The Navy has an attitude problem. What else could really explain the constant firings of Commanding Officers? Commanding Officers generally meet their end for several popular reasons. Loss of confidence is very popular; a ubiquitous word that covers a lot of ground that the navy would prefer remains covered. Personal behavior is also popular but much less so than loss of confidence. The Navy fired a submarine CO caught drinking and misbehaving with ROTC cadets for this reason – it was out in the open and thus loss of confidence would not work. Less popular and much rarer is the Holly Graf firing from USS COWPENS, cruelty and maltreatment, sounds like something from the days of wooden ships.
Thus, we come to the attitude issue. The Navy PR folks state quite correctly that fired Commanding Officers are but a small percentage of the over 1,000 Commanding Officers in the Navy. All true. However, it is important to understand the nature of the Commanding Officers in that small group. Those Commanding Officers are overwhelmingly on the front line, ships, squadrons, submarines. The references below contain just a small sample. So the Navy fires a small base CO (Bahrain November 2009, the 11th that year), fine…the top line officers are in command at sea and every element of our nation’s defense is important, more so the pointy end of the spear represented by most of these fired officers. Allegedly these officers are our best and rose through a system that filters out lesser performers. (the Submarine Force experience during the first year of WWII is instructive on this point).
The Navy has not quite gotten away from the God-like attitude held by a CO at sea. Certainly, that worked well in the days of wooden ships when great distance, time and slow communication place enormous responsibility on the Captain. Those circumstances are a bit different now with greater communications and a ship manned by brighter and more educated enlisted than crewed a wooden ship. The Captain must retain a large measure of authority, but today the advancement of people and technology temper it. Navy training and education must also temper the CO, evaluations must be honest and straightforward, and there must be some introspection on the part of Navy leadership. The Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations must build leaders for this century, not perpetuate attitudes of the past. Tradition is a great thing unless it interferes with the ability to seek out and destroy the enemy with effectiveness and cold efficiency.
USS Kitty Hawk – 09-03-2002
USS John F. Kennedy – 08-27-04
USS Newport News – 01-29-07
Five Commanding Officers Fired in 5 Weeks – 2007 (plus an additional list)
USS George Washington – 7-30-08
VQ-3 – 08-13-08
Three Commanding Officers fired in One Week – 2008
USS Port Royal – 02-11-09
USS Hartford – 04-14-09
Six Commanding Officers Fired from January to March 2010