Ask the Chief: guilt or innocence depends on whom the axe falls?

Arsonist. A disgruntled sailor. Traitor. These are the thoughts that went through my mind, as a Navy veteran, when I first heard of the sailor who allegedly set the USS Bon Homme Richard on fire. But the facts do not seem to bear this out in a military courtroom. A military judge presiding over that sailor’s courts-martial found him not guilty today. The Navy failed to prove that this seaman who had dropped out of SEAL training, and was assigned to the Deck Division on the BHR, was responsible for the fire.

Scuttlebutt seemed to suggest that he was guilty before trial, but scuttlebutt has been wrong about a lot of thing. Sadly, does it seem that the Navy, like many in the public, academia, government, and media, began with a plausible conclusion and proceeded to find evidence to support the conclusion. Could someone have stored flammable batteries or fuels inconsistent with current safety precautions? Did firefighting teams note which areas were not effectively protected with shipboard or pierside foam or pressurized ff mains? Did investigators focus on one suspect to the exclusion of more factors? It certainly is a lot tidier to find a young man guilty of the willful destruction of a warship, than to determine that crew training, shipyard planners, supervisory personnel, and the senior authority of the Naval District were derelict, or at best, naïve as to the level of preparedness military and civilian personnel had to respond to emergencies. What steps is the Navy taking to prevent such casualties in the future?

seewater** lawyer

“water water everywhere but not a drop to drink”

“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Samuel Coleridge, poet, ca 1798

Among humans, particularly those living on the North American continent, the prudent planning and mobilizing a coordinated effort to prepare for difficult times, is most often too little, too late. However, individuals who are a bit more cynical about large bureaucracies’ promises and are more self-reliant as a result (terms which often describes military veterans), often see future hardships and prepare accordingly. We have stories passed down to us: all of Noah’s countrymen mocking his family’s construction of a boat in the desert; the mockers all drowned. An ancient Egyptian Pharaoh’s governor, Jacob, filled storehouses way ahead of a famine that lasted for years; he supplied the nations around them (and incidentally enjoyed a “family reunion” as a result). In the present day, “preppers” are mocked for assembling food, having power generators, accumulating stores and being prepared for defense in the event of pandemics, supply disruptions, and famine. Truthfully, with evidence of civilizations collapsing from these things, human beings are rarely capable of acting together in crisis.

One crisis that gets a lot of discussion, but sees little to no actual action, is the lack of water. On on hand, the reality that the poles are melting – storehouses of trillions upon trillions of gallons of water – has generated a lot of governments to generate taxes, declare fines upon “offending industries”, and incur restrictions and rationing; few places are constructing defenses against rising oceans or storage capacity for rainwater. According to most experts, even an unimaginable immediate end to all global human activity “linked” to the warming of the planet will not reduce the effect for hundreds of years. If the oceans rise for the next 300 years, beachfront may be a few miles to ten of miles farther inland. Agriculture in the western States supplying much of the globe will not be supportable without other sources of water. Ideas are periodically “floated” to capture annual rainfall; these include storing “Monsoonal” summer rains in Arizona and other western deserts or piping westward floodwaters of north-central river systems which overrun their banks in Spring. Piping water over the Rocky Mountains from Minnesota to the West, however, is probably never going to be affordable. Thousands or even hundreds of desalinization plants ringing the continental coastlines might help relieve desertification, but the regulations, cost, and delivery is draconian. In California, one county, San Diego, took a dozen years or so, to approve, construct and operate ONE ocean desalinization plant. It supplies a little of San Diego’s needs.

** A play on “sea lawyer”, a pejorative used to describe someone who believes himself to be an authority, but is generally inexperienced with Navy practices and regulations. As a retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, I am well aware that I am neither an expert on climate, a hydrologist nor bureaucrat specializing in water policies, but have some experience as a consumer as well as having observed naval desalinization practices to create potable water.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Chaos as American family brings unexploded shell to Israel airport

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/israel-airport-unexploded-shell-american-tourists/index.html

Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.

John Steinbeck, novelist, East of Eden

There’s not much a veteran can say about the limits of human irrationality. This story makes me glad these Americans are not my neighbors.

‘White Phosphorus’ Claimed To Be Used In Ukraine May Really Be Russian Napalm Weapon

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidhambling/2022/03/25/white-phosphorus-may-really-be-soviet-napalm-weapon/

Use of white phosphorus is horrendously evil even for an enemy combatant. Use of napalm is only slightly less evil. When a regime has little regard for the suffering it causes, the ends justify the means. Only if the regime is not held to account, that is. When a modern military like Russia’s is deployed against Ukraine, a neighboring country under a pretext that nobody believed, and their expected quick occupation turns into an implacable David against a Goliath, weapons are turned against civilians even more readily.

prayer remains the only secure comms

What hath God wrought?

Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, cit Library of Congress

Before someone discovered the Rosetta Stone, a fragment of stone which had inscriptions written in classical Greek and Egyptian, allowing modern transcription of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the pyramids and other ruins were secure witnesses to Pharoah’s secrets. Until modern times, protecting military communications took several forms from handwritten letters in cyphers that used increasingly more inventive means to encode them. When machines were developed to encode communications and transmit them over wires and then in the Twentieth Century wirelessly, communications had to grow more secure. Old diplomats who assumed “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail” (Henry L. Stimson, d 1950), were being unrealistic. As quickly as the medium changed, the means to obfuscate the messaging grew. The leap from the invention of the telegraph (1837 – 44) to global communication satellites and the Internet (~1980) is barely 140 years. And in that time, messages were intercepted and read that thwarted the Kaiser’s plans for Mexico, Hitler’s and Imperial Japan’s war effort, and other campaigns up to the present day.

With the invention of the cell phone, the move to secure civilian communications was spurred by reports that governments were listening in to narcotics traffickers and could determine the phone’s location using ELINT (electronics intelligence) methods. In the last thirty years, companies have made data stored on or transmitted via smartphones more secure, but encryption of voice communications over cellphone is still costly and not generally available. With smartphones becoming the ubiquitous means of communication, whether texting, looking up recipes online, or signing and sending electronically signed contracts to vendors, the expanded need for radio frequencies changed other inventions. Landline telephones, television, and commercial AM and FM radio which had been both a means to inform the public and filter messages through Government censors, are on their way to museums.

In autocratically-controlled countries, filtering the flow of information is a primary concern to those in power. As we have already learned from global corporations that “socialized” the Web, Google, Facebook, and other players throttle dissent and focus (target) messages to audiences that are in line with their beliefs – but mostly to benefit their corporate advertisers. Yet this means of control can also be circumvented in some areas, like we have seen in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where other entities (SpaceX, for one) shipped satellite receivers to the Ukrainians to connect to the world via its new satellite network. But as we saw with a recent network disruption of Viasat’s satellite network, regimes and other adversarial actors are daily working to corrupt communication or spy on those whose data they wish to steal. However, as nations’ cyber warfare apparatus are becoming very proficient both in attacking and defending, old technology is coming back into vogue. With the focus on the Internet and satellite transmissions foremost in Russian and Chinese state filters, Ham (amateur) radio operators are able to communicate with people hunkered down in bomb shelters and isolated areas in the Ukraine. Frustrated Russian military units, hampered by Command-and-Control problems, fuel supply problems and soldiers complaints over unencrypted radio, are being intercepted by civilian operators half a world away.

Yet one medium is still unassailable by technology. Though a favorite target in science fiction, a person’s thoughts remain secure and unable to be monitored by an adversary. At least until they broadcast them on social media or send in military units. However, it may be that Someone is listening in to those “secure” communications. The same Someone who empowered David to slay Goliath, and for now, seems to have been staving off Vladimir Putin’s territorial aspirations.

the restless Earth

Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier than it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we’re still at the mercy of nature.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

An undersea volcano near Tonga in the south Pacific Ocean created tsunamis that flooded the nearest islands and were measurable five thousand miles away in North America. An undersea earthquake off northern Japan was so violent it disturbed the Earth’s axis, and the tsunamis caused the Fukushima reactor to break down and release radiation. Tsunamis created by an undersea earthquake in Indonesia caused a quarter-million deaths along the coastline of Indian Ocean and Java Sea. On an island near New Zealand, tourists were killed in an eruption when the tour operators were ignorant of or ignored warnings of the impending threat. All over the world, millions of people live along the tectonic boundaries where continents bump against each other, ocean floors spread apart, or dive one under the other. Though weather and movement in the earth are rigorously monitored by technology and experts all over the globe, a pyroclastic cloud obliterating a Latin American community, or a tsunami that washes away homes and livelihoods in Indonesia may strike the vulnerable before the warnings can be acted upon.

As much as the global community is compelled to act to counter Climate Change, tangible support and actionable assistance or infrastructure, in regions where earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activity damage and kill or injure tens of thousands is warranted now more than political activism and questionable initiatives. Would collective action to install better warning systems, engineer stronger buildings, or investigate “flood-control” measures be useful to counter natural disasters that are happening now?

garbage in and cannot get garbage out

Garbage is humanity’s biggest problem. Specifically, “what to do” with garbage we humans generate. It is a way more immediate a problem than the ice caps melting as my neighborhood is not expected to be waterfront property even in my grandson’s lifetime. When populations numbered from dozens in an area to a few million across a continent, garbage was not contemplated for the problems it generates today. But nine billion people on Earth generate a lot of waste. Communities in major cities around the world live in garbage dumps. Burning trash, tires and chemical spills make large swaths of the planet barely livable. Plastics and other toxics are collecting in thousand square mile ‘rafts’ in all of earth’s oceans. While I may empathize with global authorities who want to reduce human influence on changing global climate, and where to dump what and recycle other materials, the immediacy of the problem about garbage, for me, is collection.

I live in southern California, and this past December, the company whose trash service I contracted for the last dozen years became embroiled in a labor dispute with its employees. Without weekly collection, residences, businesses and even cities have been overwhelmed with trash. The company quietly noted that subscribers could dump in the company-run landfills without additional cost- but that requires the means to bring it to the landfill which I did not have. A week ago, I paid for a private company to take it all away. Republic Services only yesterday ran a garbage truck down my street. It was almost insulting. They had brought other employees in from other regions to mitigate a potential dispute with the largest municipal contract. Those of us in the unincorporated county had staged our bins each week in hope of being served. After four weeks without further notice from the company, neither of my neighbors had left their bins for collection on the curb! That probably was the emptiest garbage truck moving through our community that morning.

Not mentioned in this whole affair is the new legislation enacted by ‘our’ representatives in Sacramento. California has mandated that food waste as well as other decomposable matter now has to be screened into “green” bins, separating ‘greenhouse-gas’-generating waste, recyclable waste, and landfill -acceptable waste by all residents and businesses. At least, that latest maneuver was anticipated by me late last year. I began a compost program to create fertilizer for my home-grown fruit and vegetables. As for what to do with animal bones – the beef, chicken, pork and fish we eat? I am now supposed to put them in the Green collection. I could crush and burn them at home, as one website advises about minimizing landfill gases, but then the fuel to burn them and the smoke that will generate might get me cited. I am already frivolously barbecuing and smoking away on the pellet smoker Santa brought me for Christmas.

Hopefully, the new service (the one with green, methane-run trucks) I engaged at the end of the year will deliver the means for me to separate my trash today (as promised). At the very least, even if our food waste requires some extra effort to dispose, one effect of the legislation enacted on January 1 will be to minimize burying food that goes unsold in groceries and restaurants in California. Saving the additional space in landfills while feeding people struggling, is noble. What California does to enforce the new environmental rules among the tens of thousands living on the street, whom they were supposed to house by prior legislative initiatives, as they do not subscribe to a waste removal service.

Let us table that discussion. I have trash to dump. Regulations to read. And the environment to save.

freedom of choice

I make bad decisions often enough. I often regret those decisions, such as eating too much of something tasty, or smoking too many cigars. Sometimes my decisions affect others. When I am driving somewhere with my wife but unfamiliar of the route, I am often adamant I know where I am going. (Worse, I tend to blame my spouse in not giving me good directions.) Yet I try not to make bad decisions on the basis of some jingoist (that is, extreme patriotic or excessive bias in judging one’s own associations, party, or group as superior to others) vision of America.

Constitutionally-protected “rights” and public health responsibilities

Anyone who has a basic understanding of the history and governance of the United States should recognize we are a representative democracy. Framed by our Constitution, the three-branch organization of an executive, legislative and judicial body, depends on knowledgeable citizens who elect representatives to make policy and govern in our collective best interest. Most glaring, given our recent history, the people we elect to public office, and they staff, in all three branches of government are flawed men and women. But so are the people they are supposed to represent. And policies that are implemented are just as flawed.

Public health is everyone’s responsibility

Looking only at decisions that affect the public health of a nation, the last eighteen months of a COVID-19 global pandemic have created confusion, fear, anger, and suspicion that increases the dis-United States. While bureaucrats, politicians and “experts” often find their actions in times of crisis have supporters or opponents, inaction is generally worse for their constituencies. However, in 2020 and continuing in 2021, a large minority of people within the United States demonstrate their freedom by treating public health mandates as akin to tyranny.

Studies prove that people tend to believe others whom they view as authorities (whether or not they actually are such experts). It naturally predisposes us to support those we believe and distrust those we view as opponents. Deciding to refuse basic protection, in the form of masks, or to decline vaccination against COVID-19 based on hearsay, political rhetoric, or Internet-stoked conspiracies, is a bad decision. The majority of those who are refusing masks, or vaccinations, or social-distancing, DO NOT deliberately want to harm their relatives, friends, co-workers or First Responders. But many have been harmed anyway.

The consequences of such behavior have resulted in millions with permanently-altered health and the loss of people who otherwise would be alive today. If Jonas Salk and others had faced such backlash today, millions would still be debilitated by polio, measles, tetanus, Hepatitis A and B, or whooping cough (CDC). That we have forgotten what these illness did is due to the availability of vaccines.

For just a few dollars a dose, vaccines save lives and help reduce poverty. Unlike medical treatment, they provide a lifetime of protection from deadly and debilitating disease. They are safe and effective. They cut healthcare and treatment costs, reduce the number of hospital visits, and ensure healthier children, families and communities.

Seth Berkley, epidemiologist

Consensus in a free society

An online dictionary defines freedom as. (1) the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. (2)   (f. from): the state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing). One of the tenets of living in a free society is that consensus achieves the best outcome for citizens. The first step toward consensus is hold reasoned debate on such things as public health policy, voter-directed oversight of our legislators, tighter control of bureaucrats, and what policies should be left up to local or state oversight.  Just as some see conspiracies between certain plutocrats, elected officials, and foreign entities, when any group deems public health concerns and their remedy (i.e. COVID vaccination) are politically-motivated, these dissenting voices are as selfish and unpatriotic – as those whose views they claim to oppose. The solution to each of a nation’s divisive issues is reasoned dialogue and consensus. Or Abraham Lincoln’s words will ring true. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  .

perseverance

The “Perseverance” Rover landing successfully on the surface of Mars this week is a metaphor for the amazing success of a team – thousands of people – who rose to the challenge of putting that vehicle on a planet 300 million miles away. Human beings focused on delivering their best effort can make ambitious goals possible. This has been the case since before recorded history up through sending probes beyond our solar system. Over thousands of years people have advanced their understanding of the universe from erecting temples aligned with the relative movement of stars and planets, navigating across oceans, to physicists, engineers technical specialists, and support teams landing on other worlds. Closer to home, it is tragic that a microscopic organism, one (or more- mutations) of billions on our planet, in the 21st Century has killed or harmed millions of people across the world in the last eighteen months. Prompted by the urgency of finding a vaccine, a lot of dedicated people have been working to determine the nature of the COVID virus, obtain cooperation of billions to slow infection, and then test and distribute a vaccine to eight billion people in the last couple months time.

In both of these examples, the challenge of getting humans to work together, to seek to understand, or to solve a complex problem is tested. We can send probes to study Pluto and Oort Cloud objects, but preventing species extinction, or mitigating natural and man-made disasters seem impossibly difficult. Problems mobilize communities for a period of time, but it requires ongoing teamwork and collective vision to make meaningful change. However, if every person took the opportunity tomorrow and every day after that, to make a small yet positive change in thought and action, we can achieve goals. The book Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear, introduces an insight into how in every endeavor, small yet continual process improvements can achieve incredible results. Perseverance is a necessary attribute whether it is landing on Mars or solving an endemic human problem.

the moral of this morale story

The following are excerpts from an article published on the USNI News webpage, 27 January 2021.

“The commander of a guided-missile destroyer was relieved of command after attempting to make a morale-boosting plaque from a captured weapon for his crew to celebrate the 2019 interdiction of an Iranian weapons shipment, an attorney representing the commander told USNI News on Wednesday.”

“Cmdr. Frank Azzarello was the commander of USS Forest Sherman (DDG-98) when the destroyer and a Coast Guard cutter interdicted an unmarked dhow in the North Arabian Sea on Nov. 25, 2019, Azzarello’s attorney Tim Parlatore told USNI News on Wednesday.”

“In a statement, the Navy says the relief is due to a loss of confidence in command by Rear Adm. Ryan Scholl, who commands Carrier Strike Group Eight. Cmdr. Greg Page, assigned to Afloat Training Group Atlantic, will assume duties as commanding officer.”

deckplate leadership?

The unanswered question in the article describing the Commanding Officer’s dismissal, is whether the senior enlisted leadership, comprising the Command Master Chief and the unit Chiefs Mess, made any objection or provided counsel to the Commanding Officer regarding the propriety, and violation of military regulations prior to the display being created.

As one of the roles of the CMC and Chiefs’ Mess, is to provide the Commanding Officer with any deficiencies in the command, were any objections raised to this plaque being created from a seized article? If not, this tends to put the Chiefs Mess, the traditional collective wisdom and decades of experience as deficient, at least aboard the USS Forest Sherman. Whether the Commanding Officer chose to disregard an objection raised by a member of the Chief’s Mess or the Wardroom, then the objection raised by the attorney is unsupportable. Since the military only conducts such contraband interdiction on the high seas in concert with the United States Coast Guard (Law Enforcement), the Commanding Officer was actually in violation of several standing regulations, when he authorized the display of an article from that seized shipment as a trophy. It is against military regulations and federal policy, to dispose, confiscate, or otherwise repurpose articles seized during military or law enforcement actions, without clear direction and lawful disposition.

oaths, rights and wrongs amended

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

In the United States of America the notion of an oath of fidelity, (faithfulness or allegiance) is not something suggested or required for most occupations. A half-century ago, as schoolchildren, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance before our first class every morning. As Boy Scouts, we recited its promise to obey God, do one’s best and uphold the Scout Law. Enlisting and re-enlisting in the military, members take the oath to support and defend the Constitution, to obey orders and military regulations. Federal employees as well as naturalized citizens take an oath to defend the principles of our founding document as well.

to the Constitution’s defense

Recent events involving people storming the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., were alarming. Even if unintentional, the misuse of his influence by a now-former President was not justified. He encouraged a demonstration that became mob mentality, Though citizens have the First Amendment right of peaceable assembly , to gather Trump’s emotionally-charged supporters around the Capital Building at the time of the certification of the Electoral College votes, was improper at best. But the undermining of faith in the Constitutional process sits squarely with Washington politicians and bureaucrats.

Government officials spent years unsuccessfully to determine if the 2016 election of Donald Trump was manipulated by foreign agents. In the prior eight years of President Obama’s presidency, his opposition, decried alleged misuse of Constitutional authority on many of his Administration’s policies, particularly “Obamacare”. Politics is normally unsavory, but there is ample evidence that journalists, bureaucrats, politicians and social media stoked the emotions of their respective constituents. They fostered suspicion that the Constitution was being usurped – either by one side’s “fascists” or the other’s “socialists”. The system functioned as intended however. With the election of President Biden and Vice-President Harris, the military has a new Commander-In-Chief and new civilian authority. Regulations and the UCMJ are still in effect. And the oaths men and women took to defend the Constitution and obey the orders of those in authority are still in effect.

Continue reading

Proper application and value of “lessons learned”

Preliminary opinions, mostly “armchair quarterbacking”, of the horrific fire aboard the almost-completed refurbishment of the USS BON HOMME RICHARD, (ed. note: abbreviated here as BHR) have started. Murmuring that “lessons learned” regarding the ship’s material condition, monitoring of contractors, and security and safety duties by the crew may reveal inadequate measures taken in one or all areas. Or that an electrical malfunction or overheated equipment started the fire. Reduced to “duty section” personnel aboard ship during weekends in-port in the United States, as the fire was initially called away on Sunday morning, is a long-standing practice of balancing the safety needs for the ship, reduced operations, and liberty for crew who may be at-sea and away from home for nine months a year. This reduced manning may have prevented casualties. Published reports indicate that construction materials were stored in a large interior area where the fire is suspected of igniting. Equipment, furnishings and materials used aboard Navy ships are specifically designed to be fire-resistant and low emitters of toxics. However, during the transition from the yard to an operational state, material may have still been staged in containers called “tri-walls”, These rugged, large-volume, cardboard cartons and their contents might have fed the blaze. For anyone familiar with shipboard life, cleaning is an around-the-clock process aboard a vessel. A maintenance period makes the effort more difficult as well as more important. Dust removal which is omnipresent on ship, salt corrosion due the maritime environment, any trash left by the contract workforce, and improper stowage of cleaning rags and agents all contribute to ship safety issues. Work performed in the vicinity preceding the fire may be suspect. Investigation will likely include any activity in the twelve hours prior to the fire being reported.

Existing practices

Standards in place over several decades, incorporating “lessons learned” from reports of incidents around the Fleet, are managed by several departments within the Department of the Navy. Guidance is distributed by directives from the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV), from Naval Safety Center’s investigations, and from Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) which oversees all afloat construction, maintenance and repair, including shipyards and at other facilities. In past, established practices to monitoring work being performed at any hour, scheduled inspections and audits, and well-practiced safety operations would likely be sufficient to mitigate risk. As with any work or potential hazard, human error, negligence or malicious conduct is not always preventable.

Fire is an ever-present danger

Fire is an ever-present threat at sea. On a ship or submarine, crews are thoroughly trained to fight several emergencies from flooding, collision, munitions, toxic gases, electrical and different classes of fire. Identified by the combustible materials, those that burn leaving an ash such as paper, bedding, clothing, or stores can be extinguished with one agent. Fuels and oil require an oxygen disrupting agent. And Class C fires, are electrical in origin, and take different methods to extinguish. On the latter two, “starving” the fire of oxygen knocks the fire down. Besides corrosion to metals and equipment, the danger of electrical shock to firefighters or arcing is present with water, while its use against fuel fires disperses flaming fuel instead of extinguishing it. On three different classes of ships during my eight years at sea, we practiced incessantly for emergencies at-sea and in-port. And practiced security drills. With millions of dollars of valuable equipment aboard and in a time when espionage and terrorism are real concerns, members of the ships’ crew are assigned to accompany contractors, not otherwise cleared for unrestricted access, while aboard. For all “hot work”, that is, welding or grinding, a Sailor and/or a civilian performed as a “fire watch” for the welder. Sometimes, shipboard personnel charged with the vessel and crew’s safety would monitor both the welder and the fire watch. Why such a fuss? The danger from welding or grinding is due to heat or random sparks being generated which could cause combustible material to smolder (sometimes for hours) or set material ablaze in adjacent compartments through convection or radiated heat.

Systems and thorough practice

Aboard ship, the Engineering Department is the primary team responsible for damage control and management of the fire safety systems. These systems consist of pressurized fire mains, firefighting chemical (Aqueous Firefighting Foam or AFFF) and Halon gas (fire suppression) systems. The corrosive properties of seawater on metals and electrical components is well-known, so the Damage Control team evaluates available resources to fight a fire. However, the danger (the BHR fire was reported to be as hot as 1000 F) of water flashing into steam adds to the hazards for firefighters. As has been reported, the Halon system was undergoing maintenance and unavailable to flood a compartment that was on fire. Seawater therefore was apparently the primary means to fight the fire and attempt to cool the hull and compartments to contain its severity. According to one report, the team using AFFF were evacuated due to an explosion in one of the machinery compartments, and it is unclear whether they were able to resume its use. (According to another source, some non-Navy firefighter personnel abandoned their stations when a pump exploded requiring the Navy personnel to be withdrawn.)

Danger during Maintenance periods

The conditions during a maintenance period can contribute to safety hazards. Combustible materials may be used during maintenance contributing to conflagration. Sometimes a heavy paper is affixed to bulkheads (walls) and decks to minimize abrasion from equipment being moved. Terrazzo, a chemically-bonded interior decking material, sometimes has plywood overlaid by shipyard workers to prevent marring by heavy equipment and foot traffic during a maintenance period. Sometimes hatches are not dogged properly, which might either be due to inattention, protruding temporary cabling or poor placement. An improperly closed hatch or scuttle might then allow flammable material or gases to receive sufficient air to burn, or fire to penetrate other compartments. Or improper placement or shifting of material used during the maintenance period might cause running equipment to overheat. Or an electrical problem may cause arcing (sparking) to occur.

The human factor of safety practices

During my time in the U S Navy (nearly three decades), willful damage (in the case of USS MIAMI or USS COMPTE DE GRASSE) was not often suspected, and particularly not suspected to be caused by members of the crew. However, in 2012, a Navy contractor aboard the former, at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine deliberately started a fire which resulted in the sub being scrapped. In the latter case, in 1994 a Navy crewman on the SPRUANCE-class destroyer, purposely damaged reduction gears causing extensive damage to propulsion and prevented the ship from deploying.

The investigation of the submarine fire revealed that the perpetrator was not being monitored continuously by a member of the submarine’s crew for a specific period of time. The civilian deliberately set a “small” fire expecting to get off work early. Having too few members of a “duty section”, assigning additional tasks for the crewman assigned to monitor that contractor, or improper vetting of civilian workers may have contributed to the incident. Once the reports have been issued by the investigation aboard the BHR, and the repair costs evaluated. the Navy may return the same verdict as in the MIAMI.

While Navy veterans and those currently in uniform, hope that the destructive fire aboard her was the result of accident, lapses in judgement, or an “act of GOD”, the Navy should not rule out sabotage. Evidence will reveal one or all of these factors. If sabotage, justice will be meted out. In the case of the civilian in the USS MIAMI case, the perpetrator was given a 17-year prison sentence. The sailor in the USS COMPTE DE GRASSE incident also received a lengthy sentence.

Lessons to be learned and then applied

However, the most important lessons to be gathered from this recent fire are to find where the shortcomings were, what worked well, and to implement change with practices, systems or personnel. Others have commented that implementation of lessons from prior incidents and casualties may have been slow to promulgate due to the bureaucracies responsible, or the incident the practice inspired receding into history. The practices that need to be changed will be studied, but the immediate operational effects are more troubling. The loss of the ship’s ability to deploy will cause more problems for the Navy meeting its commitments. With the recent quarter-billion dollar overhaul making it one of four similar ships to provide amphibious F-35 fighter support, the loss is substantial. Billions of dollars and years of construction and validation may be required to replace the USS BON HOMME RICHARD. The void left in the interim will likely result in longer deployments for other ship crews in order to balance the increasing militarization by Russia, China, and other actors in the world.