Battleland

Getting It Wrong at 7th Fleet

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Navy Photo / MCS 2nd Class Mel Orr

Vice Admiral Scott Swift, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, second from right, talks with his staff during a "behavioral leadership summit" Dec. 1 in Yokosuka, Japan.

What is happening in the 7th Fleet, homeported in Japan, but which includes the entirety of the Pacific Ocean and the Far East — including naval personnel stationed in Guam, Singapore and South Korea — is just one of those bone-headed moves that will cause more problems than it is trying to solve in the long run.

Everyone knows that the military is a hierarchical organization and that rank has its privileges. However, with those privileges comes responsibility. Senior leadership in the military has a moral and ethical responsibility to do the right thing from supporting the President and his policies to taking care of the troops. Covering one’s behind may be one of the privileges, but certainly does not make for good leadership or a good leader.

The 7th Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Scott Swift, has recently ordered a strict new liberty policy. All sailors and officers can no longer drink between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. (even in one’s own quarters) and must be back on the base or in their own housing by 11 p.m. The tighter rules remain in place following a Dec. 1 “behavioral leadership summit” on the events that led to their imposition.

This draconian policy, which affects all of 7th Fleet, including liberty ports in places like Thailand, Hong Kong, and Australia, was instituted after a half dozen liberty incidents and the rape of an Okinawan woman by two sailors in October. While the Japanese are growing less tolerant of American shenanigans on its soil, and rightfully so, punishing all of 7th fleet, which consists of thousands of sailors and Marines, for the actions of a few is going overboard (pardon the pun).

It is intrusive leadership at its most extreme. This is not a “preventive” order, it is a political decision to placate the Japanese and make it appear that the Admiral is in control. But, in essence, he has lost faith with the troops because he is not taking care of them. He is using them.

When one joins the military, there are certain freedoms that one gives up in order to maintain good order and discipline. One of those freedoms is the right to free speech. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines cannot impugn or criticize their superiors, including the President.

There are certain standards they must maintain physically, morally, ethically, and legally. They are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are expected to act and perform as representatives of our nation — which they are, especially when overseas. And 99% of sailors and other military personnel abide by these limitations to their freedom because they are adults and law abiding citizens.

Sailors aren’t children, nor are they robots. Instead of treating them as such, they should be treated as the professionals they are. Given a choice, people will rise to the occasion when expectations for behavior are high, and they feel empowered instead of micro-managed.

There are going to be unintended consequences. I can think of a few possibilities, such as reduced morale, reduced retention, reduced military effectiveness, and possibly even increased disciplinary and alcohol-abuse problems.

American presence in foreign countries is something that those in uniform do not take lightly. But perhaps a better overseas screening process, more thorough cultural awareness programs, and intensified rights and responsibilities training should be utilized before mass punishment…and, of course, it goes without saying that the criminals, once convicted, should be made examples of and be punished to the full extent of the law.

In the meantime, sailors will obey the new rules. But it certainly won’t be with a cheery “Aye, aye!”

16 comments
JoshuaBoyd1
JoshuaBoyd1

I was stationed on the uss kitty hawk ( cv63), Home port was yokosuka and It was by far the worst possible place for first orders out of A-School ( job training). It was strict when I was there, I could not imagne what it would be like now... No overnight liberty? I dont know about anyone but when your on a ship for a min.2 months the last i want is to sleep in my rack smelling a grown mans feet and butt! The best day of my enlistment was the day i was free again... The 7th fleet ruined my drive to be a "lifer"

agooding4u
agooding4u

The commander of 7th fleet is like the Governor of a state. If your Governor implemented this rule on your state then you would be under curfew from 11 PM to 5 AM today, tomorrow and the next etc. because there was an arrest in the state last night. In fact if this was your governor you would have been under this curfew since October (3 months going on 4) beacuse of two "alleged" criminals. Yes the entire 7th fleet is under curfew because our Commander "The Governor" feels since two individuals (who by the way was not assigned to the fleet but was in route to 7th fleet) commited a crime, placing everyone in 7th fleet under arrest between 11PM and 5AM is a good idea. How rediculous is that? (guess how our new year celebration was). Where does our President stand on this? Have not heard a peep from him. If you feel this is rediculous then I request your help for the 50,000 military members and the spouses and children of those members with family here, ... and to share this, contact your congressman at (http://www.house.gov/representatives/) and tell them to end this madness.

JaredWoody
JaredWoody

The thing the author fails to understand about the issues effecting the 7th Fleet is that it's a systemic problem. It's not merely the one incident of sexual assault that has caused these new policies, but a long record of abuse by intoxicated sailors and Marines, stretching back into the 1990s.
Japan is also merely one of the stations that has been effected by these problems, liberty ports like Thailand have been a real problem over the years as well.

The fact of the matter is that yes, these are intensive policies that are being enforced by the top rung of the 7th Fleet command, but they are not permanent restrictions, and are aimed as a PR move to decrease the tension, particularly in Japan, that exists between the US servicemen and the Japanese population.

concernedmilitaryparent
concernedmilitaryparent

zeustiak,

What alliance are you talking about? The soldiers that are giving up being with there families for years at a time, they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. They should not be confined to quarters or ships or any other method of confinement. Alcohol is not the problem, leadership is the problem. Like I said before we have bone-heads for leaders now, as far as I am concerned if we keep following this path we are screwed. Pearl Harbor all over again.

zeustiak
zeustiak

The noose gets ever tighter, and the problems get even worse.  

This does affect the alliance though, which is more important than the ability of a few thousand people to drink alcohol.  

concernedmilitaryparent
concernedmilitaryparent

I am posting my concern about my child who is no longer a child and is being punished for another person/persons actions. The powers of the military should not punish the troops that have done no wrong. The only thing the vice admiral is doing is alienating his troops. They are ready to get out if they can, is that what the vice admiral wants? We have alot of brave young people serving overseas that are over there for an adventure not a lecture. Now the young soldiers have no morale becuase of this bonehead vice admiral's actions. My advise is go back to the constitution, you are innocent until proven guilty. Quit being a brown-nose to a country we have been taking care of since WWII.

Kasper232
Kasper232

Diving deeper into the subject of intrusive leadership and micromanaging, there is something called "Liberty Risk" and subdivided into 3 classes. "A (Alpha)" "B (Bravo)" "C (Charlie)" At level Charlie, the sailor must be in uniform to leave the ship. The sailor must be accompanied by a sailor of high rank, and alcohol is strictly prohibited. The sailor is not allowed to leave the base at all, and is not allowed to live anywhere but the ship, even if the sailor has an authorized place of residence off base. Liberty expires for "Class Charlie" sailors at 1800, everyday. This is the most restrictive Liberty Risk. The second is Bravo, where the sailor is permitted to leave the base in civilian attire, alcohol is prohibited, and liberty expires on the ship at 2000. Alpha, the most relaxed liberty risk class, no alcohol, and the sailor's liberty expires on the ship, at 2200. Liberty Risk Classes are not meant to be a punishment, or so the command says. Once a sailor is caught disobeying the rules, by underage drinking (The drinking age for Japan is 20) or excessive drinking, other violations deemed by the command, showing up for duty drunk, or not all, mostly involving alcohol, then the sailor will be put as a Liberty Risk, Charlie. This happens normally the same day, or the next. A sticker with the Letter C is placed on the ID card, and is flagged by the command's database as such. This is all before the Detention Retention Board (or aka DRB), before XOI, and ultimately Captain's Mast. After the punishment is awarded, the sailor will go through the the stages of Charlie, Bravo, Alpha, and then normal liberty. This can (and has) take up to 120 days, especially when the sailor is awarded 60 days of restriction. 

The point of all this to say, recently everyone who had a Alcohol Related Incident (ARI) in the past 3 years was put on this Class Charlie Liberty Risk.That's not fair.

Sailor_24_7
Sailor_24_7

I am a Yokosuka Sailor and all I ask for is, "Leadership without politics."  Nuff said.

hejdansker
hejdansker

I don't think it should go to this extreme... punish the ones who screwed up and show some more respect to the ones who have given up so much to serve our country and doing it proudly...instead of putting them all down.... Look at what they truly are giving up... sometimes I feel they are treated as prisoners with no rights to say or do anything....  keep a closer eye on the people who screw up and don't care and you already have a pretty good idea of who they are I am sure, but treat the rest with the respect and show them how proud you are of them and their sacrifices..... they are not animals in a cage for petes sake....

ThaatChiick
ThaatChiick

thanks for putting it out there. They've  been going through this in Yokosuka for a while now. At the end of the day, I think there should be more strict overseas screening processes.

kywrite
kywrite

This is nothing new. at least not for the Marines in Okinawa. Problem is, when you tighten things down this much, guys with the choice will not go to places that are this draconian. That means the places with the problems end up with the screwups, the very guys who are most likely to behave badly but who don't have much choice about where they get shipped. This just exacerbates the problem.

As for the other guys, the ones who get punished but who have done nothing to deserve it, they wind up with problems they would not otherwise have had. I know personally about one serious attempted suicide (that Marine was shipped home) and one nervous breakdown - a breakdown, by the way, in a young man who is among the most mentally stable and sober people I know. This level of discipline is nothing short of idiotic.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

Yes, punishing everyone for the actions of a very few -- "an incredibly small minority" --  is poor leadership.

Admiral Swift: "“Well over 99 percent of 7th Fleet Sailors on a daily basis conduct themselves in accordance with our core values and exceedingly high standards. Unfortunately, an incredibly small minority of Sailors have had serious liberty incidents that have the potential to affect our relationships with allied partner nations and our war-fighting readiness."

Attention on deck -- I move that Iskra take over the 7th Fleet. And also tell sailors & Marines that they will be subject to justice from the locals if they screw up. The Navy would wash their hands of them. That'll focus their attention and redirect it from you-know-where back to their brains.

agooding4u
agooding4u

The commander of 7th fleet is like the Governor of a state. If your Governor implemented this rule on your state then you would be under curfew from 11 PM to 5 AM today, tomorrow, the next day and the next etc because there was an arrest in the state last night. In fact if this was your governor you would have been under this curfew since October (3 months going on 4) beacuse of two "alleged" criminals. Our "Governor" feels that a criminal in our society represents the entire state? (who by the way was not assigned to the fleet but was in route to 7th fleet).  Placing everyone in 7th fleet under arrest between 11PM and 5AM is not a good idea just as it's not a good idea for your Governor to place you under arrest because someone got arrested in the state. Instead a good Governor would bring out the statistics and tell the rest of the country here is our crime to personel ratio (1:10000) what's yours? A bad governor would say "I agree with you, lets put everyone under arrest".  I agree with Mrs Iskra,  it's one of those bone-headed moves.

concernedmilitaryparent
concernedmilitaryparent

Sailor_24_7,

I'm with you,. Let me know if you got your absentee ballot in time to vote this last election. From what I hear most of you overseas never got a vote in this election. That is B.S. If the people fighting the battles of the world do not get a vote what is becoming of this nation? Give me your comments please.

MrNuminix
MrNuminix

@hejdansker Honestly this was the exact reason why I am no longer active duty. Done being treated like a child. Leave it to others who don't mind being micromanaged 24/7. I feel bad for those that I was stationed with on the USS Blue Ridge under the reign of terror from 7th fleet. Hope everything changes for them.

faveprincess
faveprincess

@Don_Bacon The screw-ups are already subject to Japanese law. That has been the case all along for serious off base incidents. There are American service people in Japanese prison for various offenses.

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