In The Navy

Last month the U.S.S. Fitzgerald, a modern, state-of-the-art destroyer, was involved in a collision at sea with a cargo ship. The Fitzgerald suffered tens of millions of dollars worth of damage and seven sailors died. The U.S. Navy, U.S. Coastguard and Japan are currently investigating the incident.

I’m waiting to see what facts those investigations uncover. In the meanwhile, I am left with a sinking feeling that our military command isn’t what it used to be, and whereas naval training used to be focused on drilling discipline and vigilance into our sailors, now it rests almost entirely on a mythological belief in the power of high-tech equipment to perform the duties human beings have always performed before.

All that expensive equipment is signed for by the commanding officer, who is responsible for the care and maintenance of the ship. It’s government property, and the commanding officer is legally responsible for it. That’s why protocols are established, training is required and regular exercises are (or used to be) conducted, to make sure every crew member knows exactly what they are to do, exactly how to do it, and through practice, become proficient at their duties.

In the days of wooden ships, a lookout was stationed in the crow’s nest to keep watch. If he saw another ship he had to scream the information to those on deck. In today’s era of sophisticated, computerized electronics, whoever is “on watch” (not in a crow’s nest but in a communications control room, monitoring multiple screens, dials and other data readout devices) should be trained to read and understand the information being monitored by their hi-tech equipment.

Their job is basically the same as the old-time look out: they see indications of an approaching ship, as picked up by their radar, and they report it to the officer in charge. He doesn’t have to yell. He just calls them up, waking them up if necessary. Yet, obviously, that did not happen.

There are only three possibilities: 1) equipment failure; 2) no one was monitoring the equipment; or 3) there was a failure in communication. All of these scenarios come under the responsibility of command. If the radar or other equipment was not functioning, it was the commanding officer’s responsibility to take some form of remedial action, such as …posting lookouts on deck. If no one was manning the communications, that failure ultimately falls to the captain. Breakdowns in communication come in many forms. It is still the captain’s responsibility to make the chain of command works, and train his crew to deal with human error contingencies.

I do not think there is any excuse for the Fitzgerald’s mid-sea collision. As I said at the top, I’m waiting to see what the investigations reveal. Bottom line, the Navy cannot effectively conduct any mission with this level of ineptitude. Seven lives were needlessly lost. A valuable war ship was almost lost. It never should have happened. Someone was “asleep at the wheel” and that someone should pay the consequences. It troubles me that I have not heard this same level of concern from the Navy or Pentagon.

Frankly, it seems to me our Military has lost its pride, purpose and prestige. Flunkies are in authority, and they care more about forcing gender preference policies and keeping Christian chaplains from praying in the name of Jesus than actually training our sailors for military preparedness. If the crew of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald had been trained with the tough values of the WWII era, this tragedy would never have happened.


I read today (August 23) the Navy announced that the commander of the 7th Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, was dismissed “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command” due to a string of accidents at sea this year involving serious damage to vessels and the tragic loss of lives. Included in this “string” of accidents was the collision of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald.

Admiral John Richardson, the chief of U.S. Naval operations, was quoted as saying, “I’ve directed a more comprehensive review to ensure we get at the contributing factors… the root causes of these incidents.” The captain of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald, Commander Bryce Benson, was relieved of duties and other members of the crew have been punished, indicating that mistakes were made which led to their collision.

The investigations being conducted aim to find the causes of these accidents, including any possible dereliction of duty, lack of training or improper certification. This is exactly the level of concern I expected when I originally wrote the article, and the dismissals of Vice Admiral Aucoin and Commander Benson justify my original assertion that the Fitzgerald’s collision at sea indicated a problem at the command level.

[UPDATE] 9/18/17  I believe the level of concern that originally led me to write this article is being vindicated.  According to this article:, ‘The Navy has “a tradition of holding officers accountable’.  It appears they are now doing just that.

[UPDATE] 11/1/17 In today’s New York Times, an article by Eric Schmitt entitled, “Navy Collisions That Killed 17 Sailors Were ‘Avoidable,’ Official Inquiry Reports” said, “In the case of the Fitzgerald, the Navy determined in its latest reports that the crew and leadership on board failed to plan for safety, to adhere to sound navigation practices, to carry out basic watch practices, to properly use available navigation tools, and to respond effectively in a crisis.” These kinds of failures are totally unacceptable and should never be considered “par for the course”. Those responsible must be held to account, and steps must be taken to see that they never happen again.

As to comments that I was insulting to sailors, any sailor whose failures to “plan for safety, to adhere to sound navigation practices, to carry out basic watch practices, to properly use available navigation tools, and to respond effectively in a crisis” deserves nothing less than insults. They certainly do not deserve respect or honor for the ineptitude that led to the deaths of their crew mates. The U.S. Navy demands a much higher standard from those who wear the uniform.

About retiredday

I am Michael D. Day, a regular, everyday guy -- retired. I stand for God-given freedom, which means I think for myself. I believe in being civil, because the Bible teaches that we should love our enemies. But I also believe in saying it how I see it, and explaining just why I see it that way, sort of like 2 Timothy 4:2.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Military and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to In The Navy

  1. mc the blue says:

    Coming from a Navy family, I find your comments about the modern sailor and command to be mildly insulting. Do you post about the “ineptitude” of the modern Army when they lose lives in dozens of training accidents and other mishaps per year?

    Also, your view of the past is grossly incorrect. Here is one document that records dozens of groundings, collisions, and maintenance mistakes that cost hundreds of lives beginning in 1945 by US sailors trained with the “tough values” of WW2. (The list itself begins on p16.)

    Click to access NavalAccidents1945-1988.pdf


    • retiredday says:

      I come from a Navy family too. My brother was a naval pilot, flying helicopters, from an aircraft carrier, locating submarines. He retired a Lieutenant Commander. I myself tried to get into a naval flight officer training program before I was drafted. Though I passed all the qualifications, they were only taking the top 3% of applicants. I have always had a high regard for the U.S. Navy. Sorry you feel insulted, but frankly I consider the mid-sea collision of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald to be an insult to the American taxpayer who ultimately pays for the screw-up that cost both lives and money.

      My view of the past, which you call “grossly incorrect” is not that sailors weren’t inept or didn’t make mistakes. My view is that there used to be consequences for the mistakes that were made. Those in charge were held accountable, something that hardly ever happens any more — at least not as often as it should. That is my perception. If you can show me that I’m wrong in this, please do. I’m sure there are scape goats out there, but more often than not they are low level whipping boys. The guys on top — those in command — skate right on by (unless their offense is against political correctness, which today in unforgivable).

      The Greenpeace study covers naval accidents of all types and causes world-wide from 1945 to 1988 — a far bigger topic than the point of my article. It speaks well to the fact that naval accidents do happen. I never said they didn’t. Predictably, it notes the dangers of military naval operations per se, and comes across to me as being anti-military. But what would one expect from Greenpeace? I could not find in their report a comment on what the consequences were for officers in command who were found at fault. I consider their report irrelevant to the point of my article.

      My main gripe is if the collision occurred due to human error, I’d like to see the person responsible pay the consequences. But you will recall, I said I’m waiting for the results of the investigations. So far, I have not heard a single rational reason how a modern warship with the latest navigational technology could be involved in a collision with another ship. Something was seriously wrong.

      Your comment do I post articles about ineptitude in the Army when lives are lost is a cheap shot and mainly argumentative. I am equally saddened and dismayed by reports of deaths due to training mishaps in any branch of the military. And I would hope that anyone responsible for people dying, regardless of the branch of military, pay the price. I normally don’t write about that type of thing at all. But the Fitzgerald collision was so dramatic and tragic and unexplainable it stirred in me outrage that when these kinds of things happen, we rarely see any punishment for those responsible. If you want to say I’m grossly incorrect, that’s your privilege. Nevertheless, that’s my view.


  2. mc the blue says:

    You closed your article stating that if the crew had been trained with the “tough values” of the world WW2, this tragedy would not have happened, so I provided a link documenting collisions and similar accidents involving those trained with the “tough values” of WW2. That document is not irrelevant simply because it does not provide additional answers that you desire. My point was to prove with historical fact that the “tough values” of WW2 have nothing to do with naval accidents.

    You also spent a large amount of time insulting modern sailors, naval command, and military training: see your entire second paragraph after the first sentence, or your stand on the Navy’s inability to conduct any missions because of this “level of ineptitude”. The call for accountability that you emphasize so much in your reply is nearly absent in your original post.

    Finally, the military did have plenty to say about this incident through various channels, and I’m guessing they are at least as concerned as you are about it. two minutes of googling found:

    Besides many articles posted by non-military based media but citing military sources (up to even the day you wrote this article):

    In my view, your article insulted my Naval family members, your own Naval family members, seven dead sailors and their families, and the whole military; so I used firm words to make my view known.


    • retiredday says:

      I’ve heard safety experts say that because every accident has a cause they are preventable. I am convinced this accident was preventable. Some of the articles you link to mention factors such as unheeded warnings and communications delays. When people die because of those kinds of blatant failures, it is inexcusable.

      None of the articles you link to answer my concern, except one that said, “We owe it to our families and the Navy to understand what happened,” Aucoin said. Why? because it shouldn’t have happened. You accuse me of insulting the Navy and the families of those who have suffered, while I see the collision of the USS Fitzgerald as an insult to responsible navigation. If expecting the skilled, responsible and safe deployment of valuable equipment and personnel is an insult, then you are welcome to feel insulted. The way I see our military being run is an insult to me. I don’t see the right attitude in leadership at the command level, and that offends me. I do not apologize for that. As a combat veteran I expect more from our leaders and our military. Insulting or not, I stand by my view. And as I said before, I’m waiting for the results of the investigations.


  3. mc the blue says:

    The Navy has concluded that 1) extreme fatigue of personnel and 2) deployment schedules that cause gaps in ongoing training and maintenance, were the primary causes of these recent collisions and other severe issues in preparedness.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s