By Capt. John Byron (U.S. Navy, ret.)
Best Defense office of maritime ethics
"The U.S. Navy has an integrity problem." So begins a marvelous study of Navy commanding officers fired in recent years. It's written by Navy Captain Mark Light, a student at Army War College when he originally drafted this essay and now moved up on the faculty at Carlisle. Naval War College Review just published an edited version and well worth reading in its entirety.
Readers of this blog have seen a tedious series of train-wreck stories about Navy Commanding Officers fired for everything from running aground to friggin' in the riggin'. The body count between the study years of 1999 and October 2011 is at 101, a high and growing number and that includes only senior officers, O-5 and O-6. Captain Light lays it all out, or at least all that can be laid out, given that the data is often short on specifics on the 'officially fired' and also excludes many situations in which the sacking was effected through a short tour or backdoor transfer and so below the threshold of an official detachment-for-cause.
The data shows an essentially even trend on the number fired for professional reasons, but an ugly ramp up of personal or ethical misconduct. The Navy's problem exists both at sea and in command ashore. Light notes both an increasingly high standard in the Navy and the effect of modern information technology and social media etc. on both the ease with which situations are aired and the visibility they then get. Mixed-gender crews do not seem to be a factor ... but the vestiges of an archaic Navy 'culture of the service' do seem to play.
So too do the cultures of the three main warfare communities of the Navy: Naval Aviation, typified by Top Gun shenanigans; the Surface Navy, modeled after Captain Bligh's BOUNTY; and the Submarine Force, an enigmatic Silent Service no outsider can penetrate. He's got something there: the Navy's three warfare cultures are enormously powerful and persist through wars and reforms both; not all they hold dear is positive for the Navy or its mission.
Captain Light closes with three recommendations to reverse the trend:
This is a rock-solid review of a serious Navy problem by a serious Navy professional. Bravo Zulu.
And where are the equivalent studies from the other Services? Does the Navy do it better? Do the other Services have such excellent leaders that firing is seldom called for? Or do they lack the integrity that holds those in command to an unwavering high standard and makes sure that the rest of their leaders know it? Captain Light tells me that at his war college 'nobody can figure out how to come up with data like mine for the Army or any other Service.' Why not?
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.