The Navy needs to fix itself because it keeps screwing up
If all of the military services were baseball teams, the Navy would be the 1962 Mets – a team so bad that columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote a book about them called, "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?"
Unless you've been living in a parallel dimension, you probably have noticed the Navy is constantly in the news for all the wrong reasons.
If all of the military services were baseball teams, the Navy would be the 1962 Mets – a team so bad that columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote a book about them called, “Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?”
The gaffe-prone sea service is still dealing with the uproar caused by media reports on Wednesday that the White House asked the Navy to keep the destroyer USS John S. McCain “out of sight” during President Donald Trump's recent visit to Japan.
Navy officials initially reacted to the news stories by issuing non-denial denials, but two days after the story broke Navy spokesman Rear Adm. Charlie Brown finally acknowledged on Friday: “A request was made to the U.S. Navy to minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain, however, all ships remained in their normal configuration during the president's visit.”
Meanwhile, the Navy continues to grapple with its culture that denigrates women: Sailors aboard the submarine USS Florida compiled a “rape list” of their female counterparts; a command master chief aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman resigned after telling sailors to “clap like a strip club” when Vice President Mike Pence visited the ship; and former SEAL and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens – who was accused of sexually assaulting and blackmailing a woman – recently joined the Navy Selected Reserves.
Charges against Greitens were ultimately dropped. The Navy is conducting a review of its policy for separating sailors in light of his return to the service.
That would be a lot for any service to deal with, but the Navy is like the Billy Mays of screw-ups – always willing to throw in one more completely free: The over-budget and perpetually delayed aircraft carrier USS Gerald R Ford will not have all of its 11 weapons elevators working when it leaves the yards this October, according to Breaking Defense.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told Trump in January that the president could fire him if all of the elevators were not working this summer. Spencer is “aware of the status” of the elevators now, said his spokesman Lt. Joshua Kelsey.
“He remains committed to ensuring the Navy and nation have a fully operational USS Gerald R. Ford and is working with the shipbuilder to get the ship at sea where it belongs,” Kelsey told Task & Purpose.
Your friend and humble narrator gets no joy in writing about the Navy's streak of fiascos. The Navy is revered in my family. My grandfather Navy Lt. John W. Duff served aboard the battleship USS New Mexico during World War II. I have a framed picture of the ship in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender in September 1945.
Given this reporter's respect for the service, I felt it was time to offer some constructive criticism: The Navy is its own worst problem. It always finds a way to make a bad situation worse.
Following two deadly ship collisions in 2017, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran created the appearance of unlawful command influence by repeatedly blaming the former Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the former captain of the destroyer USS Fitzgerald, for one of the incidents, a military judge found.
“The evidence demonstrates that these repeated comments were the result of a coordinated message as opposed to a single slip of the tongue,” Navy Capt. J.T. Stephens ruled in December 2018. “The court finds that anyone who heard these statements would reasonably conclude that the CNO believes the accused to be guilty, which is problematic given CNO's positional authority.”
Yet Richardson continued to blame Benson afterward, telling ProPublica for a Feb. 6 story: “Our commanders make decisions and our sailors execute and there is an outcome – a result of that decision. The commander 'owns' that outcome.”
In April, the Navy dropped charges against Benson. While Richardson's comments were not the sole reason why the case against Benson fell apart, they certainly contributed to the outcome.
The Navy made another unforced error when a Navy prosecutor included a tracking device in a May 8 email to defense attorneys for two Navy SEALs charged in connection with the death of a wounded ISIS fighter and Navy Times Editor Carl Prine.
As a result, a military judge removed the chief Navy prosecutor in the case of Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher on Tuesday, finding the government had violated Gallagher's right to a fair trial.
Speaking of which, this reporter is getting more than a little tired of writing about SEALs facing charges for serious crimes. On May 16, Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator Adam Matthews pleaded guilty to assault consummated by battery and other offenses for his role in the June 2017 hazing death of Special Forces Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, who was deployed to Mali at the time.
Fellow SEAL Navy Special Operations Chief Tony DeDolph – Melgar's team leader – is accused of approving the assault on Melgar and putting the Green Beret in a choke hold until he asphyxiated. Two special operations Marines also face charges stemming from Melgar's death.
Melgar's widow testified that her husband told her the SEALs in Mali were not mature and prone to juvenile antics.
If the SEALs don't get their act together, they will be required to have their wrists measured for the right handcuff size before they get their Tridents.
Come on Navy: You're better than this. The Marine Corps is supposed to be the dysfunctional sea service. Your job is to be the more regal military branch that puts up the bail money after the Corps has been in a bar fight. Please don't start eating crayons too.
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Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 14 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.