FITZGERALD officers “detached for cause”

| August 18, 2017 | 60 Comments

Mick and Chief Tango send us links to the news about the firing of three folks commanding the USS FITZGERALD after the ship collided with a Filipino ship, ACX Crystal, last month. According to Fox News, commanding officer, Commander Bryce Benson; the executive officer, Commander Sean Babbitt; and Master Chief Petty Officer Brice Baldwin were “detached for cause” by Admiral William Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations because the Navy had lost confidence in their ability to lead the sailors.

The Associated Press reports that nearly a dozen other sailors face non-judicial punishment that has yet to be determined.

“Serious mistakes were made by members of the crew,” Moran said, adding that he could not fully detail those mistakes because the investigation is ongoing. He said “the bridge team,” or the sailors responsible for keeping watch on the ship’s bridge to ensure it remains safe, had “lost situational awareness,” which left them unable to respond quickly enough to avoid the disaster once the oncoming container ship was spotted.

Separately, the Navy released the results of a review of events that took place aboard the ship after the collision, focusing on the crew’s efforts to control damage, save lives and keep the ship afloat.

From Fox News;

“Clearly at some point the bridge team lost situational awareness,” said Moran, describing the group of officers and sailors responsible for driving the warship through the water.

“It is somewhat amazing that we didn’t lose far more,” Moran said.

Category: Navy

Comments (60)

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  1. Silentium Est Aureum says:

    CO/XO/CMC, OOD, and most of the bridge watch team are gone.

    Even if the collision hadn’t resulted in death, the outcome would still have ended most of their careers.

    The sea is unforgiving, and will try very hard to kill you if you don’t give her the respect she demands.

    • deckie says:

      “The sea is selective; slow in recognition of effort and aptitude, but fast in sinking the unfit.” – Felix Riesenburg

    • desert says:

      This sounds political as hell to me! Why no comments about the Crystal hauling ass through there?

      • Silentium Est Aureum says:

        It’s not political. It’s command.

        On a more personal note, I knew a junior officer on my first boat. Outstanding guy, well liked, smart as hell.

        No surprise to me that he eventually rose to command his own boat. What DID surprise me is learning that he had been relieved for cause. Why?

        Cause he got “zwoffed”. In his case, he was running at PD in the Gulf when a supertanker came up behind him and ran him over. Not even ran him over, per se–they saw it in time, and were below the tanker’s keel, but the tanker is so big and going so fast, it created a vortex which sucked the entire boat up and dinged the keel of the tanker.

        I truly felt bad, but I knew in the grand scheme of things, his career was done. This ain’t the days of Chester Nimitz, when you could ground your destroyer on a sandbar and still have a good career.

  2. Club Manager says:

    “sailors responsible for keeping watch on the ship’s bridge to ensure it remains safe, had “lost situational awareness,” You think? What about the sailor who was the on-duty scope dope? What about the senior CPO or ensign responsible for ensuring those on duty were doing their job and not texting or playing a video game. Situational awareness my ass, dereliction of duty resulting in the death of six good sailors would seem to be a more appropriate description.

  3. Bim says:

    here’s the preliminary investigative report. https://partner-mco-archive.s3.amazonaws.com/client_files/1503000639.pdf

    The before and after pictures of berthing room 2 tell a pretty harrowing story.

    • CCO says:

      If that’s a sensitive document, why is posted in public access?!!!

    • The Other Whitey says:

      Lots of redacted photos, but the ones they left are pretty damn scary.

      • HMCS(FMF) ret says:

        How anyone was able to get out is amazing… the damage to the compartment is shocking.

        • Patrick408 says:

          MstSgt Steve Douglass and i served together back in the 80’s. A couple years ago we hooked up on Facebook he had mentioned he had a son on that ship and i thought to myself what are the chances he’s one of the missing and sure enough we heard the bad news…RIP Shingo Douglass, my thoughts and prayers to you and all the families involved with all the sailors killed in this accident.
          Semper fi Steve…

    • Club Manager says:

      I read both reports and neither addresses what happened on the bridge or control center where the ship’s radar is. Neither do they explain why no one saw the collision coming on the Navy ship. I’m sure one of you Navy types can fill in the correct language.

      • W2 says:

        The results of that will be published in the JAGMAN. The Navy will take their time with that because that’s to document that will place blame AND will be used in court to sue the Navy. One telling picture in the preliminary report is the one where they depicted how the two ships collided. The FTZ had no reason to be in that position relative to the container ship. We’ll all find out that a number of incidents, each more tragic and stupid than the last, led to this horrific accident. The general layout of that compartment is access / egress points on the port and starboard sides and thankfully people were able to make it to the starboard side, up the ladder and through a scuttle. If you have ever gone through a scuttle it’s not quick, believe me.

        Three things amazed me about what was in the preliminary report. First was that a sailor actually made it through the wreckage and exited on the port side just as the pockets of air he was using to breath filled with water. Second is how the crew relied on training, seniors helping juniors to make it through that egress point / scuttle and out of the space. Finally, how tough that ship is and how the crew fought to keep her afloat. DDG 51 class is all steel and so is that crew.

        FTZ is Not far from my office. The port side O1 to O3 level is being cut out, a hull cut on the STBD side was made and the berthing, all the racks all wall lockers got chucked out the cut into the dry dock and the blade tips are off. She’ll be getting on a FLO / FLO soon for the journey back. No doubt she’ll be back in the fleet someday. That’s a testament to the building yard who laid her down and the crew who fought to keep her afloat.

        • Club Manager says:

          Thank you brother squashed bug. I noted the diagram and in thinking back to my CG Auxiliary coxswain training thought WTF.
          There still has to be some of the blame laid on the oncoming vessel’s crew.

          CW2, US Army (Ret)

          • W2 says:

            Even if the stand on vessel (the container ship) had an improper bridge watch the FTZ would still be at fault since they were the give way vessel. This is classic rules of the road and one that was beat into me as an OOD on FFG’s, DD’s and CG’s. I had some close calls while on watch but if you follow the rules you’ll never touch paint. As I said in an earlier post here there were eight epic fails on FTZ watch standers – OOD, JOOD, BMOW, 2 lookouts, surface plotter in CIC, CIC watch supervisor and CICWO. Three of those people, the OOD, JOOD and CICWO had a duty to call the CO if they felt the ship was standing in to danger. It appears nobody called the CO, thereby giving him a chance to keep this from happening.

            FTZ was underway, making way with no navigational restrictions. They had an obligation to maneuver away from the container ship. That’s the bottom line. Seven sailors lost their lives because of it.

            • ESQUIRE122 says:

              I agree. Greetings W2,
              I assume you are referring to Rule 8 (Action to Avoid Collision) and Rule 15 (Vessel to Starboard is the Stand-On Vessel), and Rule 16 (Actions of the Give-way Vessel) and Rule 17 (Actions of the Stand-on Vessel). I believe both Bridges were violating the rules and the FTZ was the primary violator with the Crystal not taking evasive action either. Any collision between ships at sea is nearly always the result of negligence. (Not counting unrep between two ships and one loses steerage way). Unfortunate but the more maneuverable vessel, the FTZ, had all the time and ability to avoid the collision as they were required to do under the rules of International Navigation.

        • W2 says:

          I meant the STBD side, the damaged side. A sailor actually made it through the wreckage and out the STBD side. Amazing, especially when you look at the pictures in the preliminary report of the STBD side of NR2 berthing. The port side was the unaffected side and people were able to egress from that point through a scuttle and then up another landing and scuttle to the first deck. I am blaming bourbon for my boneheaded mistake.

  4. AW1Ed says:

    I was withholding judgment, but can’t say I’m surprised at the outcome. The photos made it pretty clear who was at fault, but there may may have been mitigating circumstances that put Fitzgerald at risk. Clearly not the case, and poor seamanship cost lives. Again.

  5. Dave Hardin says:

    I do not know what the Bridge of a military ship is like these days. I was lucky to have been on the USS Austin when Fred Olds was Captain. Out of the 7 months I was on that ship, I spent 5 of them standing watch on the Bridge as the Quartermaster.

    Those 5 months do not make me an expert on anything, but the experience was unforgettable. I can only attribute this accident to negligence and an unreasonable dependence on automation.

    I have lost count of how many boats I have owned as a civilian. Lost track of how many days I have been sailing at sea single handed. I have muted my Furuno radar and my Lowrance charplotter countless times.

    Shit happens and you must expect the unexpected. There are two kinds of people that own sailboats, those who have run aground and liars. I am probably both.

    It is tragic that there was loss of life, but what is just as tragic is the bureaucratic nonsense that has drug this investigation out for months on end. There is no place for apathy at sea. She can be an evil bitch to love.

    • Graybeard says:

      I must confess to breaking more than one mast on a Sunfish, Dave.

      But the thing is, at sea, in the mountains, in the woods, on the rivers – if you make a mistake at the wrong time or are just flat unlucky you die.

      Folks forget that living their sheltered lives. Nature is brutal in it’s lessons.

      • Dave Hardin says:

        Years ago, I fell asleep on my Alberg 30. No radar back in those days. I woke up an hour later with the rail in the water as a storm front moved over me.

        That was as close to dying at sea as I ever want to get. I have a 58 foot Ketch, about 20 Tons empty. Over 30 fully loaded. Looks big at the pier even bigger when I need it hauled out.

        At sea, she ain’t a gnat in a swimming pool. You are absolutely correct, people who never face Nature on their own have no concept of the experience. I find an undefinable peace at sea alone. I love the sea, but I will never turn my back on that bitch.

      • CCO says:

        A land example is the young woman who got lost in the woods for three weeks in Alabama and had to survive on what she could find. She survived.

  6. NavCWORet says:

    The loss of the command triad was a foregone conclusion. You don’t have an incident like this and not have people lose there jobs. There will be more after the investigation concludes. As a qualified OOD, I can tell you that NOTHING is stressed harder for a bridge crew than maintaining SA. Otherwise, you risk what happened to FITZ, loss of life.

  7. Ex-PH2 says:

    In looking at those below-deck photos of the damaged areas, it is impossible to imagine the sheer horror of being unable to get out.

  8. RM3(SS) says:

    Not mentioned is the sacrifice of FT1 Gary Rehm who died saving others when he could have saved himself.

    UNDER the wide and starry sky
    Dig the grave and let me lie:
    Glad did I live and gladly die,
    And I laid me down with a will.

    This be the verse you ‘grave for me: 5
    Here he lies where he long’d to be;
    Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/this-sailor-sacrificed-himself-save-20-lives-the-uss-fitzgerald-2017-6

    • HMCS(FMF) ret says:

      RM3(SS) – the first page of the report (paragraph 3) mentions the “two Sailors” that tried to help people out of the compartment. It may be an indirect acknowledgement to FT1 Rehm and one other Sailor that died.

  9. Jeff LPH 3, 63-66 says:

    How could the Skipper be fired because of lost of confidence if he was asleep in his rack at the time of the collision. Only thing I can think of is if he did not teach his crew members how to responsibly stand a bridge watch. Been off of the Okinawa for 50+ years now and the new Navy baffles me sometimes.
    AJ SQUARED AWAY JEFF
    A Gang (Div.) Snipe

    • David says:

      If you have correctly done your job as the commander, no major incident can happen. If someone screws the pooch on your watch, you screwed up in not leading and training them well, and paying insufficient attention to detail. And when you are the commander, it’s always your watch. The military invented micromanagement and worships it.

      • Graybeard says:

        Not just the military.

        When I was a day-shift supervisor for a private security company, I was responsible for what happened on my days off even when I had never personally met the guys or was not even the shift supervisor.

        I quit expecting managers to be sensible decades ago.

    • The Other Whitey says:

      It’s been explained to me by people who know that the Captain always bears final responsibility. If the situation was too hazardous for his subordinates to handle safely, then he should have had the conn himself. If he wasn’t going to be on the bridge, then he should have properly trained the men who were so that something like this would be prevented. His responsibility either way.

      I was on a camping trip with my extended family when news broke of the collision. I showed the picture posted on TAH that day to my cousin, who’s active Navy with multiple cruises on an Arleigh Burke under his belt. His reaction: “Aw shit! That captain’s FUCKED!”

    • 1610desig says:

      It’s that ultimate accountability thing…and, I find it particularly hard to fathom that shit fell apart the way it did because he had just fleeted up from XO to CO of Fitz…he knew (or should have known) the strengths and weaknesses of watch-standers

    • W2 says:

      The CO was a “fleet up” from XO. He knew the officers and crew from his two years as XO. Before the surface navy adopted this “fleet up” tomfoolery the OOD’s often had to stand U/I watches under the CO’s supervision. Many times standing watches at night, with a new CO, you would often hear the BMOW announce “Captain on the bridge”. They trusted you, but didn’t trust you until you earned their trust.

      Often the XO doesn’t directly observe watchstanders, but knows them in the performance of his administrative duties onboard and from time in the wardroom. Maybe he thinks he knows their abilities, but might not. Ultimately the CO bears responsibility for this incident, but the OOD is the real culprit here since he is the CO’s representative, was a qualified surface warfare officer, and had at least two years experience driving ships. If I was CDR Benson, I’d seek that OOD out and choke the shit out of him / her.

    • rfisher says:

      In the Army, I learned the job description of a Commander: “Responsible for everything the unit does or fails to do.”

      Sometimes, you just have bad luck, other times you make your own bad luck.

  10. Boatsailor says:

    Concur with all assessments that the CO has the ultimate responsibility, but also agree with the statement that the CO is responsible for training his wardroom watchstanders. NO idea why the CO was not called to the bridge due to an erratically maneuvering contact that had a distinct opportunity to imperil ownship, nor why the Collision alarm not sounded prior to contact. Wake people up, give them a chance to fight, say sorry later if it turns out not to be a big deal. 20 years on submarines taught a lot, mainly don’t be afraid to share a moment with your current closest friends!

  11. A Proud Infidel®™ says:

    What the hell was the Bridge Crew doing that night, playing XBox?

  12. SMAG says:

    For those questioning why the Skipper had his command stripped:

    (This passage was included in the decommissioning ceremony package for my first boat–twice actually–it was also slightly altered under the title “The Submariner”. Anyway, it answers the question “whose responsibility was it?”)

    “The Captain
    Only a seaman realizes to what extent an entire ship reflects the personality and ability of one individual, her Commanding Officer. To a landsman, this is not understandable, and sometimes it is even difficult for us to comprehend – but it is so.
    A ship at sea is a distant world in herself and in consideration of the protracted and distant operations of the fleet units, the Navy must place great power, responsibility and trust in the hands of those leaders chosen for command.
    In each ship there is one man who, in the hour of emergency or peril at sea, can turn to no other man. There is one who alone is ultimately responsible for the safe navigation, engineering performance, accurate gunfiring and morale of his ship. He is the Commanding Officer. He is the ship.
    This is the most difficult and demanding assignment in the Navy. There is not an instant during his tour of duty as Commanding Officer that he can escape the grasp of command responsibility. His privileges in view of his obligations are almost ludicrously small; nevertheless, command is the spur which has given the Navy its great leaders.
    It is a duty which most richly deserves the highest, time-honored title of the seafaring world – “CAPTAIN.”

    • sj says:

      Had an Admiral lecture at Armed Forces Staff College (think it was Kidd) who spoke on leadership. He told the story of exiting NYC Harbor in a Carrier that he had worked to get for his entire career. To train the watch standers and what ever the Navy calls the person next in charge he left the bridge because they would always turn to him if in doubt. He went to an aircraft elevator and watched from there wondering if his career was about to end. He said he had trained them best he could and was confident of their abilities but he had to let them do it for real.

      • SMAG says:

        The most nerve wracking time for a sailor is what you described–standing watch solo for the first time.

        You realize just how much you don’t yet know, and that qualification was just the beginning of the learning process. OJT indeed.

        Then before you know it, you’re the salty dog with a UI of your own–the circle of life.

        • 1610desig says:

          Nicely put!

        • Silentium Est Aureum says:

          2 years of school, another year as a nub, and my first SRO watch?

          Lost shore power. Yeah. Talk about humbling.

          • SMAG says:

            Gotta get rid of that decay heat, Silentium.

            Though I don’t usually dwell on my time in NNP, last week I was trying to Google a reactor accident I recalled reading about while at S8G prototype. No matter how I searched it, I couldn’t find a trace of it on the web.

            If SL1 and the Flying Crowbar are public knowledge, I would expect to have found this one, but nope. Not a word.

            Spooky.

  13. CCO says:

    CDR Salamander has the evacuation of Berthing Compartment 2 after the collision as his “Fullbore Friday” for today: http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com/2017/08/fullbore-friday_18.html.

  14. Jeff LPH 3, 63-66 says:

    Thanks for the above heads up/input on my comment about the skippers firing. So it all boils down to his responsibility to carry the load 24/seven whether on or off duty no matter what. I got it.

  15. jonp says:

    The Commanding Officer was not on the bridge and was trapped in his room. When freed he immediately went to the bridge despite any injuries and took charge. He is being relieved because he is the Capt? Too bad our own government doesn’t act like that. Still, I feel kinda bad for him. Having your entire career shit canned due to others is a shame

  16. Denise Williams says:

    I am soul sick at the loss the families of those sailors face, but I have to say the assigning of responsibility for their needless deaths will not offer much comfort. As odd as it may seem, what may offer the most comfort is the details of the documents Bim linked.

    Reading that brought me back to reading the AAR of the attack in which my son was killed. I wanted to know not just what happened, who was responsible (in my son’s case it was a VBIED and the Taliban were responsible), but also how events unfolded in the immediate aftermath. I got great comfort reading how my sons battle buddies, everyone in his squad, and on the COP responded. Learning of their heroics, of their selfless, how their instantaneous actions prevented further loss of life and secured my son’s remains helped me sleep then and helps me sleep still. When I can’t keep my mind from wandering to that day, and too many of the days since, I remind myself not of my son’s final moments, but of the next moments when his brothers stood over him, protected him and each other. The tears and pain still come, but they are less bitter, less acidic and burn my chest a little less.

    Nothing can change the horror the families will live with for the rest of their days. But, knowing how those who served alongside their loved ones reacted, surpassing expected human abilities does leaven the pain with gratitude. In time, I pray the families can learn to embrace the gratitude, and lay down a portion of the pain.

    This is why I and other Gold Star families will spend the rest of our lives honoring those who were our loved ones brothers and sisters.

    While it is sad that the CO and so many others lives are now ruined, I’ll bet my last breath the families would rather have their loved ones lives ruined rather than lost. Their punishment may seem harsh, but they are alive to face it.

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