Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Navy's 90 Million Dollar IPod

A 361-foot, billion dollar attack submarine, the USS Hartford, crashed into the USS New Orleans while attempting to dock last week. A JAG investigation into the accident determined that the submarine's navigator was listening to his IPod at the time of the crash instead of, well, navigating.

The Navy was not particularly pleased and took the keys away from the Commanding Officer, relieving him of his command. They frown on damaging their ships in non-combat situations.

This was not the first time the hard luck submarine has been the center of an investigation. In 2003 it ran aground in Sardinia, crushing it's rudder, sonar and other systems. The ships Captain at that time, Commander Christopher Van Metre, was also relieved. That time the repairs ran $9 million. This time the repair bill has already gone up to $86.9 million and another $2.3 million to repair the New Orleans. Naval Officers that actually "sail" our ships, as opposed to the aviators, lawyers, doctors, analysts, and other specialists, call themselves "Boat Drivers". They take a great deal of pride in their skills. They spend years developing the ability to maneuver ships in environments which are surprisingly difficult in the best of conditions. Wind, current and the sheer size and weight all make this routine task anything but routine.
Accidents like this are usually both expensive and embarrassing to everyone involved. Fortunately they are also quite rare.

The Commanding Officers in situations like this are generally relieved and are not given another command at sea. The other officers involved, like the navigator who was listening to his IPod, will have a very hard time getting promotions or being selected for commands of their own.

As a young officer being assigned his first "bridge watch", I remember being told the story of a certain Lieutenant junior grade who had the misfortune of running his destroyer into the dock when approaching a refueling pier. After he had been severely reprimanded his Commanding Officer gave him a second chance and he promptly steered the ship into a tug boat. Again he was harshly corrected but was again given another chance. A few months later, while sailing into Seattle through Puget Sound he managed to hit a navigation buoy. This time he found himself transferred --to an ice-breaker.

Today's Fun Picture

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