Tuesday, November 09, 2010

LPD-17's XO acquitted at Court Martial

Via Kate at the VaPilot,
A military jury found a naval officer not guilty Friday night in the death of a sailor aboard the trouble-plagued amphibious transport dock San Antonio - a case that pitted the Navy's principle of holding commanders at sea accountable against the perception that the crew was being blamed for the vessel's flaws.

Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns, 42, was charged with negligence for failing to properly train and supervise small-boat operations on Feb. 4, 2009. A rigid-hull inflatable boat being lowered from the ship flipped, throwing three sailors into the Gulf of Aden. Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong was lost at sea.

Kearns, who was the ship's executive officer, chose to take the case to court-martial rather than accept a potentially career-ending reprimand like the one given to Cmdr. Eric Cash, the ship's captain.
BZ to LCDR Kearns and the jury.

Here is why,
Kearns said the verdict is more than a personal vindication.

"The true victors here are the sailors who served on, and continue to serve on, LPD-17-class ships," he said, adding that they face struggles with the new design and are not getting the resources they need from the Navy.

When asked why he refused administrative punishment, Kearns said: "Things needed to be made known.... Someone needed to stand up."
That is Fullbore. That is moral courage. Like then LT Black, LCDR Kearns leaned into the wind because it was the right thing to do, not the easy thing to do.

Here is why he did what he did.
"You're going to learn a lot about the San Antonio, but I think I can sum it up," he said, quoting from a 2007 internal Navy report that it remained "an unfinished ship."

"She was incomplete," Czaplak said. "The Navy wanted Kearns and the crew to deploy with an incomplete ship. Now, it wants to court-martial him."

The lawyer described some well-known problems found on the San Antonio: 6,000 faulty welds, and loose bolts that caused the engines to misalign. He also revealed that it deployed without 40 percent of the technical manuals usually found on board.

"The evidence is going to show that the government is grasping at straws, hoping you'll see a haystack," he said. "They're not even going to come close to their burden" of proof.
Documented over the years on this blog as well. Before she even got underway we told you that this ship would get fixed with enough money and hard work of Sailors. I think we even warned that it might take a life or two.

There is a cost for poor program management - Petty Officer Ansong unfortunately payed the ultimate price to prove that point. He didn't need to die like he did - I hope that is not lost on Big Navy.

Court Martial ... yea, someone needs to be sent to Court Martial - but it ain't Sean.

Promote him via a special board with back pay. A phone call from the CNO would be nice too. More calls to the family of Petty Officer Ansong is in order as well. Oh, and Sean - if you ever want to come on Midrats, drop me an email.

If you want an example of moral courage Midshipmen and Junior Officers - look to LCDR Kearns. As it should be done.

One final note - I tried to find a picture of EN1 Ansong, but one can not be found, only the one on the upper right. That is also sad in many ways. If you have one, please send it to me. We should honor him more than any - he died for and because of our nation.

Hat tip CCAFlog & Andrew.


AW1 Tim said...

What was amazing to me was when the Dense Counsel queried one of the witnesses as to the proper procedure for lowering the small boat in question. The witness (I believe a CPO) answered that they didn't have a set procedure as yet. (I am paraphrasing here). When further queried as to what the manual says about lowering the samll boat, he replied that no such manual existed. It had yet to be written, let alone supplied to the crew.

  This ship was sent to sea in an incomplete state simply to allow PR points for "putting a new class to sea".  Many manuals and procedures still only exist as "vaporware", if that. To expect ANY crew, no matter how savvy end senior to "make it up as you go along" is bad enough, but to then try and cover leadership's backsides by courtmartialling and/or reprimanding those same sailors when accidents happen, is, to my mind such a failure of leadership as to demand resignations of those responsible for demanding said punishments.

AW1 Tim said...

  Er, that should read "defense counsel" vice "dense councel", though I am certain the latter was in play during this entire affair. 8-)  

Salty Gator said...

Phib, you left out an important part of the story.  Though I admire him in many ways, Admiral Harvey was gunning for him.  He dismissed the findings of a) the Command's investigation, b) the PHIBRON investigation and c) ESG 2's investigation, all of which cleared both the CO and the XO.  Harvey went on to issue NJP to the skipper, who fell on his sword, tendered his letter and resigned (which was a tragedy too), and then targeted the XO, who had the courage to stand and fight.

Fleet Forces does not have their hands clean in LPD-17 either, and that includes current administration. 

Perry said...

Given the outcome, I'd think that Adm Harvey thinks that the dense counsel was the prosecution, not the defense.

Redeye80 said...

BZ to LCDR Kearns.  Pin a medal on him.  Fire his superiors who pressed for the pound of flesh.

Dazed and confused about the missing 40% of tech manuals.  Did someone forget the CD or is the material still being developed?

I can see SOPs lacking, I don't understand it but I can see how the holes exist.

The whole thing sounds like a witch hunt!

Aubrey said...

Each one of those stars represent a little chunk of soul lost?

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

I concour, Andong died for his country.  What a pity that carelessness on the part of the Navy in sending the ship to sea without proper SOPs in place, nor even existant was the cause of his death.

QMC(SS) said...

Two quotes from Navy Times sum it up best:

Prosecution witnesses, for instance, had said the “best practices” gathered from general experience on systems common to many Navy ships, including small boat operations, were known to and disseminated to shipboard leaders, an apparent defense of the lack of formal training guidance.
But, [Defense Counsel] said in his closing statement, “Are 'best practices' the standard that we hold somebody criminally negligent for?”

BZ to LCDR Kearns AND to the members of the Court for making the RIGHT decision.  I'd sail with LCDR Kearns ANYWHERE.

SoCal 91 said...

Mrs Donald Rumsfield will soon christen LPD-24,  USS ARLINGTON at the Nortrupgrumman shipyard in Pascagola.     LPD-24 will be launched and tied up right next to LPD-22 which was launched earlier this past Spring.   USS SAN DIEGO will be homeported out here in San Diego while USS ARLINGTON will go to the Virginia homeport.

I've heard from the precomm crew that USS SAN DIEGO LPD-22 crew is growing larger and they will move onboard the new ship next summer for a few months before they sail it thru the Panama Canal to Southern California.    Perhaps the boat handling manuals will be issued to the LPD-22 pre-comm crew prior to sailing away from the shpyard in Pascagoula ?

Andrewdb said...

The comments at the CAAFBlog post indicate that the CO was given an NJP.  The XO was given an NJP but had been transferred and was no longer on board a vessal (opps!) and so opted for the Court Martial.

LifeoftheMind said...

Should a sharp Navy Surface LCDR and a Navy Chief be able to figure out how to make any piece of gear work, excepting nuclear power plants and aircraft? Sure they can and they get medals for it in wartime. We do not however Court Martial sailors for not being able to operate equipment they have not been trained on. The question for the Command should have been one not of competence but of liability. Did they document the deficiencies and warn their seniors that a potentially hazardous condition existed? This reminds me of what happened to the USS Pueblo. She was also sent to sea improperly equipped.

Anonymous said...

WRONG.  He opted for the courts martial to clear his name and expose the truth.  Had nothing to do with his then current command @ SWOS.  Unless you are involved in providing information in support of these and other 17 proceedings, you may want to pipe down, shipmate.

DM05 said...

To the EN1's family, my sympathy from a grateful nation for his service. To the LCDR for standing up like a man, asking for CM, and calling it like it is...BZ and what B@lls. That is all.

LT B said...

Actually, you can not deny mast attached to a ship. You have to be ashore to do that. Additionally it is often a denial of mast not a request for court martial. The convening authority will push it up to a court martial. I do not know if he asked for it in this case to call attention to the upper level Navy issues that without shots being fired still cost Sailors their lives.

BillyG said...

<span>Problems with the LPD-17 class are enormous. Problems that leadership are not addressing and have gone on to cost the Navy billions to resolve. Noteworthy, as a reward for their work (and the problems listed in the Balisle Report is basically the resume of failure at FFC under ADM Greenert & Harvey),the current CNO promoted these folks and the Senate approved those promotions. It is sad that in the country known for free speech, there would be very high costs for just about anyone who observes these things about the US Navy today. Former CO & XO BRAVO ZULU on standing up for what is the truth but know it has cost you your careers. Others wrongfully punished by Harvey should join forces w/the CO & XO!Take your fight to the Hill & tell ALL! Bring up the problems of a ship as CO & XO as a leader at sea - You're Fired! Cost the country billions while leading ashore & at FFC - You're Promoted! That is my definition of a leadership culture that selectively applies accountability. Harvey & Greenert should be forced to RESIGN! And rumor has it that these two ADMs are on the short list to be vetted for the next CNO & VCNO! GOD HELP US! GOD HELP THE US NAVY!</span>

Grandpa Bluewater said...

The NavSafCen Site has the applicable sections of NSTM available for download.

Deck Operations at sea are dynamic and inherently unforgiving. Close supervision by a qualified experienced technically expert deck leader is essential. The XO is not the only man on board capable of so doing, nor is he the logical first choice.  A ship of this class is too large, too complicated and has potentially life threatening operations in progress, must of the time multiple potentially hazardous evolutions simultaneously.

It is called going down to the sea in ships and it is never easy or safe.  Requiring the XO to be everywhere at once will just exhaust the XO and impede the professional development of officers and petty officers in the chain command (for the case of the XO, every one but the Captain).

See also the dressing down gently given to Capt Nathan Biddles about his desire to return to relieve a subordinate at a hazardous post without resting and resupplying his exhausted troops. "We had to learn...so does he...Do you want to ruin the boy?"

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