01 May 2011

USS PONCE (LPD 15) CO / XO Relief Follow-On Comments

Team, thanks for the many thoughtful posts you have submitted. As always, I gained a great deal from reading through them and would like to take this opportunity to respond to some of the points made and questions asked.

To stand-up, speak out and take action in support of the best interests of the Navy and in support of our core values - honor, courage and commitment - whenever we see those core values threatened or those interests undermined by an individual's behavior, whoever that individual may be and wherever in the chain-of-command that individual resides, is our duty. Doing your duty to the best of your ability, and knowing in your heart you have taken the right actions despite the possible repercussions on your career or your physical well-being, is its own reward.
For those of us who have raised our right hands and sworn an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies ...," doing one's duty without regard to possible consequences, good or bad, is the essence of our profession.

It is always to be hoped that properly performing one's higher duty for the good of the Navy will be appropriately recognized, be the matter large or small, by the chain-of-command as the particular issue is resolved. But as hard as so many good people in our Navy work to do the right thing under sometimes very difficult or challenging situations, there can be no guarantees your actions, however righteous, will be truly recognized for what they are and not leave you open to negative repercussions.

Our Navy, an institution that has done so much for our nation over the past 235 years and in which so many have been, and remain, so proud to serve, is made up of people. And any organization composed of people, however well-ordered and well-intentioned that organization may be, is ultimately an imperfect one. I do not say that to justify improper actions that have happened to individuals doing their duty to the best of their ability, but simply to explain what I expect you already know.
Do your duty to the best of your ability and "to thine ownself be true" - to know you have stood tall when the Navy most needed you to stand tall may be your only reward; that must be enough.


Over the years since I first commanded a destroyer - USS DAVID R RAY (DD 971) in 91-92 - I've been intensely interested and deeply involved in how we screen officers for command in all our professional communities.
As a Captain and a Rear Admiral I served on a wide variety of selection and screening boards and when I served as the Navy's Chief of Naval Personnel I routinely reviewed and approved their results.
So whenever we have a failure in command, for whatever reason, I take it very seriously and try to find out as much as I can about the process by which the particular officer was selected and what that process may have missed and why.

Some background - Navy's selection board process, for both the administrative screening boards in which we select COs, XOs, etc and the statutory (governed by federal law) promotion boards for selection to higher rank, has evolved over the years to its current unique balance between ensuring equity (fairness for the officer whose record is being reviewed) and achieving effectiveness (selecting only the officers who are both best and fully qualified). As a matter of policy, we run our administrative boards in a manner very similar to our statutory boards to ensure the overall fairness and integrity of the process.

In 2010 and thus far in 2011, we have had a definite spike in the number of officers who have been relieved of their commands for a variety of personal conduct (ex, fraternization) and professional performance (ex, collision at sea) failures. This spike has involved officers in each of our warfare communities and other professional communities in the Navy as well.
A marked increase in the number of COs relieved for cause similar to what we are seeing last occurred in 2002; the Navy's IG conducted a detailed investigation into each of the 2002 reliefs looking for possible common threads or shared root causes. Nothing definitive was found.

As we dig deeper in the 2010-2011 CO failures (as well as those of the XOs or CMCs who have been removed from their positions), I'll be focusing on the screening process. Over the years, I've become a strong believer that we need to find a way to bring a 360 degree type of review into our administrative screening boards. A 360 review process would incorporate the comments of those junior or equal in rank to the officer in question as well as the traditional evaluation made in the officer's fitness report by the reporting senior. Based on what I've learned of the technology and methodology in conducting 360s, I think it very possible we can bring these comprehensive reviews into our administrative screen board process in a way that maintains equity for the individual while improving the effectiveness of results for the Navy, a deeper and more comprehensive evaluation of an officer's performance over the years.

Much more to follow on this issue so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I continue to look forward to receiving your comments and questions. All the best, JCHjr


Anonymous said...

Sir, I believe it might be more productive and insightful to research not the small sample space of failures, but the much larger sample of the marginally successful, those who completed their tours and passed to follow on assignments while their tenures were marked by poor to toxic command environments, low to weak JO warfare qualification, extensive reenlistment for transfer, poor JO REGNAV augmentation, high senior CPO retirement rates, marginal inspection successes, or IG complaints. I'm sure you or your staff have been to commands where the first response to a relatively benign question is an extended pause followed by a carefully crafted and banal response. I served on a few. All the COs made O-6 or better and some had second commands.

Anonymous said...


Overall I am very encouraged with the idea of a 360 degree review with a few caveats I would like to share.

As a young LT, it has been my experience that there is a fair amount of pressure on junior officers to be well liked and received by their divisions and crew. I think that 360 reviews at this level would discourage young officers to make the hard leadership decisions out of fear of reprisal/dislike. As one becomes more senior i.e. DH and above, he or she has largely matured beyond this junior inclination and would not have the same reservations in the "tough" decisions.

I know that as JO onboard ship I had superiors that I would have rated higher than others but I am fortunate to say that all of them have been positive role models who offered candid and frank advice and criticism for the good of the command. Lastly, I would like to echo my encouragement for a peer to peer review. It can do a great deal of good for a command climate for fellow officers to recognize the efforts of their peers.



Current XO said...


If you want a true 360 degree type of review, I would suggest the incorporation of a mechanism that allows for a peer and/or subordinate leadership confidence score that gets briefed at command screen boards. The distinction between "confidence" in one's leadership abilities and popularity is an important one to make. History includes a long list of very successful leaders and strategic thinkers who would not be described as popular. I believe these two characteristics can be, although not always, are mutually exclusive. I remember reading an article by RDML Lyle Bull several years ago saying much the same, although I could not find it online.

The unfiltered truth is hard for board members to discern through reading "bloated" fitness report write ups. Moreover, one could make a strong argument that strict timing plays a much more significant role in command selection than does the quality of a candidate's character. Detailers at BUPERS who slot prospective Department Heads into jobs with various fitness report "ticket" lengths, influence who gets selected much more than the voting members of the board do. That should also change...

All the best


LT S said...


For SWOs, recommend including the requirement for command qual completion prior to XO/CO Fleet up administrative selection.

From COMNAVSURFORINST 1412.2 SWO Requirements for Command of Surface Ships (a.k.a. Command Qual) paragraph 6. a. (2), "The [command qual] board should not dwell on technical aspects which have been covered by previous qualifications and training. Rather, the interview should be oriented to evaluate the candidate's maturity, judgment, attitude, motivation and awareness."

Currently completion of the command qual is NOT a prerequisite for XO/CO Fleet Up administrative selection, but IS a prerequisite to taking command at sea. With the integration of SWO XO/CO Fleet Up, reports are that post-DHs are being administratively selected for XO/CO Fleet Up and afterward sitting for their Command Qual. Essentially this means that they cannot fail the Command Qual because they have already been selected for command. I've heard of Fleet Up-selects sitting 2-4 boards before passing. This is a peer review already resident in the command pipeline, but it's effectiveness is seemingly being diluted.



Cmd Qual: https://www.surfor.navy.mil/directives/surfor/1412.2.pdf
Cmd Qual not a pre-req: Slide 9: http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/officer/Detailing/surfacewarfare/Documents/SWOCareerPlanningBrief1103_1IZ_AF_24Mar11.pdf

Anonymous said...

As a JO, I find it relieving that members like the CO of the PONCE are no longer in command. A member in the previous post was commenting on how actions that many have gotten themselves fired in 2010 were acceptable 20 years ago. I share your viewpoint that as an ever-changing culture and Navy, we need to be cognizant of how we as leaders create an environment that can be hostile.

I have had my share of good leaders and bad, and unfortunately many still see the "old-school" way. When I was an ENS on my first ship, I had three Commanders encouraging other JO's to "stab eachother in the back" and not have a team perspective. I asked one of them why they want each ENS against one another instead of working as a team, he responded "because that's the way it was when I came in." To me that is an unacceptable answer. As leaders we need to learn from past mistakes and create an environment that is condusive to learning, but more importantly how to get the job done effectively, and as TEAM!!!

You always refer to us as a team and I think that message needs to be trickled down to the TYCOMS and ultimately the wardrooms in each command that not all "old-school ways" are acceptable and we will not tolerate in the 21st century Navy. Thank you for taking the hard stance and continually trying to improve the Navy and SWO community

Anonymous said...

Hi Admiral,

You might also want to consider the cyclic nature of this problem of failure in command as a function of poor screening. Ducks will pick ducks and not swans. I think you're seeing the result of training ducklings (DHs, Divos) to be ducks by those who themselves would not pass muster if screened by a board 3-5 years earlier or later. As someone who always felt the pull between a group of great leaders (at all levels) and a group of mediocre/poor leaders (again, at all levels), I think there's something there. VR/AJM

Anonymous said...


I too have given this subject repeated thought having both the honor of serving under multiple great commanding officers afloat and ashore and unfortunately the misery of serving under an afloat CO who possessed many of the same qualities of the aforementioned CO's relieved for cause. I would separate the infractions into three categories, from least worst to worst IMO...

1. Afloat mishaps...collision, grounding, one-time professional judgment issues (in the course of duty). IMO there is no clear cut recipe for mediating these events as each one is a separate and distinct event in of itself. These events truly have to be decided upon on a case-by-case basis.

2. One time events of a personal nature, often alcohol related...DUI, drinking with midshipmen, liberty ashore incidents. IMO these infractions warrant immediate relief, and when done so by a CO, warrant immediate release from the USN. No second chances...no twilight tours.

3. Repeated and intentional infractions where no logical argument can be made that would support improper behavior...this would include mistreatment of the crew, fraternization, and adultery come immediately to mind. These are purposeful, intentional actions that are known infractions being made by supposedly the very best the Navy has to offer. IMO people that incur these type of infractions have lost their right to command and serve one more day in the Navy (immediate dismissal no twilight tours) and reduction or elimination of their retired pay is encouraged. Issue of fraternization with family members of the CO's own crew or extreme cruelty to your own crew...how can we as a navy possibly allow this to exist without making an example of the guilty party to never let this happen again in our Navy.

Sir, I truly believe that these events continue to occur because the guilty parties just don't believe that Navy leadership is truly serious about this. I could chat for hours on this subject as it truly saddens and angers me at the same time that this continues to occur despite case study after case study on what not to do in command.


Anonymous said...

Admiral - after having spent almost four decades in uniform for our Navy, I can tell you definitively that there is no shortage of stupidity in this old world (or Navy) of ours. That extends from the four-stars right on down to the deckplate level. No sir, people do stupid things and sh#! happens. That just the way it is. No matter what changes you make to the screening processes that select individuals for command or promotion, you will never completely eliminate the "stupidity factor." Most of these officers are virtual clones of each other. Why? Because all of their records have great fitness reports; they are about the same age, height, weight, and size; most are married with 2.5 dependents; most have multiple sea and shore tours; have served on major staffs; have graduate degrees and Joint tours beind them in their record; have received numerous personal awards; and have gone through the same, prescribed career tour paths. They are like 100 Campbell soup cans sitting on the shelf in the grocery store. Virtual look alikes of each other. Our "system" makes it that way, i.e., recruiting and retention standards, assignment practices and policies, our education requirements, medical standards, etc. So, how do you cull out potential problem "children" from the others? My experience is that the focus at our Boards has to be more of a process of "Deselection" than "Selection." Start with the premise that they are ALL QUALIFIED, then look for the chinks in their armor. Weed from there ... look for the weaknesses, the character flaws, any failure to keep pace with their peer groups, any questionable poor decision-making (e.g., assignment choices, education issues, etc). Find those "chinks" and take those cans off the shelf. That's the only way I know of how to minimize the risk. Good luck, sir!

IA Sailor said...


The complexity of the command relationship--even when guided by simple, timeless principles--leads me to believe that while CO selection may play a factor, a non-standard increase in DFCs is a manifestation of more systemic issues. I haven't read the IG report, but wonder if economic conditions, health of the Chiefs' Mess, changes in training/accountability standards, increases in type of missions assigned or some combination of the above contribute to the elevated levels.


Anonymous said...

As a SWO who awaits the results of my second look for CDR Command Screening I welcome the idea of 360 review process. Without furnishing you with the details, I could not have had a more glowing record for my 1st look; especially in the areas that are cited by PERS as key considerations for CDR CMD selection (see PERS Quarterly 1st Qtr FY11, p6). While I don't subscribe to the idea that "ducks pick ducks and I must be a swan", if such a 'theme' existed it would be because the process fails to segregate the truly elite from the good and others administratively. I served 40 months on USS LAST SHIP and never did my summary group size exceed 1 of 1. The fitrep system should be amended to support ranking peers/near-peers (all 1110 DHs) regardless of differences in rank/promotion status within rank.