Wednesday, September 07, 2022

5 Years, 17 Lives, 1 Navy

How long do you wait to see what you purchased with the lives of 17 Sailors?

Back in 2015 I decided we needed a measure of time for things in the Navy, and settled on a measure of time called a WorldWar;

I think "years" does not really tell the best story about how long it takes to get even the most simple ship to displace water after the "go" is given.

Perhaps we need a new measurement - one that provides context. We need one defined in American terms, natch, and I have an idea.

I've used it before; the time from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the signing ceremony on the Mighty Mo.

That is 07DEC41 to 02SEP45. 3-years, 8-months, 26 days. Including the end date, that is 1,366 days.

Five years is a long time. It is about one and a third the time it took for the USA to fight World War II.

5-years = 1.34-WorldWars.

What was mostly anger at the time during the horrible summer of 2017 when the FITZGERALD and MCCAIN collided with merchant ships in the Western Pacific has, for me at least, distilled more in to sadness. Sadness looking towards hope, but sadness nonetheless.

Such an avoidable and predictable waste. Hopefully something good can come from it. 

As I wrote in the fall of that year;

Why would the Surface community want to benchmark an Aviation-centric instruction’s attitude as opposed on focusing on unit level failures? Here are 17 reasons;

- GMSN Kyle Rigsby of Palmyra, Virginia, 19 years old.

- YN2 Shingo Alexander Douglass, of San Diego, California, 25 years old.

- FC1 Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan of Chula Vista, California, 23 years old.

- PSC Xavier Alec Martin of Halethorpe, Maryland, 24 years old.

- STG2 Ngoc Turong Huynh of Oakville, Connecticut, 25 years old.

- GM1 Noe Hernandez of Weslaco, Texas, 26 years old.

- FCC Gary Rehm, Jr., of Elyria, Ohio, 37 years old.

- ETC Charles Nathan Findley of Amazonian, Missouri, 31 years old.

- ICC Abraham Lopez of El Paso, Texas, 39 years old.

- ET1 Kevin Sayer Bushell of Gaithersburg, Maryland, 26 years old.

- ET1 Jacob Daniel Drake of Cable, Ohio, 21 years old.

- ITl Timothy Thomas Eckels Jr. of Baltimore, Maryland, 23 years old.

- ITl Corey George Ingram of Poughkeepsie, New York, 28 years old.

- ET2 Dustin Louis Doyon of Suffield, Connecticut, 26 years old.

- ET2 John Henry Hoagland III of Killeen, Texas, 20 years old.

- IC2 Logan Stephen Palmer of Harristown, Illinois, 23 years old.

- ET2 Kenneth Aaron Smith of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, 22 years old.

Not waving bloody shirts around, but this should focus the mind. This is not an academic exercise, or some Black Swan event – this is a scenario x2 that people have been warning about for years. We don’t just have bent steel and bruised egos here – these are lessons written in the blood of 17 Sailors who we like to say are our most important assets.

Over in DefenseNews back in June, Megan Eckstein had a long and well researched article that everyone should take a moment to read. I'm just now getting around to it and it brought up a little anger, a lot of sadness, but a fair measure of hope that well meaning people in hard jobs are trying to claw something back from the completely avoidable deaths from 1.34 WorldWars ago.

Here's a few points ... but this is only a small fraction. You really need to read it all;

The comprehensive review of recent surface force incidents, released in early November 2017, highlighted the root problems Kitchener outlined. A quick scan of the table of contents makes clear there’s a long list of problems: poor seamanship and failure to follow safe navigational practices; erosion of crew readiness; headquarters processes that inadequately identified, assessed and managed operational risks; “can-do” culture that undermined basic watchstanding and safety practices.

The Navy has spent the past five years not just addressing these issues, Kitchener said, but doing so in a data-driven way meant to prevent the Navy from backsliding.

Operational tempo drove many of the problems outlined in the review. Japan-based ships in particular faced such demand that they were constantly too busy, which came at the expense of training and maintenance time. Personnel were yanked from one ship crew to fill in for others, meaning sailors didn’t get downtime and the crews didn’t gel as a unit.

Of course, this is naval leadership 101; none of this is breaking news. This is Vince Lombardi fundamentals...yet we decided we didn't need to remember them.

Well, the naval gods of the copybook headings took their payment.

We are a Surface Navy at peace, and in the Western Pacific - blinkered, overcaffeinated, and overheated N2 types aside - have been with a few minutes of exceptions for decades.

...for all ships in the Pacific — both 7th Fleet in Japan and U.S. 3rd Fleet in San Diego, California — all requests from fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2021 to extend a depot-level repair period — despite potentially delaying a ship’s deployment — were approved. This included 29 extensions in FY19; 27 in FY20; and 30 in FY21, according to data provided by Naval Surface Forces.

There’s a second process in place for ships already deployed. A redline instruction from Naval Surface Forces states a ship cannot remain at sea if certain systems go down, unless it receives a waiver from the operational commander. Even then, the approval must be accompanied by a mitigation plan approved by Kitchener or his East Coast counterpart, Rear Adm. Brendan McLane, who commands Naval Surface Force Atlantic.


Additionally, ships are entitled to a certain number of continuous maintenance availability days throughout the year — the type of routine care done pierside to keep ships at peak readiness for operations, as opposed to the major upgrades and repairs done at a depot.

Kitchener said 19% of that work was executed in 2017, as opposed to nearly 90% today. 

Simple things are not simple, but with the right leadership, they stay that way. This is how you save ships, save lives, and increase retention. That would have saved 17 lives in 2017 - of that I am absolutely convinced.

Vasely said the Learning to Action Board will tackle the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions as its next project, looking to ensure the permanent implementation of the 117 recommendations and the translation of those surface-specific recommendations into broader ideas to make the whole Navy safer.

“One of the key things that we realized as we’ve gone through the Bonhomme Richard and the major fires review iteration is that we’re not getting after … the long-term success of what this will look like, which is: How do we get left of bang?” he said. “How do we look at the data … and identify those negative trends that are posing significant risks that, if unchecked, if we don’t surge on them, that basically will result in a potentially catastrophic event or a pinnacle-level event?”

A fifth goal for the board now, he said, is meant to be more proactive, “looking at negative trends that come up — so think about [inspector general] investigations, area assessments, think Naval Safety Command or hazard reports that come through, think about pulse surveys that go out to the fleet that come back — all provide data that, really, there has not been a repository or a mechanism to look at that data to determine the negative trends, to arrest the negative trends from turning into a pinnacle-level event.”

For Kitchener, turning lessons from the past into forward-looking predictive analytics is a critical endeavor.

“We cannot allow those lives that were lost to be in vain,” he said.

Should it take 1.34 WorldWars to get here? I don't know. Maybe I am impatient ... but if this can stick like the lessons Naval Aviation took to heart in the 50s-60s, then perhaps yes.

There's your hope. 

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