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Investigation of Disasters Sparks Debate Over Navy’s Readiness and Responsibilities

ProPublica’s examination of the causes behind two fatal collisions in the Pacific has set off an intense conversation among current and former Navy sailors and commanders as well as everyday citizens about the state of the U.S. Navy.

Last week, we published our stories on the Navy’s deadliest accidents in 40 years and the failure of Navy leaders to heed warnings from within their ranks.

Since then, conversations about the Navy and its readiness to fight have sprung up all over the place: social media, the dining rooms on Navy ships, the halls of Congress. We’ve had active duty enlisted sailors, retired captains and admirals, family members of fallen sailors and our readers weigh in.

If there’s a common theme, it’s about the Navy’s responsibility to the American people and its sailors. We have been struck by the thoughtfulness of many of these debates — even those that have taken issue with aspects of our pieces. Here, we are highlighting a collection of the reaction we’ve found in everything from formal publications to online chats that has interested and enlightened us. We hope you may find it a useful reading guide.

My son was on the McCain at the time of the accident. Reading all this angers me all over again. I thank God my son survived, 10 other mothers lost their sons.

Angie Miner Barbour via Facebook

Sleep is considered to be the individual’s responsibility. If you can’t perform, you should have planned your sleep better. Real men suck it up and drink black coffee and smoke Marlboro Reds (and dip while inside or when the smoking lamp is out).

But it’s mainly just institutional inertia. “I suffered through this, so now you should. It will toughen you up.” Every branch of service in every military the world over suffers from this condition, and this is (one of) the US Navy’s particular versions of it.

There is a low limit to which even senior enlisted and most officers can improve things. Ships COs have to make sleep a priority, which means squadrons and fleets have to make it a priority. The Navy can learn to live a different way, but it has to do it as an organization.

@spooknine via Twitter

After my closest friend from our shore duty in Norfolk left that command, he went to Japan on the McCain and I went to a destroyer in San Diego. He was one of the ten who didn’t make it. I took leave to go to his funeral in New York because he was one of the best people I had ever met, in the Navy or otherwise.

That incident and the similar incompetence I was witnessing as a result of a 40% personnel turnover rate and relentless optempo on my own ship after our two deployments to 7th fleet were huge factors in my decision to leave active duty rather than reenlist onboard.

HoodRichJanitor via Reddit

…that morning an accident was the furthest thing from my mind. I had been penning a letter to my dad, and just put it in an envelope and slipped it into my coveralls when the ship was rocked by what felt like an earthquake.

And the first thing I can remember thinking was “Fuck, it’s our turn.”

Master-Evergreen via Reddit

The CO told me that they work destroyer crews into the ground, I always wondered who “they” were. And now we know that the problem started from the top. With a schedule like this, it’s no wonder why the Navy has a retention problem. The McCain really hit home for me because that hole was right where I slept on my DDG: berthing 3, port side.

12-years-a-lurker via Reddit

I was pierside in Yokosuka when she was towed in and moored up to Berth 12. A few nights later, we lined up at a loading dock behind the naval hospital, saluting in the pouring rain as the steel caskets carrying our fallen brothers were loaded into a truck and driven to Yokota for their final flight home. That is a moment I will never forget as long as I live. The Navy is it’s own worst enemy. When you put collateral duties and off-duty volunteer work ahead of job knowledge and performance, this is the result. The Navy will reap what they sow. This was 100% avoidable.

Matthew Westfall via Facebook

When you assume a watch, in the words of the general orders of a sentry, you take charge of your post and quit only when you are properly relieved. There will always be headwinds to doing your job in the Navy or in any organization, but it’s just not an option to use those headwinds as an excuse to not do your job.

It is difficult to believe that the 7th Fleet Commander or some Four-Star back in Norfolk made them fall short of their duty. I also strikes me as possible to acknowledge the failings of the higher command and also acknowledge that sailors, on a lower level, also failed to live up to their responsibilities.

David B. Larter via DefenseNews

The American public should care about these collisions because they represent a deep breach of its faith in their fleet. The people trust us to sail safely, navigate effectively, operate intelligently, and fight ferociously. From top to bottom, these collisions have rattled that faith, and it is up to those of us in the fleet to reassure them that, beyond publicly swinging responsible officers from metaphorical yard arms, we must identify and fill the holes in the Swiss cheese that allowed a series of personal and professional mistakes to result in a national tragedy.

Lt. Cmdr. Graham C. Scarbro, U.S. Navy via the U.S. Naval Institute Blog

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