Inspector General found, after complaints were made that he mistreated his staff and didn't disclose a gift he had received from subordinates.


Giordano resigned from his position as the top enlisted sailor in June, less than a month after someone filed an IG complaint alleging he had created a toxic work environment. Several allegations of wrongdoing were substantiated by the service's top investigative office, according to a 35-page report obtained by Military.com on Thursday through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Thirteen witnesses -- including current and previous MCPON staff members, a chief, two fleet master chiefs and two command master chief petty officers -- were interviewed as part of the investigation.

Giordano, who retired after stepping down, could not immediately be reached for comment about the report, but the investigator ultimately recommended that he face corrective action for violating Navy regulation article 1131, which calls on leaders to set a good example and protect those in their command.

"All commanding officers and others in authority in the naval service are required ... to promote and safeguard the morale, the physical well-being and the general welfare of the officers and enlisted persons under their command or charge," the article states.
Giordano "would get easily irritated, was always frustrated and ... was difficult to work for," one person testified."A single irritation would be a cause for a distraction for the rest of the day," the witness said.

When he resigned, Giordano called it an honor to have served for 29 years.

"My love for our Navy and our Sailors is absolute," he said. "For that reason, I seek to avoid any distraction from the success of our Sailors and our mission."

'Demeaned the MCPON Position'

Giordano was so irritated by a slew of command master chief firings that he began yelling, according to the investigation, putting his hand in front of someone's face.

That incident, which several people said they'd seen, "demeaned the MCPON position," one witness said.

"This guy is f---ing crazy," the witness recalled thinking. "And I cannot understand why he can't just listen for a second and why he feels so -- such a need to control, and he's so, so angry."

Giordano denied that he had putting his hand in anyone's face and said that, while he recalled the conversation about the reliefs, he couldn't remember yelling at anyone.

"I don't believe I would ever shout at another, you know, senior enlisted leader or anything like that," Giordano said, according to the report. "You know, may my voice be raised or be perceived as being raised? Possibly because, I mean, you listen to the tone of my voice just sitting here, I got a pretty loud voice as it is."

Despite the denial, the Inspector General's Office substantiated the complaint, saying evidence revealed his actions "failed to exhibit exemplary conduct."

"MCPON yelling at sailors, using profanity towards them and making jokes at their expense is not a good example of virtuous behavior, does not promote the general welfare of the enlisted persons under MCPON's charge, and has the capability to erode any trust and confidence that the sailors may currently possess for the MCPON office."

Giordano was also so incensed by his staff members telling him they were having computer problems that one person testified they used the code line "I don't like the salad bar" to prevent him from losing his cool, according to the report.

The former MCPON also joked about firing certain staff members at staff meetings and all-hands calls, according to witnesses. Giordano denied doing so.

Giordano was also found to have misused his staff on several occasions by having them fetch his coffee or food. While riding in a government vehicle in and around the Washington, D.C., area in early 2018, Giordano on more than one occasion said he wanted coffee and, according to the report, the driver was expected to go inside to purchase the coffee and bring it back to MCPON, who waited in the vehicle.

During a visit to Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois, in March 2018, MCPON was also seen asking a subordinate to get his coffee even though others -- including Rear Adm. Michael Bernacchi, head of Naval Service Training Command -- were serving themselves.

"MCPON was the only person in the room that did not obtain their own coffee," the report states, adding that Bernacchi got his own beverage.

"[He] actually did it right after [redacted] got MCPON's coffee," one witness said. "I don't know if that was intentional or not."

Giordano said he couldn't recall whether he'd had coffee at that meeting but said he didn't direct anyone to pour it for him.

Two months later, Giordano was at the Sailor of the Year barbecue, where he had someone fix him a plate of food and bring it to him. The person "was a little embarrassed" and "not comfortable preparing the plate, but still did it," the report states.
Giordano said he recalled the event but denied asking anyone to fix his plate.

The Inspector General found it was likely "more true than not" that MCPON had directed someone to get his coffee and food "based on a 'preponderance of the evidence' standard," the report states.

"The evidence reveals that MCPON used the MCPON position to treat his staff in an unauthorized manner," the investigator wrote.

An Unreported Gift and New Recommendations

When Giordano visited the National Reconnaissance Office, which is part of the Defense Department's intelligence community, in Virginia in January 2018, he received a challenge coin in the shape of a "charge book vessel," the IG report states. Charge books date back to World War II and are part of a chief's initiation.

The Pentagon requires officials to report any gifts they receive that total $10 or more in value, and policy states that gifts exceeding that amount given to superiors during command/site visits "should not be accepted." But when he was back in the government vehicle, Giordano told someone not to report it, and to put it in MCPON's office.

Thinking he was joking, the person laughed, according to the investigation. MCPON again said the item should be placed in his office and never asked whether anyone had reported it.

A logbook for gifts the MCPON received did not reference the charge-book coin, though other gifts were listed, ranging in value from just over a dollar to $390.

When asked why MCPON didn't have a record of the gift, Giordano said, "I can't explain it." He didn't recall the conversation about displaying it, he said, adding that when he instructed someone to take it back to MCPON's office, he meant for processing the gift -- not just to place it somewhere without reporting it.

MCPON took responsibility for it not being processed, saying it was "in my lane of responsibility to make sure we're all doing them right."

But Giordano also argued that the gift was not from a subordinate because the command from which he received it is led by a rear admiral. The Inspector General disagreed.

"The 'Goat Locker' notation on the gift indicates that the gift is from the Chief's Mess at [Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command], whose members are subordinate to the MCPON; and not a gift from the SPAWAR Commander," the report states.

Giordano had received ethics training less than two months prior to his stop at the National Reconnaissance Office, according to the IG. Slides from that training from the vice chief of naval operations' office show topics covered included giving, solicitation and acceptance of gifts, along with requirements for gift disposition forms.

Aside from recommending Giordano receive corrective action, the Inspector General's Office made the following three recommendations to the Navy:

  • That the MCPON establish official written roles, duties and responsibilities of his/her staff members.
  • That the MCPON consult with the vice chief of naval operations legal team regarding appropriate tasks that the MCPON can direct his/her staff to conduct, and that these tasks be placed in writing.
  • That the vice chief of naval operations' "Annual Standards of Conduct Guidance" include language to clearly state its application to the MCPON staff.

All of those recommendations have now been implemented, said Senior Chief Mass Communications Specialist Hendrick Simoes, a spokesman for MCPON's office.

Giordano was replaced by MCPON Russell Smith, who officially became the service's top enlisted leader in August.


-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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