Higher Yet

There is a story I once heard about Frederick II, called “the Great”, of Prussia. According to the story in the midst of battle Frederick, who unlike many military commanders rode at the head of his army, and while wearing a uniform without identifying insignia, rested in a haystack. Next to him in the haystack was a sergeant. As they got to talking the sergeant proposed a game. He asked Frederick if he could guess his rank. “Private?” said Frederick. “Higher yet” replied the sergeant. “Corporal”. “Higher yet” replied the sergeant. “Sergeant?” “That’s it” said the sergeant, satisfied. Frederick then asked the sergeant to guess his rank. “Corporal?” “Higher yet”. “Sergeant?” “Higher yet”. “Lieutenant?” “Captain?” “Major?” “Higher yet”. “General?” “Higher yet”. The sergeant began to tremble. “Your Excellency is, a, a, Field Marshall?” “Higher yet”. The sergeant threw himself to the ground. “Your majesty! Forgive me! I did not recognize you”.

You may recall that back in 2017 there was a collision between the guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald and a private vessel off the coast of Japan that took the lives of seven sailors. At the time I suggested a greater lapse of discipline. Well, the report has leaked out and it confirms what had concerned me about the story. From the Navy Times:

Obtained by Navy Times, the “dual-purpose investigation” was overseen by Rear Adm. Brian Fort and completed 11 days after the June 17, 2017 tragedy.

It was kept secret from the public in part because it was designed to prep the Navy for potential lawsuits in the aftermath of the accident.

Unsparingly, Fort and his team of investigators outlined critical lapses by bridge watchstanders on the night of the collision with the Philippine-flagged container vessel ACX Crystal in a bustling maritime corridor off the coast of Japan.

Their report documents the routine, almost casual, violations of standing orders on a Fitz bridge that often lacked skippers and executive officers, even during potentially dangerous voyages at night through busy waterways.

The probe exposes how personal distrust led the officer of the deck, Lt. j.g. Sarah Coppock, to avoid communicating with the destroyer’s electronic nerve center — the combat information center, or CIC — while the Fitzgerald tried to cross a shipping superhighway.

When Fort walked into the trash-strewn CIC in the wake of the disaster, he was hit with the acrid smell of urine. He saw kettlebells on the floor and bottles filled with pee. Some radar controls didn’t work and he soon discovered crew members who didn’t know how to use them anyway.

Fort found a Voyage Management System that generated more “trouble calls” than any other key piece of electronic navigational equipment. Designed to help watchstanders navigate without paper charts, the VMS station in the skipper’s quarters was broken so sailors cannibalized it for parts to help keep the rickety system working.

Since 2015, the Fitz had lacked a quartermaster chief petty officer, a crucial leader who helps safely navigate a warship and trains its sailors — a shortcoming known to both the destroyer’s squadron and Navy officials in the United States, Fort wrote.

Fort determined that Fitz’s crew was plagued by low morale; overseen by a dysfunctional chiefs mess; and dogged by a bruising tempo of operations in the Japan-based 7th Fleet that left exhausted sailors with little time to train or complete critical certifications.

To Fort, they also appeared to be led by officers who appeared indifferent to potentially life-saving lessons that should’ve been learned from other near-misses at sea, including a similar incident near Sasebo, Japan that occurred only five weeks before the ACX Crystal collision, Fort wrote.

LtJG Coppock has already been found guilty of dereliction of duty. The trials of the commanding officer and the officer responsible for the operations room of the Fitzgerald are still pending.

My reaction on reading this story was “higher yet”.

11 comments… add one
  • Roy Lofquist Link
  • bob sykes Link

    A few years ago, the blog “In From The Cold” (now quiet) documented similar problems in the nuclear bomber fleet and Minute Man missile bases: lack of training, dishonest practices, exam cheating, lack of control over nuclear warheads, lack of discipline, general incopetence to perform duties, lack of esprit, and on and on. Then there was the fiasco in the Persian Gulf in which junior officers could not navigate and in which everyone behaved shamefully when captured. Then there was the Green Beret disaster in Africa, in which it turned out no one had combat experience, and the force was outmanned and outgunned, and lacked backup.

    We have even had mini-mutinies. In Kosovo, the Pentagon slow-walked Clinton’s orders to provide transport to the Europeans for several weeks. In Obama’s administration, the Pentagon publicly vetoed a deconfliction agreement negotiated by the White House and Kremlim. And just recently, the Deep State had a screaming sh*t fit when Trump decided to withdraw our troops from Syria. They succeeded. The troops are moving to bases in Iraq just across the border. Iraq wasn’t consulted or notified, by the way.

    We spend more on defense than the next whatever countries combined, almost half the world total. But we have a paper tiger. There is a reason every war since 1945 has ended in failure. The great victory in WW II corrupted out military leaders.

  • Andy Link

    I read that yesterday, I’m glad you posted on it.

    I’m sadly not surprised except at the scale of the problems.

    Also, kind of puts to rest all the stupid theories about the Chinese supposedly hacking our systems to make our ships crash.

  • In case it’s lost my point was that this degree of problems doesn’t come from a single lieutenant junior grade or even from the captain. Problems at this level require incompetence on the part of the admiral in charge.

  • Never blame anything on malice which can be explained just as well by stupidity.

  • Guarneri Link

    There is a nifty graphic at Zerohedge (see F.8) illustrating a point I’ve made a numerous times concerning ratings agencies and investors and collateralized mortgage loans in the meltdown. (In this graphic its leveraged loans) The oft cited popular notion that the ratings agencies were crooks, and investors unsuspecting idiots, made by media and commenters unfamiliar with how things work doesn’t hold up to the reality of the slicing and dicing of the securities’ risk levels into tranches. Yes, folks, there were AAA rated securities purchased by investors seeking AAA rated mortgage related securities…………….and there were investors who knew exactly what they were getting themselves into buying lower rated, risky tranches. They just bet incorrectly.


  • I don’t think that the ratings agencies are crooks. I think they’re rent-seekers and have no reason to exist. They should have had their subsidies removed in 2008.

  • steve Link

    I hope that they go after higher level people than the CO of the ship. This is a failure of leadership. It is worrisome that they have already nailed the jg w/o trying the higher level officers. Way too easy to just blame the lower level officers and enlisted. Tom Ricks wrote a nice piece on our failures of leadership in the recent wars. He used Yingling’s famous quote in it.

    “as Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling noted during the Iraq War, a private who loses his rifle is now punished more than a general who loses his part of a war”


    Looking over the article I think the agencies were still crooks and the investors are just plain idiots. But then, was there really any difference between those investors and the people running the big banks? Either everyone really believed that you could hand out loans to people without even verifying that they had any income and not have loans fail, or they were crooks. (Or hand out the 125% loans and think it was safe because the real estate market never crashes. Or hand out adjustable loans that ended up with huge interest rates assuming that people would always be able to sell before the loan repayment increased. Or, well the list goes on. The fact is that the people who were paid millions, billions as an industry, to evaluate risk made assumptions that made them look like, as Drew said, idiots.)


  • Guarneri Link

    I wasn’t thinking about you, Dave. Thinking more about people stuck in their dogma.

  • I didn’t think you were. I just wanted to clarify my position.

  • Andy Link

    I think the leaders in charge of the destroyer squadron and the admiral above him were fired.

    Unfortunately in the military, there is what’s called “different spanks for different ranks.” It’s almost certain no senior officer will be prosecuted for this – they will simply be removed from their current position and forced to retire.

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