Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

It isn’t simple lust, it’s lust for power

Here retired Navy Capt. John Byron explains why he thinks I was wrong and his Navy was right to jettison the skipper of the USS Truxtun for having a relationship with a female officer aboard the ship. In an e-mail exchange I asked him why we couldn’t, instead of firing erring officers, ship them off ...

history.navy.mil
history.navy.mil
history.navy.mil

Here retired Navy Capt. John Byron explains why he thinks I was wrong and his Navy was right to jettison the skipper of the USS Truxtun for having a relationship with a female officer aboard the ship. In an e-mail exchange I asked him why we couldn't, instead of firing erring officers, ship them off to do two years penance in Greenland or something.

By John Byron
Best Defense chief hanky panky correspondent

Lust is not the issue -- it's abuse of power and corruption of the authority vested in commanding officers and others in senior positions. The system -- the overall system -- is tough and competitive and the power of a ship's captain (especially at sea) is enormous. Absent fairness and even-handedness, the discipline required to risk lives in an always-dangerous world and to endure 12-16-hour days at sea deteriorates and readiness falls down. And, more important even than trust perhaps, respect for leadership evaporates. 

Here retired Navy Capt. John Byron explains why he thinks I was wrong and his Navy was right to jettison the skipper of the USS Truxtun for having a relationship with a female officer aboard the ship. In an e-mail exchange I asked him why we couldn’t, instead of firing erring officers, ship them off to do two years penance in Greenland or something.

By John Byron
Best Defense chief hanky panky correspondent

Lust is not the issue — it’s abuse of power and corruption of the authority vested in commanding officers and others in senior positions. The system — the overall system — is tough and competitive and the power of a ship’s captain (especially at sea) is enormous. Absent fairness and even-handedness, the discipline required to risk lives in an always-dangerous world and to endure 12-16-hour days at sea deteriorates and readiness falls down. And, more important even than trust perhaps, respect for leadership evaporates. 

To your excellent point on potentially recycling the miscreants, two comments. One is that in almost every case, it is the individual committing the offense who chooses to leave service. His (rarely hers, though sex is not the only career-ender around, as another CO — female — recently learned) decision to retire or resign may reflect a realistic evaluation of his career future and a desire to avoid continued embarrassment in his daily endeavors, but generally it is not forced (though it sometimes may be coerced: ‘retire or face more severe charges and a higher court of review’). 

Two, not all do leave service. I recall a very good submarine CO who developed a drinking problem and found it led to a taste for young male sailors. A drunken hotel incident with one of his seamen in a San Francisco hotel led to Detachment For Cause and an Admiral’s Mast. But homosexual conduct lacked full proof and so he was found only to have committed an offense under Article 133, Conduct Unbecoming An Officer (as it handled this mess, the joke around the submarine detailing shop where I was at the time was that he was granted a one-dick waiver). The officer, hugely chagrined, asked to stay on active duty and we found him a liaison job overseas, where he served exceptionally well (a really smart guy in a job where he’d successfully cleared datum). I got to know him later when we served in the same command and am sure in my mind that this case was handled very well both for the Navy and the individual. 

And would note that one of the reasons the press trips onto only a fraction of the incidents is the mutual desire (Navy and the offender) to keep everything as quiet as possible. Though the motives for this desire aren’t very high, such an approach does make recycling a lot easier if the mess is kept under wraps. Much harder in these days with the ‘internets’ (GWB) and the hyper-connectivity that technology now allows. 

My formula for handling fraternization cases in the Navy has two parts, and I think it satisfies your good desire to salvage the services of experienced leaders who screw up: hammer his dick flat at mast and let him decide what next he does with his Navy service. Essentially that’s the system now.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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