Category Archives: surface warfare officers
What did it mean to have a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) qualification that was issued from a non-combatant (no weapons systems) navy ship? Answer: nothing. It meant nothing to 99% of the surface ship navy.
Starting in the 1980s and beyond, approximately 40 of these so-called designated non-combatants issued SWO pins soon after Congress changed a law which previously prevented women from being assigned to navy ships. All of these ships had very limited underway schedules. It’s hard to believe that officers who received qualifications from any non-combatant ship were actually qualified to move up to combatant ships as their careers progressed and the navy was opening up more ships to women in the 1990s. There were very few exceptional women, depending on the quality of the training they received, and the type of ships they were later assigned to.
One example was the USS Point Loma (AGDS-2), which had no installed weapons systems, no underway fueling ability, and no flight deck/air operations ability. The Point Loma was originally called the Point Barrow, a civilian ship built to civilian standards before the navy purchased it in the 1970s and changed its name. Before the navy bought it, the ship was used on the east coast to haul Saturn rocket boosters to Cape Canaveral. After the navy purchase, it’s mission was to haul the submarine force’s deep submergence vehicles, such as Trieste, wherever needed. Unlike most warships, the Point Loma never operated in formation with other vessels, the only exception: a garbage scout called the Egabrag (read it backwards). The Egabrag was used to pull/tow a transducer to test the Point Loma’s contractor owned/operated sonar equipment. Compared to a warship, the Point Loma was not required go out on extended (6+ months) deployments. A typical week was going out on Monday morning, and returning Friday afternoon.
The USS Point Loma’s mission, at the time I was assigned to it, was to provide support to the submarine navy’s Trident missile testing program in the Pacific. The specially installed equipment was owned and operated by private contractors to track missile flight trajectory, and sonar equipment to detect a Trident sub’s position. The ship merely provided the platform for the contractors’ use. Other than that, SUBPAC (US Submarine Force Pacific Fleet) and the surface ship navy didn’t give a flying s#!t about the Point Loma, for a number of reasons as I’ll explain.
Until recently, the navy allowed each ship to set their own standards and criteria for warfare qualifications. It was claimed that because many ships have different capabilities and designs, it wouldn’t be fair or practical to have one standard for all ships currently in service. After the well-publicized 2017 fatal collisions that occurred in the Pacific, the navy is now re-evaluating its training and education for SWO officers, and is reportedly struggling with identifying adequate navy-wide standards and criteria for bridge watchstanders. In my opinion, the surface navy has more problems than it wants to admit and resolve. After the 2017 collisions, the surface navy had to be shamed into changing its long standing attitude about crew sleep deprivation. After all this time, leadership is finally taking into account sleep cycles when developing watchbill assignments.
In the case of the USS Point Loma, the SWO qualification process was fake and corrupt, in a large part because no one in the chain of command cared to monitor program quality. Assigned to a submarine squadron, the Point Loma was viewed as stepchild, frequently escaping standards that were held for other vessels. Without proper oversight, it was easy to grant qualifications based on politics rather than merit. On the Point Loma, the process was also used punitively to punish and ruin some officers’ careers without just cause. The ship’s captain (CO) and executive officer (XO) were both submarine officers. Senior submarine officers were allowed to award SWO pins automatically to each other without testing knowledge. Some of them didn’t even bother to wear the pin, keeping it in a box in their desk drawer. Unless there was a collision or a ship ran aground, SWO officers could get away with a lot, depending on how well they played the political game. The Point Loma’s Captain O’Shea, who did not bother to attend SWO oral boards, placed more emphasis on style (i.e., confidence) rather than substance and knowledge. Style and confidence are nebulous, unmeasurable qualities that can only come with good training and a lot of experience which cannot be learned in one tour at sea on a ship with a limited underway schedule. Confidence on the bridge was not enough to stop a collision in Port Hueneme harbor in 1983 between the Point Loma and a moored fishing vessel and pier, which resulted in $75,000 in damage claims against the government. Captain O’Shea was later held accountable with a punitive letter for negligent hazarding of a vessel.
Surface ship commanders need to get wise about human behavior in a shipboard environment. Turning a blind eye to toxic work climates, allowing sexual misconduct, assault and harassment to go undisciplined, abusing and persecuting subordinates, allowing competitive peers to target each other for destruction, favoritism, scapegoating, and high drug abuse rates are no way to build crew morale, mutual trust and performance. Why would anyone want to harass and persecute bridge watchstanders, for example? How does messing with the minds of these people enhance ship and crew safety while underway? In the military, there is good abuse and bad abuse. Good abuse is a training method intended to help people to survive in combat. Bad abuse is used to destroy and eliminate competitors and people that one doesn’t like, especially if they have less power.
So, they called themselves “warriors”, when the only enemies were each other. At SWO school, which I attended in Coronado, CA, we were taught naval warfare, but that was the last time it was ever mentioned or tested. On the Point Loma, the SWO oral boards I participated in asked me no questions about warfare. All the emphasis was on engineering and Officer of the Deck (for bridge watchstanding). I will bet that these same SWO officers don’t have the courage to use their own names on social media. Did these officers really think they were great shipdrivers? How would they have managed to develop that in one tour of duty on a ship with a limited underway schedule and no organized training, the program being managed by a female lieutenant with a conflict of interest against the peers she was allowed to evaluate? Even O’Shea received a Punitive Letter of Admonition for negligent hazarding of a vessel after the Port Hueneme collision. One female officer went on to the USS Cape Cod, and was Officer of the Deck (OOD) when the ship collided with a pier in Vancouver, BC., according to a social media exchange between two former crew members. Her career didn’t last much longer.
THE LEGALLY BLIND CAN BE NAVY SHIPDRIVERS!
The Point Loma was not the only ship with silly, inconsistent standards and criteria for SWO qualification. In 1983, the USS McKee (AD-43) issued a SWO pin to a female lieutenant who was legally blind, by her own admission. This officer had to have a waiver just to get in the navy to serve on shore duty. She wore glasses as thick as coke bottles, which could not correct her vision to 20/20. I was acquainted with her while we attended SWO school in Coronado. I once sat about six feet away from her at a meeting, and she couldn’t recognize me until I moved up into her face.
When SWO officers are assigned to the watchbill as OOD underway, they are in charge of a bridge watch team. In addition to checking the radar screen, the OOD is expected to be able to see out the window in case of anything big coming at them. Except in the case of the USS McKee, where it must have been OK to squint a lot and sort of feel their way around. Again, how does allowing these exceptions enhance ship and crew safety?
Military.com posted an article from Naval Institute Proceedings about a 2003 symposium in Washington, DC for navy women entitled “Women at Sea, 25 Years and Counting.”. Active duty, retired, and reservist officers showed up to speak about their experiences, which supported a clear agenda: the men were evil, and the women were pure as the wind driven snow. Look at how bad it was for us then, and how great it is now. It was Women’s History Month, after all. A lot of platitudes about leadership were thrown around. I’ve learned that when it comes to the subject of women in the military, media coverage always seems to be shrouded in lies, distortions and half-truths. This is the Washington, DC media bubble, and the media sets the template once again. Naval historians were present and spoke at the symposium, apparently believing the accuracy of what they heard.
So it’s time to pick this one apart. Truth and fairness are sorely needed here.
In the section entitled “From the Deckplates”, two women from the USS Point Loma (AGDS-2) attempted to recapture some relevancy with their recollections of sea duty during the early 1980s. These women made an issue of the negative climate they encountered when they first arrived. While pandering to this politically correct crowd, they took shots at an unnamed Commanding Officer (CO). They blamed him and other men for the negative reception they received, but left out a few interesting facts, as explained below.
In the same Proceedings article, one reservist officer who served on the Point Loma said she visited the USS Stennis on one recent occasion, and marveled at how well the women were now integrated and treated. (Author Stephanie Gutmann also visited the Stennis and had a different view. ) That is like saying she visited, looked around, didn’t see any evidence of sexual harassment or misconduct, so therefore it didn’t exist. The reservist went on to say she waited 20 years to see women being treated with respect onboard ship. Really? That is not how I remembered the USS Point Loma.
This is a true story. Names are changed to protect the guilty.
AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER
Commander James Smith* was CO of the USS Point Loma. He was married, and alleged to be having an affair with one of his female lieutenants, LT Linda Jones*. It was a common topic of conversation among the officers and crew. One night while underway, LT Jones was seen by crewmembers leaving the CO’s cabin wearing a nightgown. While ashore, they were seen alone together socializing and showing affections. The officers and crew expressed much anger and frustration that nothing would be done to remove them. Approximately 100 sailors sent anonymous letters exposing the affair, sending them to the CO’s wife. After all these years, sexual misconduct remains a huge problem for today’s navy. The-Navy-s-Moral-Compass–Commanding-Officers. Recent list of navy Commanding Officers, Executive Officers and senior enlisted firings.
THE MOB MENTALITY
Some of the ship’s officers fomented a lot of the hate and discontent with their constant badmouthing of the CO and the lieutenant, trying to rally others to take sides against them. They said Smith and Jones were exceptions to the professionalism of the officers. The wardroom would become “tight” again once they were gone. That sounded good, but it didn’t happen. Other officers and crew joined in, and the workplace descended into a very dysfunctional, distrustful group. The wardroom always had a scapegoat. When one officer left, another was created. Officers were at each others’ throats with daily confrontations, and retaliations occurred at any perceived slight to their egos. Some junior officers did not take well to professional criticism.
FRATERNIZATION, HARASSMENT CONDONED
Almost half of the Point Loma’s officers were female, inexperienced, and there was little mutual respect. Most of the women were single, and most of the men were married. That led to a number of affairs, sexual encounters and harassment. Pregnancies leading to unwed motherhood among the enlisted female crew were on the rise. It was a libertine environment.
After Commander Smith finally completed his tour of duty, he divorced his wife and married LT Jones, who also moved on to another assignment. Commander Ronald “King” Neptune* arrived to take command of the USS Point Loma. During Neptune’s tenure as CO (also known as “the Captain”), the following incidents occurred:
- a male Lieutenant JG (junior grade), admitted to being “shacked up” with a female crewmember when the woman decided to be AWOL (Absent Without Leave) for approx. 2 weeks. In the navy, that is known as UA (Unauthorized Absence). Clearly a Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Article 32 violation, (Conduct Unbecoming), the LTJG was never disciplined for this. He admitted to knowing that the woman was UA while she stayed with him at his apartment. The CO and Executive Officer (XO) and other officers had full knowledge of the situation. When the woman returned to the ship, she was disciplined at Captain’s Mast for the absence, fined and demoted. The LTJG was rewarded with a glowing performance evaluation and a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) qualification.
- The Command Master Chief, a married “geographical bachelor”, openly dated female crewmembers for approximately two years, also with CO and XO having full knowledge. One day, he was caught by the crew escorting a civilian female off the ship at about 4 AM. The next day, he was relieved of his position, and disciplined at Captain’s Mast. The Master Chief retired after a 26-year career that was apparently unblemished until this.
- An affair between a married Chief Warrant Officer and an enlisted woman, resulting in her pregnancy and his divorce. With this knowledge, the CO awarded an ESWS (Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist) qualification pin to the enlisted woman, even after she was reassigned to shore duty due to her pregnancy. Her knowledge of surface warfare was not tested. The award was made in the CO’s office, without announcing it to the crew.
- The CO’s own policies increased expendability of the officers and crew, contributing to the high turnover rate. This was compounded by navy-wide policies which required pregnant female sailors to be reassigned to shore duty, along with a trend towards zero tolerance of drug abuse, and enforcement of new weight standards:
- The CO had no interest in organized training for bridge watchstanders. He brought officers in who were qualified on other ships, while damaging and removing certain inexperienced officers, who showed effort but lacked proper training that was not provided.
- The CO completely delegated responsibility for administration of the SWO program to Lt. Hillary Mermaid*, an inexperienced, first sea-tour lieutenant who had an agenda to eliminate other female officers from competition. The Captain was apparently unaware that some officers had agendas to see other officers fail.
- The CO enacted degrading urinalysis testing procedures, after 3 sailors were caught tampering with their urinalysis samples (navy-wide policy of random testing was done regularly to test for drug abuse), to prevent sailors from placing any neutralizing substances into their sample to avoid THC detection. This involved observing the testees at close range, in embarrassing positions while half naked. Many officers refused to enforce the policy. Some people wrote letters of complaint to their Congressmen. These testing procedures increased paranoia and were offensive to everyone. Zero tolerance was enforced on sailors testing positive for the first time, increasing the rate of discharges, but having little effect on the rate of “positive” test results.
- Alcohol-addicted sailors were automatically sent to the Navy’s Rehab program. This removed them from the ship for several weeks. On completion of the program, the sailors were returned to the same ship. When any of the sailors fell into a relapse, they were immediately involuntarily discharged. If the Navy really wanted their alcoholics to recover, why would these sailors be returned to the same environment where their alcoholic condition worsened to the point of needing treatment?
- The CO was unwilling to enforce some navy policies for fear of bad publicity. This included fraternization, homosexuality, and sexual harassment. Sexual harassment complaints were improperly investigated and swept under the rug. The old boys investigated the old boys and circled the wagons to protect each other. One sexual harassment complainant was discredited with irrelevant attacks on her job performance, by others who were not qualified to evaluate her.
- Sailors were routinely threatened with involuntary discharges over the new navy weight control standards, regardless of excellent work performance. Everyone was subjected to weigh-ins and body-fat measurements, taken by inexperienced people with little training, using inaccurate methods by today’s standards. The ship’s food service division did nothing to improve the menu, or to provide healthy eating choices. Sugary sodas and high fat desserts were constantly on display, while the real food was kept hidden behind the counters. While underway, there was no exercise program or equipment available. I take that back. One exercise machine was brought aboard for 250 people.
This was not a good track record for improving the atmosphere. People clearly felt they had a “green light” to engage in fraternization, harassment, and other abusive behavior. Many others felt paranoid and uneasy about their jobs.
WOMEN SABOTAGING WOMEN: THE QUEEN BEE SYNDROME
Because of the women at sea program, the USS Point Loma had officers assigned in excess of its manpower authorization. Not every officer had enough work to keep them busy, including LT Mermaid, as Navigator. She was an annoying, condescending, meddling busybody (re: a pain in the ass), and eager to take over the XO and CO’s responsibilities. The administration of Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) qualifications was completely delegated to Mermaid, a first-sea tour lieutenant. SWO qualification was required for advancement within this field. The Senior Watch Officer position held more power than Mermaid was entitled to have over other lieutenants.
There were no sorority sisters in this bunch. Bullying and intimidation tactics were common. Physical threats were made over minor altercations, in front of enlisted men. The women were often critical and jealous of each other. Short and squatty LT Mermaid often commented on LT Melanie Collins’ tall and slim figure, always looking for ways to pick at her. At informal social gatherings, LT Collins was always the best dressed. Being single, she received plenty of male attention, while Mermaid was married. While CDR Smith was CO, Collins received excellent evaluations as a division officer, leading Smith to assign her as Operations Officer, a job of greater responsibility that Mermaid would have preferred.
Some women were lesbians, at a time when the navy’s policy on homosexuality was to discharge them upon discovery or admission. The CO tacitly refused to enforce the policy, fearing the bad publicity that was happening to other ships. But, tensions were high due to all kinds of personality/sexual orientation differences, which the leadership ignored. The contrasts between the women were stark: very mannish-looking lesbians who behaved more like men than men, the straight women, distinctly feminine with their hair, clothing and cosmetics; and another type of woman emerged – an almost asexual third gender: the plain jane workaholic, with the “act like a man and think like a man” attitude that was being rewarded so much. With no burning desire for marriage or family, they were married to the Navy. Some would eventually marry some guy to be their “satellite” or “beard”. Having children was out of the question, it might slow them down. A man who already has children: problem solved.
For women, advancement within this field was also “bottlenecked”. Women were being front-loaded into the program, but very few assignments were available after the initial tour. LT Mermaid once met with each woman officer separately to talk them out of pursuing a surface warfare career, to make it easier for her to advance. Some women agreed to it to get Mermaid off their back. For those that didn’t agree, she delayed and denied qualifications. At oral panels that she chaired, she asked meaningless, hypothetical questions intended to cause failure. She acted unilaterally against LT Collins in a punitive way, by revoking a provisional OOD qualification, and applied inconsistent and arbitrary standards to deny SWO qualification. LT Mermaid wrote highly emotional, defamatory comments to the CO about LT Collins, intending to cause harm. The CO relied on these comments, by writing negative performance evaluations, which damaged LT Collins and caused her to be marginalized.
A CASE OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Two months later, and still assigned to the ship, LT Collins was sexually harassed by a married, male officer, LCDR Spongebob* whose help she sought to prepare for another, unnecessary oral board. This one was to determine whether she should be reassigned to another ship (Bureau of Naval Personnel required only a phone call from the CO). Spongebob said he was having marital problems, and wanted an affair in exchange for assistance in preparing for the board. LT Collins knew that if she failed, she would never have another chance at qualification, and it would be held against her. She was likely to never get another promotion, and be forced to leave the navy. Several officers, including one woman who was added as a panel member, either stated or implied that being denied SWO qualification was not a big deal: “women were not expected to qualify” – she could continue her naval career without consequence. She didn’t believe them, because her career was being damaged by negative performance evaluations, related to the qualification. LT Collins refused the affair, but made 3 attempts to persuade Spongebob to help her anyway, to no avail. LT Collins’s options for seeking help were drying up. On the day the board met, Collins learned that Spongebob was one of the panel members. She was not allowed to challenge the board’s composition, even though the panel members were pre-disposed to vote against her anyway. One panel member called her a troublemaker – it was her fault for being in this situation in the first place. The panel members agreed that she possessed the adequate general knowledge, but they voted 3-2 against her for extraneous reasons.
The sham investigation into the sexual harassment complaint amounted to old boys investigating old boys, who went into full protection mode. They obtained irrelevant statements from the other women officers, who were allowed to say anything they wanted, and they were critical of Collins’s job performance. With a typical discrediting tactic, the navy used these women to discredit a quid pro quo sexual harassment complaint that the women knew nothing about. The women stated unqualified, emotionally biased opinions as if they were fact, with no specifics. These women knew they could either agree with their CO or risk retaliation. Everyone lived in fear of the CO’s wrath, and they saw what was happening to LT Collins.
COLLISIONS, ACCIDENTS, MISSING FUNDS & DOCUMENTS
Between 1982-1984, there were several JAG (Judge Advocate General) Manual investigations and other informal investigations involving the USS Point Loma:
- a collision while entering Port Hueneme harbor causing damages and claims against the government for thousands of dollars. LT Hillary Mermaid was Officer of the Deck on watch. A harbor pilot was onboard, ordering direction and speed changes. The ship was coming in to the harbor too fast, and crashed into one of the piers, where a commercial fishing vessel was moored. In the JAG report, LT Mermaid claimed Captain Neptune had a policy for the OOD to give no guidance to the harbor pilot. She was exonerated on that basis, and played no role in the collision. The Captain’s statement made no mention of this policy, but described all communications were between him and the harbor pilot. Captain Neptune was issued a punitive letter of admonition under Article 92, Dereliction of Duty, and under Article 110, for negligent hazarding of a vessel.
- A 1982 collision with a sailboat in San Diego harbor. The outcome of this incident was minor in comparison. While heading out to sea, Captain Neptune used a megaphone to warn the sailboat to stay away, but the young tillerman freaked out and turned the bow of the boat into the ship, capsizing the sailboat and causing everyone aboard to fall overboard into the bay. The ship’s crew recovered everyone, without serious injuries, and brought them aboard the ship.
- loss of classified material. A female LT (junior grade), was the ship’s Classified Material Custodian, who lost a document that she signed for custody. She was granted SWO qualification anyway, after the loss was discovered. The lost material was a book of communications codes for encryption of the submarine broadcast. The document was never recovered. The LTJG was issued a non-punitive Letter of Caution. On completion of her tour, she resigned from the navy.
- missing ship’s store inventory and funds (twice). Restricted men were being used to haul inventory onto the ship, and eventually, items including cartons of cigarettes turned up missing. Soon after, an unaccounted for loss of ship store funds was discovered. A female boot ensign was held responsible, and was reassigned to another ship, after the first report’s findings. The female Supply department head was rewarded with a Navy Achievement Medal. No one was held accountable after the second loss of funds was discovered.
- loss of the port-side anchor and chain at sea. In April, 1983, while operating off the coast of San Clemente Island, a bad fathometer reading (presumably by the Navigator, Mermaid) led to an order to freefall the anchor in water that was far too deep, causing the 8-ton anchor and the end of the 900 ft chain to shear off and fall to the bottom of the ocean. Replacing it cost about $125,000. No one was held accountable. No known investigation was done in this case.
In 1983, The USS Point Loma had the distinction of having the highest number of random urinalysis drug screenings turn up “positive” for illegal substances, mostly THC, throughout SUBPAC (Submarine Force, Pacific). Their officers visited the ship to investigate. The reasons were tied to the ship’s mission and underway schedule. Compared to most navy ships, the Point Loma did not get underway as often. The statistics showed that the more time sailors spent in port, the more opportunities they had to get into trouble, mostly over drug and alcohol abuse. Point Loma sailors were being disciplined at Captain’s Mast and granted “other than honorable” discharges, almost weekly. Alcoholics who relapsed after rehab were immediately discharged. Compounding that was the growing number of enlisted female pregnancies, which required reassignment to shore duty –all producing a high turnover rate for crewmembers.
DUBIOUS SWO QUALIFICATIONS AWARDED
The SWO program as it was administered on the USS Point Loma in the 1980s was plagued with major problems:
- The inexperienced Senior Watch Officer displayed emotional bias towards other women officers she sought to eliminate from competition. She displayed her emotional biases in written memos to the Captain. She delayed and denied qualifications of other lieutenants who appeared before oral boards that she chaired.
- Deficient oral board examinations were used to punish an officer who met all previous requirements to be considered. Other officers who were deficient after an initial board were simply told to study and prepare for the next one. But, one officer (Collins) was punished by revoking her provisional OOD qualification, even though she stood all of her watches without incident, and showed effort towards qualifying. After showing significant improvement after a second board, the officer was denied qualification.
- At least three women officers made under the table agreements with the Senior Watch Officer to not pursue a career in surface warfare in exchange for the SWO qualification. This was revealed in personal conversations with the women, including the senior watch officer, who admitted approaching other women for this purpose.
- Women were not expected to qualify, according to at least three evaluating officers, who believed that women who did not qualify could simply return to shore duty and continue their careers without any consequence. This is not true. The consequences were the same regardless of gender. One officer was denied promotion to LCDR and retention because of the negative evaluations she received from the Point Loma for this reason.
- Senior officer (CO and XO) SWO qualifications were automatic. They did not attend SWO school, as subordinate officers were required to do. As submariners, they were inexperienced in the topics that subordinates were expected to know about surface ships. They weren’t able to assist their own subordinates in several key areas. Neither one attended subordinates’ oral boards.
- Non-existent organized training for bridge watchstanders, according to USS Point Loma written correspondence.
- The oral panels consisted of inexperienced officers, asking inappropriate questions not covered by the SWO PQS (Personnel Qualification Standards). The senior watch officer asked one testee (Collins) a hypothetical on what to do about a bubonic plague breakout, wiping out the entire crew. The question was presented to the testee as a “do or die”; if she didn’t answer it seriously, she would fail.
- Evaluations were arbitrary and inconsistent showing improper bias and improper testing standards that differed with each individual. An OPNAV instruction existed to provide guidance and clearly identified criteria, which these officers ignored. One officer was punished for “lack of confidence”, and “unable to see the big picture”, despite acknowledging she had the adequate general knowledge required. Another officer was granted qualification despite numerous deficiencies in “judgment”, “maturity”, “assessment of priorities”, “conning considerations”, “engineering casualty control”, “supervising JOOD”, “search and rescue”, “knowledge of publications”, and “underway operations” with helicopters and submarines, and more.
- If they were tested at all, officers were questioned on only two of the five major SWO categories: Officer of the Deck (underway) and Engineering. Officers were not questioned on warfare fundamentals, Combat Information Center Watch Officer (CICWO) operations, or Division Officer duties. The Point Loma was not equipped to provide officers with real experience as CICWO, or with some underway maneuvers. Women were not allowed at the time to board combatant ships for underway training.
- The evaluation forms did not show what hypothetical questions were asked. Topics for questions were handwritten in, followed by arrows going in all directions, and no explanation of what it meant. Since the Captain did not attend the boards, these forms were all he had to review to determine final qualification.
- No moral integrity and poor personal judgment applying to several qualified officers. These standards of behavior are included in the OPNAV instruction guiding the SWO program. They were given zero weight in determining SWO qualification and retention.
On another nearby ship, one woman from the USS McKee (AS-41), a submarine tender, was granted SWO qualification even though she was legally blind. She wore thick, coke bottle glasses, which did not correct her vision to 20-20. This is by her own admission. She was admitted to the Unrestricted Line on a waiver, because of her eyesight. One cannot obtain an automobile driver’s license in the U.S. without 20-20 correctible vision. Why did this ship qualify a legally blind woman to be an Officer of the Deck on a large ship like the USS McKee? An OOD’s primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of the ship and her crew.
OLD BOYS’ CLUB CRONYISM AT WORK
Captain “King” Neptune (now deceased) came to the USS Point Loma as a tired, burned out diesel boat sub-mariner (pun-intended), with almost 30 years already under his belt. Most diesel boat sailors were retiring. By the 1980s, the navy was phasing out diesel boats, and had virtually no vessels left for these men to take command at sea. The non-combatant (no installed weapon systems) surface ships came in handy to take care of that problem. These ships, which supported the submarine fleet, were assigned to submarine squadrons, where Commodores treated them like stepchildren: ignored, for the most part.
Rumor had it that Captain Neptune was offered command of the Point Loma if he promised to get married. It was alleged that he was divorced multiple times and had a long-time reputation for being a party guy and a womanizer. It could have been trouble, going to a ship with women on it. By an amazing coincidence, Neptune got engaged to a divorcee with 3 children, whom he met while enroute from Europe to Southern California, (with a stop for some training), to meet the ship for the first time. Officers and crew attended his wedding about one month after the change of command. He filed for divorce three months later.
Neptune was a politician who never said what he meant or meant what he said. Aloof and arrogant, with a nothing more than a high school diploma, and surrounded by younger college educated officers, he was an insecure man. He embraced the bootlickers, like LT Mermaid, with their offers of favors and compliments, always telling him what he wanted to hear. Mermaid took advantage, offering to babysit his stepchildren, entertaining him with exclusive dinner invitations at her (and spouse’s) home, moving his furniture across town.
The executive officer was Lieutenant Commander William Wavecrest*, whose previous tour was on a nuclear submarine as a weapons officer. Neptune recommended him for command at sea, after achieving his guaranteed automatic SWO qualification. Wavecrest was then selected to command the USS Florikan, a diving ship assigned to the same squadron as the USS Point Loma. But, he had no experience as a navy diver. So, he was sent to Navy Diving School, where he trained with a class full of ensigns. He was promoted to full Commander, dumped wife number 2, married wife number 3, and took command of the Florikan in 1983. In 1984, he was relieved of command after an accident where a diver was lost at sea during underway operations. He and several others were issued career-ending letters of reprimand. One of the causes of the accident, cited in the JAG Manual investigation report, was lack of training.
IN MY OPINION:
FROM ZERO TOLERANCE TO ZERO INTELLIGENCE
Group behavior and unit cohesion, essential to military readiness, were seriously eroded.
- No one saw the connection between bad morale, poor training and inconsistent performance. The collisions, accidents, loss of funds, loss of materials shows inconsistent performance due to lack of experience, training, harassment and bad morale. The leadership vacuum provided fertile ground for bullying and moblike behavior, leading to a hostile work environment. See Navy Times article on broken command structure.
- Senior officers avoided the negative publicity they believed they would get if they followed navy policy on fraternization, homosexuality, and sexual harassment. Negative publicity has cut short many careers. The navy has/had policies that officers were conflicted about enforcing, because they worried about their own careers more. So the ship’s morale was damned, and everyone else paid the price.
- Moral bankruptcy was considered acceptable. Several SWO qualified officers exhibited behavior in violation of UCMJ codes of conduct. Navy rules and regulations existed only to go after the people that the leadership either didn’t like or didn’t want. The rest got away scot-free. That was noticeable to the entire crew. These days, any discussion of morality is usually met with ridicule and derision. Maybe the navy will just get rid of this requirement, since morality is now irrelevant.
- The CO’s own policies enhanced the breakdown of unit cohesion by increasing expendability of officers and crew with enhanced zero tolerance policies, and by removing inexperienced junior officers who showed effort, but lacked training that was not provided to them. Navy-wide policy of removing female pregnant sailors, although understandable and necessary, compounded the problem. The higher the turnover rate, the less unit cohesion, the less experience, a greater need for training.
THE HYPOCRISY OVER “SAFETY”
The OOD/SWO qualifications issued on the USS Point Loma were fake. The ship’s officers and the Commodore claimed to apply standards that were based on safety considerations. But, their actions and words were a contradiction in the following ways:
- Two senior officers who were granted automatic SWO qualifications based on their previous sea duty experience were each awarded punitive letters for the negligent/derelict handling of their respective ships. They were both assigned to the same squadron:
- The CO of the USS Point Loma, who received a punitive letter of admonition for the collision in Port Hueneme harbor
- The CO of the USS Florikan (former XO, USS Point Loma), who received a punitive letter of reprimand for the accident at sea that led to the death of a diver
- Much deference was granted to other Point Loma officers with previous sea duty experience, and excuses were made for their deficiencies, as noted in oral board evaluations. But what good was prior experience when knowledge and skills were deficient? Automatic qualification presumed that no additional training was needed.
- Lack of organized training for bridge watchstanders was acknowledged in USS Point Loma correspondence. Lack of training was also a factor cited in the investigative report of the accident on the USS Florikan, as stated in the Navy Times article. Point Loma officers often disagreed with one another about the proper responses to underway casualties. Some of the ship’s officers were more concerned about controlling access to information, because of their personal agendas to see other officers fail.
- “Lack of confidence” as a reason to deny OOD/SWO qualification is improper and too subjective to be useful. The navy is full of people who have more confidence than ability or talent. A deficient oral board performance, assumed to be due to lack of “confidence” is not a proper way to evaluate an officer’s performance on watch. Confidence on the bridge did not prevent the collision at Port Hueneme harbor.
- Advocation of sleep deprivation – also noted in USS Point Loma correspondence. The senior watch officer promoted sleep deprivation and criticized one officer for “getting plenty of sleep” while “no one got any sleep until the PQS got done”. That statement alone is irrational. The officer who was criticized did complete PQS within the allowed timeframe.
- Being legally blind was not an impediment to OOD/SWO qualification, regarding one female officer assigned to the USS McKee (AS-41). This one defies logic, since there are vision requirements for Unrestricted Line Officers. If this officer had a waiver, then what were the restrictions, and what was the point of having a waiver?
- Evaluators lowered the standards for the officers they wanted to qualify, and they raised the standards through the roof for those they did not want to qualify, based on extraneous and improper reasons. That was discrimination under the navy’s own EEO policy. Oral boards to determine qualification were not designed to punish officers who showed effort, despite non-existent organized training. You might as well call this an SPO qualification: Surface Peacetime Officer would be a more accurate description. Or maybe STO: Surface Technocrat Officer.
The opportunities for women at sea today are no doubt better than they were 30 years ago, now that they can serve on a greater variety of ships. But, nothing has changed much with shipboard culture. The surface warfare community still eats its own young. Check out comments from recent SWO officers. Jealousy, power seeking, and personality/sexual orientation differences were heightened by the destructively competitive atmosphere that senior officers pretended not to see. It has been this way long before women began serving on ships. Retention remains relatively poor compared to other fields.
DO MILITARY PERSONNEL DESERVE WHATEVER HAPPENS TO THEM?
Those who want to dispute this story or disagree with my opinions may try to characterize this article as a vendetta against the navy. Does the taxpayer supported navy deserve protection from public disclosure here? Do the people have a right to know about abuses and coverups that they paid for? If the story is seen as an aberration, then that is because stories like this are underreported, and most people do not speak out about their bad experiences in the military. The code of silence still exists, and most people don’t want the hassle that comes with exposure.
Of course, there are individual women who have succeeded despite all of the bad behavior. But, some things do not change. Sexual misconduct scandals, sexual harassment, discrimination, assaults, and workplace harassment like the Queen Bee syndrome continue, along with its adverse effects on cohesion, morale and performance, and the surface warfare community continues to suffer from a pathology of narcissism and destructive competition that is anything but productive or promoting team building.
The navy has become a jobs program for self-centered narcissists pursuing their own self-interest. The concept of the navy as a tight-knit organization of people who actually work together as a team forming close bonds has eroded into some civilian, backstabbing corporate model. The navy hasn’t fought a war at sea since World War II, so the arguments pointing to devastating effects of lack of cohesion from within are seen as academic. Real time problems with women in warfare are being experienced in Afghanistan within the Army and Marine Corps. Shouldn’t the navy try to learn something from them?
EPILOGUE: MY CASE IN FEDERAL COURT
I was LT Collins. The story was easier to write in the 3rd person. Following my tour on the USS Point Loma, I was reassigned to shore duty. I filled a Lieutenant Commander’s position. During that time, I received outstanding evaluations, and was recommended for early promotion. Despite this, I was twice passed over for promotion, and was honorably discharged after 10 years of active duty.
Soon after, I filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Claims Court in Washington, DC for wrongful termination, seeking reinstatement, back pay, removal of adverse performance evaluations (I had one removed while still assigned to the ship) and other benefits. I was offered a commission in the Naval Reserve, but turned it down. The case dragged on for four years. It was finally decided by summary judgment, citing “deference to military authority”. The judge accepted the navy’s claim that I did not meet the heavy burden of proof, which they called “clear and convincing”. Decisions like this are typical of the way military personnel cases are handled in the civil court system.
I’m not a lawyer, but I can explain the decision in plain language. In my opinion, deference to military authority means that the judge did not actually rule on the merits of the evidence presented. Most judges are elitists who do not understand the military, its culture, or the problems that military women face. They look down their noses at military personnel as savages who deserve whatever happens to them. They did not understand the significance of the evidence. They aren’t going to say that, so they cover themselves in lofty legal language to sound professional. Deference in this case amounted to nothing more than a cop out. That is the luck of the draw when filing a lawsuit like this in a civil court. Clear and convincing evidence means that as the plaintiff, I was expected to have proven my case at the time the lawsuit was filed. The whole point of filing the lawsuit was to trigger court procedures, such as depositions, hearings, and/or trial, so that I could prove my case. For a case that includes a quid pro quo harassment allegation, this should have been understandable, given that the navy’s investigation was inadequate and a sham. But here, no such procedures were ever called into play. In this case, the only procedure was for attorneys on each side to appear in court once for oral arguments. I was never called to make an appearance. After waiting four years, the judge finally issued a decision, probably written by clerks, torturing everyone with a lengthy, 28 page document which said I had no case. The tone was condescending. If there was no case, then why the 28 pages, Judge? Why did it take four years to write?
The case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, and it was affirmed, without a written opinion. My characterization of the judges is no different here.
WHO HOLDS THE NAVY ACCOUNTABLE?
If not the courts, then who will hold the navy accountable when they abuse their authority and engage in coverups? The only time I have seen beaurocracies take action is when there is negative publicity that is driven by the media. The problem with that is, the media has its own agendas, and they decide what they want to cover – or not.
 Collins v. U.S., 24 Cl. Ct., 32, 38 (1991) Defendant’s Appendix, Vol. I, II, and III (aff’d. 975 F.2d 869 (1992))
 Investigation to Inquire into the Circumstances Surrounding the Collision Between USS Point Loma (AGDS-2) and M/V Halliburton 222, 5 August 1983 at Port Hueneme, California harbor, dated 13 June 1984. Obtained by FOIA.
 Collins v. U.S.,24 Cl. Ct. 32,38 Defendants’ Appendix Vol II.
 “Commander Loses Post After Diver Dies”, Navy Times, May 20, 1985, p. 11