Navy Fires Third C.O. — This Week!

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The Navy is on a tear: it has just relieved its third commanding officer this week. That makes 10 so far this year, putting it well ahead of 2010, when 17 were canned over the entire year. The latest man overboard (the ninth, in fact, was a woman, relieved last Saturday) is Commander Jay Wylie, captain of the destroyer USS Momsen, based in Everett, Wash. His superior said Thursday that Wylie was relieved of command “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command stemming from allegations of misconduct.” He is the fourth in command of a ship to be booted.

Adm. John Harvey, head of U.S. Forces Command, wrote on his blog about the spate of firings. “Most of the Commanding Officers (COs) detached for cause on my watch were for personal misconduct,” he wrote Tuesday. “In every case, each Commanding Officer, whether through personal misconduct, negligence, or exceptionally poor judgment, lost the trust of their subordinates or their superiors and without that fundamental building block in place — trust — they no longer had the ability to command.” The firing frenzy has naval blogs buzzing — are they happening because the Navy is getting tougher, people are getting weaker, or some combination of both?

An officer responded to Harvey’s post with a question. “Do you think it is time to examine the selection board process used at Naval Military Personnel Command, considering the high number of Commanding Officers being relieved and their associated reasons?” Commander K.J. Sudbeck asked. “Devious personality and flawed professional/character traits such as the ones noted above can be identified if leadership only looks for them. As we see, the good old boy network or academy hookup doesn’t seem to be working as it did in the past.”

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus spoke about the flurry of firings over breakfast Wednesday. He noted the annual toll canned represents about 1 percent of the total. “There’s a lot of accountability because of the amount of responsibility,” he said. “It concerns me that were relieving, but it also, I think, reinforces that we’ve got a pretty good check in place — if somebody does stray, if somebody does fall short of the mark, something will happen.”

The eighth CO walked the plank last Saturday. The Navy said the commodore of a San Diego-based destroyer squadron was relieved due to a suspected “inappropriate relationship” now under investigation. Captain Donald Hornbeck, commodore of Destroyer Squadron One, was based aboard the carrier USS Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea. He has been sent back to San Diego. The Navy released no details about the alleged relationship.

The ninth CO relieved was Commander Etta Jones, also relieved last Saturday. She was in command of the USS Ponce during operations in the Mediterranean Sea against Libya. The allegations against her echo those made last year about Capt. Holly Graf, who was relieved of command for cruelty to her crew (Graf remains in the Navy, although disciplinary action is being weighed).

From the summary of charges against the Ponce CO:

CDR Jones failed to report and take proper corrective action for hazing and for poor judgment during a security drill where she endangered two Sailors with a loaded…weapon. Upon conclusion of the Mast, [her superior] relieved CDR Jones of her command due to loss of confidence stemming from the aforementioned Mast, unprofessional conduct, rendering her chain-of-command largely ineffective by marginalizing her senior leaders and displaying blatant favoritism to select junior officers, and for cultivating a hostile work environment permeated by verbal abuse, fear, and intimidation.

It’s depressing to visit the websites for these three commands. As of late Friday morning, there is no commander listed in the leadership sections of the Destroyer Squadron One or Momsen sites. Who’s in command? “TBA,” they both say. “Bio available soon!” There are few more morose places to be than at sea aboard a rudderless, leaderless warship.