In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off the Japanese coast. Seven sailors died. The entire leadership of the ship was relieved of command. A month prior, the USS Lake Champlain was struck by a South Korean fishing vessel, though no-one was hurt. In January, the USS Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay. There were no injuries, but over 1,000 gallons of hydraulic oil leaked into the water because of the crash.
Admiral Richardson also ordered a broader review within the Navy’s Seventh Fleet, to be overseen by Admiral Phil Davidson. Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet, has been relieved of command. Rear Admiral Phil Sawyer, who is already pending promotion to Vice Admiral, will assume command immediately.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2017
When frequent incidents happen within an organization, the problem is usually systemic. Within military organizations, the climate set by the chain of command is crucial to ensuring the standards, discipline, and mission focus of the unit (regardless of size). Put plainly, what matters to senior leaders will matter to those further down the totem pole and what doesn’t matter to senior leaders will not.
Safety incidents on four different vessels within the same command, especially over so short a period, indicate a problem within the organization as a whole. As the commander of the 7th Fleet, Admiral Aucoin was responsible for everything his sailors did and failed to do. He is ultimately accountable for the successes and failures of those within his command.
The concern here is not only for the safety of the 7th Fleet and its sailors, but the strategic impact. The Fitzgerald and the McCain both need repairs; these repairs effectively take them out of the fight. Furthermore, the USS McCain is a guided-missile destroyer and was a valuable asset in our every evolving dance with North Korea. Standards and discipline within the 7th Fleet have been lacking and, unfortunately, it is starting to affect our strategic footing within the region.