Saturday, October 2, 2010

Inappropriate Behavior: A Problem for the Navy

I was skimming my morning newsletters and one that summarizes military stories caught my attention. There was a story about 2 Navy commanding officers (in separate incidents) being “relieved of command” for “inappropriate personal behavior which led to a loss of confidence in their ability to command”. This caught my attention for several reasons, my background being a more obvious one, but also because it occurred to me that there had been more than a few other cases like this recently. I decided to do a little research and within a few minutes, something disturbing began to appear. Within seconds, and with almost no effort, I was able to discover 9 instances so far this year of Naval Officers and key personnel (mostly commanding officers) being relieved for inappropriate personal behavior. One commanding officer, Capt. Holly Graf, of the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens, was also relieved for “cruelty and maltreatment.”

It turned out that I was not the first to notice and become alarmed by what appears to be an unacceptable trend developing in the Navy. I found that the Navy Times has also done some research into this matter. They found that 55 commanding officers were dismissed for cause from 2005 to 2009, an average of 11 a year, according to statistics supplied by the Navy.

Lt. Justin Cole, a Navy representative, said that less than 1 percent of the service's approximately 1,500 commanding officers are relieved each year but added that the spate of firings so far in 2010 was not part of a planned crackdown or policy change. "We hold them to high standards," he said of the officers. "But standards of accountability have remained consistent throughout the years."

It is interesting to note that several Navy skippers who got the boot were accused of sexual misbehavior. One commanding officer was fired in January after he was arrested on charges of soliciting oral sex from an undercover officer for $20. In another incident, a commander was dismissed last month for being involved in "an inappropriate relationship" with a female officer, according to the Navy.

Navy culture and standards dictate that a Commanding officer (Captain) is held responsible for any major mishap on a ship or in the unit; a commander will almost certainly be fired, for instance, if a vessel runs aground, even if low-ranking sailors were directly to blame.

In the study conducted by the Navy Times, they found that personal misconduct was the leading cause of commanders losing their jobs, with about one-third of all firings occurring for that reason between 1999 and 2008.

Finding of cruelty and mistreatment, such as those leveled against Capt Holly Graf, are far rarer.

In the end, although the number of commanding officers being fired seemed disturbing (9 since January), this number is consistent and not growing at an alarming rate. At less than 1 percent, it appears that not much of a problem exists after all. In fact, the Navy might very well point to these statistics as evidence of the high caliber of officers they currently have serving.

I should point out that in the Navy the culture surrounding being given a command is highly regarded and respected. The responsibilities assumed by the man or woman given command are taken very seriously, even in smaller units and organizations. The commanding officer needs to be held to that higher standard. When any behavior is uncovered, that causes a loss in the confidence in that person to act in the best interests of the men and women serving under them, action must be swift and unyielding. It may seem unfair and a little draconian but the Navy has a policy that acts to protect the command. If a behavior is reliably reported then the commanding officer is relieved pending the investigation. It may very well be that some of the Commanding Officers relieved this year will be cleared of any wrong doing and given new commands.

No comments: