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Navy dropping charges against USS Fitzgerald’s former CO and tactical action officer for collision
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will dismiss all charges against the former captain of the destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the tactical action officer during a collision two years ago that killed seven sailors.
"At the recommendation of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer will issue a Secretarial Letter of Censure to USS Fitzgerald former commanding officer Cmdr. Bryce Benson and former crew member Lt. Natalie Combs," the Navy announced late on Wednesday.
The Navy offered no explanation about why charges against the two officers will be dismissed; the service's attempts to prosecute Benson had already fallen apart.
Although he was not on the bridge at the time of the June 2017, Benson was initially been charged with negligent homicide; however, that charge was dropped in June. Then a military judge ruled in January that the charges against Benson had been improperly referred to court-martial and disqualified the admiral overseeing the trial.
"Despite a relentless messaging campaign insisting ships' commanding officers are strictly liable for all operational risks, the Navy never tested that concept in court," said Benson's attorney Cmdr. Justin Henderson. "For good reason: It's untenable, legally and factually. These charges against Cmdr. Benson never had merit."
However, Henderson excoriated the Navy for issuing Benson a secretarial letter of censure without due process. "So in that sense, it fits the Navy's approach to accountability for the Fitzgerald collision," he said.
Combs' attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Fitzgerald case and a separate collision involving the destroyer USS John S. McCain in 2017 revealed crews in 7th Fleet were undermanned, undertrained, and overtaxed. The Navy has since increased the crew size for destroyers, but it still needs to fill 6,200 sea billets to be fully manned.
ProPublica reported in February that Adm. Philip Davidson, now head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warned skippers shortly after the two collisions that if they did not feel their ships were ready to deploy, they would be replaced.
Davidson also raised eyebrows in February with his unique response to Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who pressed him on what the Navy could have done to prevent the two deadly collisions.
"We can't forget one other thing," Davidson said. "These two collisions were a tragedy, there's no doubt about it. And all of the senior leadership of the Navy feels an immense amount of accountability for that, I'll come back to it. But the fact of the matter is 280-odd other ships weren't having collisions."
WATCH NEXT: Adm. Davidson on ship collisions
A U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicle burst into flames on the side of a Polish roadway on Saturday, the Army confirmed on Monday.
A memo circulating over the weekend warning of a "possible imminent attack" against U.S. soldiers in Germany was investigated by Army officials, who found there to not be a serious threat after all.
The U.S. Navy will name its fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier after Doris Miller, an iconic World War II sailor recognized for his heroism during the Pearl Harbor attack, according to reports in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and U.S. Naval Institute News.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly is expected to announce the naming of CVN-81 during a ceremony on Monday in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, according to USNI. Two of Miller's nieces are expected to be there, according to the Star-Advertiser.
Comedian Jon Stewart has joined forces with veterans groups to make sure service members who have been sickened by toxins from burn pits get the medical care they need, according to the Military Officers Association of America.
"Quite frankly, this is not just about burn pits — it's about the way we go to war as a country," Stewart said during his Jan. 17 visit to Washington, D.C. "We always have money to make war. We need to always have money to take care of what happens to people who are selfless enough, patriotic enough, to wage those wars on our behalf."
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
Editor's Note: A version of this article originally appeared on the blog of Angry Staff Officer
This morning, the Virginia state capitol in Richmond saw dozens of armed men gathering to demonstrate their support for the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution – the right to bear arms. These men were not merely bearing arms, however; they were fully accoutered in the trappings of what one would call a paramilitary group: helmets, vests, ammunition pouches, camouflage clothing, and other "tactical" necessities, the majority of which are neither tactical nor necessary. Their weapons, too, are bedecked with all sorts of accessories, and are also in the paramilitary lane. Rather than carry rifles or shotguns that one would use for hunting, they instead carry semi-automatic "military grade" weapons, to merely prove that they can.
This is not an uncommon sight in America. Nor has it ever been. Armed groups of angry men have a long and uncomfortable history in the United States. On very rare occasions, these irregulars have done some good against corrupt, power-hungry, and abusive county governments. For the most part, however, they bode no good.