edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (submarine insignia)
On April 13, 1989, my military service officially ended. Six years, ten months, zero days and a wake-up earlier, I was sitting in Logan Airport waiting for the flight to Chicago and boot camp, and wondering how much trouble I'd be in if any of the (ten?) other recruits traveling with me managed to miss the plane. Fortunately, nobody missed their first military movement ...

Getting out was the right thing to do at the time, just as getting in was the right thing to do at that time. I still wonder, though, how my life would have turned out had I stayed in the Navy.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (submarine insignia)
Via Tom Peters' Twitter, the Wall Street Journal has an article today about Cold War vets (like myself) and Veteran's Day:
This weekend, Americans will honor soldiers who fought the country's wars, from the Somme to Kandahar. In Manassas, Va., 30 miles from the nation's capital, a parade on Saturday will honor veterans of another big war: the one that never happened.

The Cold War, from 1945 to the Soviet Union's breakup in 1991, was all about avoiding total nuclear war. It turned hot in Korea and Vietnam and sparked conflicts from Lebanon to Grenada. But soldiers on duty between flare-ups didn't do battle. When the war that wasn't came to an end, they got no monuments, no victory medals.

For me, personally, the lack of a Cold War medal is more of a minor irritation than anything else; the important part was that (a) we won (b) without blowing up the Western world in the process. Besides, joining the American Legion was never a big goal of mine; and, last I looked, the Navy Expeditionary Medal I received for our little "independent submarine operations" would make me eligible for the Veterans of Foreign Wars should I choose to pursue them. But I absolutely see Peters' point.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (submarine insignia)
Back in May, a massive fire broke out aboard the USS Miami (SSN 755) as she was undergoing overhaul at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The fire took hours to extinguish; last I heard, the cost of repairs was estimated at four hundred million dollars.

Originally, the fire was thought to have started in a vacuum cleaner used to clean up worksites. However, the Portland Press-Herald is now reporting that the fire was deliberately set by a shipyard worker:
The fire that raged through a nuclear submarine this spring at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery was deliberately set by a 24-year-old worker who told investigators he was suffering from anxiety and depression, according to Navy investigators.

[ ... ]

Casey James Fury of Portsmouth appeared in federal court Monday and was told he faces up to life in prison if convicted of setting the fire to the sub, which was in the middle of a 20-month overhaul at the shipyard.

[ ... ]

Fury had trouble remembering some details, describing the period as a blur during which he was intensely anxious.

He told authorities he was taking medicine for anxiety, depression, insomnia and allergies.

Days after the June 16 fire, Fury checked himself into an in-patient mental health facility for two days.

Fury is scheduled to be back in court Wednesday for a combined hearing to determine whether the government had probable cause to charge him and whether he should be released on bail.
It's true in any industrial setting that one worker on his own can cause an awful lot of damage. I have to wonder whether the shipyard had adequate checks in place to pick up on a worker with serious mental health issues - or whether such checks even exist.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Or perhaps the Goat Locker. Or, at least, somewhere in the forward compartment of the USS Miami (SSN 755) - which, fortunately, was (and is) undergoing an overhaul at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. From an official statement released by RADM Rick Breckenridge, Commander Submarine Group TWO:
Late yesterday afternoon, USS MIAMI experienced a fire in the submarine's forward compartment.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Fire Department and Ship's force, along with mutual assistance from several other area fire departments, immediately responded and successfully extinguished the fire on USS MIAMI. I repeat, the fire is out.

The fire and subsequent damage was limited to the forward compartment spaces only which includes crew living and command and control spaces. The nuclear propulsion spaces were physically isolated from the Forward Compartment early during initial response.

The Portland Press-Herald reported further comments from RADM Breckenridge:
He said it was premature to say whether the Miami, which cost $900 million, was salvageable or is too badly damaged to be repaired and put back in use. The Miami is in the third month of a planned 20-month overhaul.

Seven firefighters received minor injuries while fighting the fire.

Breckenridge praised the repsonse of firefighters from communities in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts that responded to the blaze.

"As I stand before you today, there are a lot of heroes who worked together to save the ship," Breckenridge said. He said local firefighters worked inside the submarine in conditions of high heat, smoke and cramped quarters.

[ ... ]

Breckenridge said the high heat and difficulty extinguishing the fire, was largely because the fire spread to insulation. The fire also was fueled by cabinets and lockers in the living quarters and command area.
Nobody was killed - that, to me, is the most important point. And, as RADM Breckenridge points out, there's no nuclear risk involved.

It's way too early to speculate on what exactly went wrong, although my immediate assumption is that somebody screwed up badly while grinding or welding. Any sort of "hot work" is supposed to include preplanning, covering all exposed and potentially flammable areas, and dedicated fire watches with full charged extinguishers to stop any sparks that do escape from doing any damage. Back on the old Ustafish, during our time at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, one of the shipyard grinders managed to ignite some oily rags that had fallen into the bilge - the fire watch had that out in about ten seconds. (Just how the oily rags got into the bilge in the first place ended up being the focus of the ensuing investigation, IIRC.) I'd strongly bet that a whole lot of safety precautions were blown off or went awry leading up to this mess.

Of course, if you're going to have a fire in a submarine at all, doing so at the beginning of an overhaul is probably the "best" time.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Me: (heads down to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to get some veteran's plates)
RMV Wait Estimator: (estimates 37 minute wait)
Me: (waits 40 minutes)
Nice Registry Lady: (calls me to window)
Me: I'd like veteran's plates for my car.
Me: (hands over registration application and DD-214)
NRL: (does some paperwork)
NRL: Would you like the plate with the American flag, or would you like the one with the sticker for your branch of service?
Me: The one with the branch of service, please. I'd like the Navy stickers.
NRL: (does some more paperwork)
NRL: (goes off to get plates)
NRL: (returns with plates and Marine Corps stickers)
Me: I'm sorry, but these are the wrong stickers. These are Marine Corps stickers, and I was in the Navy.
NRL: (points to top of stickers) They say "Department of the Navy" right along the top.
Me: (points to bottom of stickers) But they also say "United States Marine Corps" right along the bottom.

The Nice Registry Lady did in fact get me my Navy stickers. But it was an amusing moment.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
According to the BBC, one remarkably dimwitted group of Somali pirates tried to grab the Darwin Award ... by attacking a French naval auxiliary:
A group of Somali pirates has been captured after attacking a French navy ship by mistake, apparently thinking it was a harmless cargo vessel.

French military spokesman Admiral Christophe Prazuck said the pirates attacked in skiffs late at night some 500km (310 miles) off the Somali coast.

But the command and supply ship, the Somme, repelled the attack and chased the pirates, capturing five of them.
According to Andrew Toppan's World Navies Today site, FS Somme is a Durance-class fleet support auxiliary, armed with one 40mm cannon, two 20mm cannon and a pair of 12.7mm machine guns. Wikipedia, on the other hand, lists Somme as having one 40mm cannon, six 12.7mm machine guns and a Mistral missle launcher.

Regardless, it really doesn't take much to deal with Somali pirates.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
According to this Central Command / Fifth Fleet press release, the skipper of USS Hartford is no longer the skipper of the USS Hartford:

MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- The commanding officer of USS Hartford (SSN 768) was relieved of command April 14 due to loss of confidence.

Rear Adm. Michael J. Connor, commander, Task Force 54 (CTF 54) and commander, Submarine Group 7, relieved the commanding officer of USS Hartford (SSN 768), Cmdr. Ryan Brookhart.

Connor expressed his loss of confidence in Brookhart's ability to command. Brookhart was in command of Hartford when the submarine collided with USS New Orleans (LPD 18) March 20, in the Strait of Hormuz. Although the investigations into the accident are not complete, Connor determined that there was enough information to make the leadership change.

This isn't exactly what I'd call surprising. Given what little I know about the geometry of the collision, and what even less I know about the "rules of the road" as applied to submarines [1], I figured the odds were pretty good that the Hartford's crew were going to be at least partially at fault for the collision - which automatically puts the skipper's career on the chopping block.

Once those "investigations into the accident" are complete, I expect that a few more punitive actions will be taken - with the XO, Navigator and ship's control party the likely targets. That's not going to be a happy boat for a long while ...

[1] Rule 1: Don't hit anything. Rule 2: Don't break your boat. Rule 3: Don't break anybody else's boat - inadvertently.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
While Sgt. Pepper was conducting band practice elsewhere, I was beginning a new phase in my life. I got out of the United States Navy twenty years ago today, April 13 1989.

An awful lot has changed over the last couple of decades. Wonder what the next couple will bring?

Only one way to find out ...
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
A new press release from COMFIFTHFLT/COMNAVCENT confirms just how nasty last week's collision between USS Hartford (SSN 768) and USS New Orleans (LPD-18) was:

While overall damage to both ships is being evaluated, investigators believe Hartford rolled approximately 85 degrees during the collision.

Despite the roll, engineering investigations have confirmed the propulsion plant of the submarine was unaffected by this collision.

However, Hartford sustained damage to its sail and periscope, as well as the port bow plane.

New Orleans suffered a ruptured fuel tank. Divers have determined the resulting hole is approximately 16 by 18 feet in size. There was also interior damage to two ballast tanks.

They build those boats tough, folks. It's one thing to roll a kayak or a Sunfish-type sailboat over on its side; it's another thing entirely to roll seven thousand tons of submarine.

Even though the gator freighter [1] suffered the big hole in the hull, I suspect that her repairs will be quicker and easier than those for the sub. Presumably, the Navy has access to the drydock facilities in Bahrain (some of which are sized for supertankers), and cutting new hull plates is relatively straightforward when the plates in question are quarter-inch mild steel. I'd be rather surprised if anybody in Bahrain knows how to properly weld the very specialized, high-tensile-strength steel used for 688-class submarine hulls.

No word yet on why this happened, although there are a couple of official investigations mentioned later in the press release. At this point, my best SWAG [2] is that Hartford was trying to keep astern of New Orleans. New Orleans suddenly reduced speed and turned hard to port - perhaps her bridge crew saw a fishing boat or some such dead ahead, and they were trying to avoid a collision. Hartford didn't pick up on the maneuver in time and got smacked by New Orleans' hull.

[1] Slang for an amphibious assault ship, such as the New Orleans. LPDs such as New Orleans have a well deck which can be flooded to allow Marine amphibious assault vehicles to swim out and hit the beach.
[2] Stupid, Wild-Ass Guess


Mar. 22nd, 2009 01:16 pm
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Y'know, I'm really glad that my naval career never brought me to the Straits of Hormuz.

From the Navy Times:

An attack submarine and an amphib are out of action following a collision Friday during a nighttime transit through the narrow Strait of Hormuz.

The attack submarine Hartford and the amphibious transport dock New Orleans collided at 1 a.m. local time while moving into the Persian Gulf through the narrow passage between Iran and Oman.

Fifteen Hartford sailors were injured in the collision but were able to return to duty. No injuries were reported aboard New Orleans.

Details of the incident remain unclear. Hartford was "submerged but near the surface" at the time of the collision, according to Navy officials.

Today, Fifth Fleet Public Affairs released a statement, saying that both ships had arrived in Bahrain "to further assess and evaluate the damage that resulted from their collision at sea." They also released several pictures, showing Hartford's sail being significantly damaged (as in being knocked way off vertical). The damage to New Orleans appears to be entirely underwater.

Looking at the pictures, it would appear that the port side of Hartford's sail hit the starboard side of New Orleans' hull - and hit hard. Now, the Straits of Hormuz are notoriously shallow, and there is a lot of shipping going through not that much in the way of shipping lanes. It's way too early to judge what went wrong, but clearly something did.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
The Navy Times reports that the latest Ticonderoga-class cruiser, USS Port Royal (CG-73), is hard aground off the entrance to Pearl Harbor:

HONOLULU — Navy officials say an attempt to pull free a 9,600-ton warship that ran aground off the coast of Honolulu has been unsuccessful.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet says Navy tugboats and salvage ship Salvor tried to tow the Port Royal early Saturday, but the guided missile cruiser remained stuck.

The Navy says it plans to try again after extracting fuel and water from the $1 billion vessel.

The 9,600-ton ship ran aground Thursday night on a sandy, rocky bottom. The cause of the grounding, as well the extent of the damage to the ship, remains under investigation.

Commenters on the US Naval Institute blog note that this was the ship's first underway following an overhaul at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, which implies that the crew was probably more than a little bit rusty. It was also the skipper's first underway with the ship, and AFAICT the first time he'd ever been underway on a Ticonderoga-class cruiser. His previous seagoing assignments were either to nuclear carriers or to Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, which draw only around 22 feet as compared to the 33 feet that Ticonderogas draw.

I can safely say that I never was involved in any groundings. I did have the distinct misfortune of going through an overhaul at PHNSY, and I remember more than a little bit of nervousness the first time we went back out to sea. The Navigation Department was probably the most nervous of all, since they hadn't been able to get much hands-on practice. We nukes, on the other hand, had made it through the Post Overhaul Reactor Safeguards Exam, which meant more practice at things going horribly (simulated) wrong than anyone could possibly want.

I can also safely say that the navigation and command teams are about to watch their careers go up in smoke, and the rest of the crew is going to be terminally embarrassed for years to come. They are literally just off the "reef runway" of Honolulu International Airport, and the local TV stations are stocking up on file footage.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Another tragedy has struck the submarining world. The BBC reports that twenty people died aboard the Russian Akula class submarine Nerpa:

An inquiry is under way into Saturday's gas poisoning on a Russian nuclear submarine in the Pacific that left 20 people dead, including 17 civilians.

Another 21 people were left ill in what officials believe was an "unsanctioned" activation of an automatic firefighting system that released freon gas.

A companion analysis piece notes that the Nerpa, while officially "new construction", was originally laid down in the early 1990s, just before the Soviet Union collapsed. Supposedly, the Akulas are designed for a crew of 73, yet there were over two hundred people on board Nerpa at the time.

Soviet designs weren't known for being particularly healthy for the crews, and I personally think that putting in what amounts to an automated asphyxiation system is a dumb idea even by Soviet-era standards. Having three times the normal complement on board couldn't possibly have been helpful, either. If, as the BBC piece indicates, many of the riders were civilians trying to teach the crew how to run their boat, that also points to real problems in training and leadership.

The analysis piece also notes that the Indian navy was planning to lease the Nerpa, along with a second Akula class boat, from the Russians. That's probably going to be rethought - but our Navy should be concerned, nonetheless. If the crews are any good, Akulas are at least as quiet as the Los Angeles-class boats I served on, and they could pose real problems for CENTCOM and CINCPAC if relations between the US and India ever got frosty. (A more likely scenario would be another shooting war between Pakistan and India - both of whom have nuclear weapons. Not a pleasant thought.)
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
While almost all the US media are concentrating on either the Mighty Wall Street Bailout (version ?.??) or the presidential contest between Cool-Hand Obama and Gamblin' Jack McCain, problems continue, mostly unremarked, in the Real World (tm).

In this case, pirates. Not the romantic, Johnny Depp type, nor the comedic ones brought to music by Gilbert & Sullivan, nor even the baseball ones currently dwelling in the NL Central cellar. I'm talking about the real deal; thieves on the high seas, who seize merchant shipping and either hold the ships for ransom, sell off the cargoes, or both.

In particular, the seas off the coast of Somalia have been infested with pirates for years. The most recent incident involves a Ukrainian ship - with a potent military cargo:

A Ukrainian ship seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia was carrying 33 tanks and other weapons, the Ukrainian defence minister has confirmed.

Earlier, the country's foreign ministry said the ship had a crew of 21 and was sailing under a Belize flag to the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

[ ... ]

Defence Minister Yury Yekhanurov confirmed that 33 Russian T-72 tanks and "a substantial quantity of ammunition" were aboard.

He said all the weapons had been sold in compliance with international agreements.

Earlier this week, an American fleet oiler was approached by pirates, but was able to drive them off:

Two unmarked and unflagged skiffs raced toward a 41,000-ton U.S. fleet oiler in the pirate-infested waters off Somalia on Wednesday, a Navy spokesman said. A security team embarked on the oiler fired on the boats, forcing them to peel away in the latest incidence of pirate activity in the region.

The two boats approached the John Lenthall, a Kaiser-class Military Sealift Command civilian-manned strike group replenishment ship that operates out of Naval Station Norfolk.

"They came up on the ship about 300 to 400 yards," said Lt. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for 5th Fleet in Bahrain. "These skiffs came out and approached after bridge-to-bridge calls and loud hailers and flares."

When the skiffs, approaching from behind, failed to back off, sailors from an embarked security detachment fired warning shots. The suspected pirates raced away.

Y'know, this sort of crap is what the Navy is supposed to prevent. And we've certainly got the capability to deal with piracy on the high seas. According to the BBC story:

Pirates have seized dozens of ships from the major shipping routes near Somalia's coast in recent months.

Pirate "mother ships" travel far out to sea and launch smaller boats to attack passing vessels, sometimes using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Finding those "mother ships" should be a snap for a US carrier battle group, or even a surface action group backed up by maritime patrol aircraft flying out of someplace like Djibouti. (Diego Garcia is about 1800 miles away, which is a bit of a stretch even for P-3C Orions.) Once found, seizing the mother ship is a matter of pulling up alongside and ordering them to heave to; if they don't behave, a couple of helicopters full of SEALs can straighten them out in a hurry. Or, if we're not interested in bringing them in for trial someplace, it'd only take one Mk 48 torpedo to end their piratical career.

Of course, the current Administration is far too busy fighting "terraists" on land to pay much attention to ones on the high seas.


Sep. 14th, 2008 04:05 pm
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
I've been watching the streaming video from KHOU in Houston, showing the devastation that Hurricane Ike has wrought. They've got their helicopter up showing live pictures of flooded streets and blown-out buildings (currently over Texas City? I don't know that area at all).

Rep. John Culberson recently gave a press conference where he was appealing for local residents to send food and water to the command center at Tully Stadium - apparently, there are some three hundred first responders at the command center there who ran out of supplies. Culberson is on the Appropriations subcommittee that funds Homeland Security; I wouldn't want to be Michael Chertoff at the next set of budget hearings.

Meanwhile, the news folks are demonstrating their ignorance, misidentifying both a C-17 Globemaster II and a Navy P-3 Orion as C-130s. And nobody's gotten any aerial pictures of the west end of Galveston Island ...
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
... to Venezuela, at any rate. According to Reuters:
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Monday it would send a heavily-armed nuclear-powered cruiser to the Caribbean for a joint naval exercise with Venezuela, its first major maneuvers on the United States' doorstep since the Cold War.

Russian officials denied the mission was linked to a naval standoff with U.S warships in the Black Sea, but it will take place at a time of high tension between Washington and Moscow over the conflict in Georgia.

Washington has played down the significance of the exercise.

[ ... ]

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said on Monday that the naval mission to Venezuela would include the nuclear-powered battle cruiser "Peter the Great", one of the world's largest combat warships.

Moscow's most modern destroyer, the "Admiral Chabanenko", will also steam to the Caribbean, along with other ships, including a fuel tanker, he added.

The naval exercise, to take place in November, will be backed up by an anti-submarine aircraft, based at a Venezuelan airfield, he said.

Unsurprisingly, the Navy Times reports that the Pentagon isn't terribly concerned:
The Defense Department seemed unaffected Monday by an announcement from Venezuela and Russia that Russian warships would sail to the Caribbean this winter for exercises with the Venezuelan fleet — the first-ever such move by the Russian navy.

Pentagon officials did not express particular concern over the announcement from Caracas. "We’re aware of the announcement made in Venezuela," said Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, "and we’ll see how it goes."

This should allow the US Atlantic Fleet plenty of opportunities to practice open-ocean tracking. I'm actually more curious as to how well the Russian ships can handle a long deployment; replenishment at sea is a tricky business, and I don't know how much practice the Russians have had over the last few years. Not to mention the minor detail that the Atlantic hurricane season lasts through the end of November.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
First off, the problem: Drug runners have finally figured out that submersible vessels make great smuggling platforms. From the Boston Globe:
KEY WEST, Fla. - Skimming just below the surface, they are extremely difficult to detect from surveillance aircraft or patrol boats. Their sleek design, up to 80 feet in length, can secretly carry several tons of cargo thousands of miles.

These "semi-submersibles," which exhibit some of the same characteristics as military submarines, mark a significant advancement in the ability of drug smugglers to slip past coastal defenses.

So far this year, the Coast Guard says it has encountered at least 27 such vessels headed toward the southern and western United States, more than in the previous six years combined, while far more are believed to have gone undetected, according to US military and law enforcement officials.

The growing number and increased sophistication of the vessels, officially designated "self-propelled semi-submersibles," has set off alarms at the highest levels of the US military and the federal Department of Homeland Security. Counterterrorism officials fear that what drug runners now use to deliver cocaine, terrorists could one day use to sneak personnel or massive weapons into the United States.

The solution? Well, we in the Silent Service have known for a long time that the best anti-submarine weapon is another submarine. I doubt your average "expeditionary shipyard" is going to be able to produce the sort of sound-silencing gear that costs an arm and a leg for military shipbuilders; picking up and tracking a semi-submersible would be a (relatively) straightforward task for a decent sub's crew. Not only that, but they could also track the drug runners to their resupply ships and relay the track to the Coast Guard. Catch the bad guys in the act, and presto!

Of course, given how overbooked the sub force is currently, we'd have to actually spend some serious money building new hulls to support this mission (on top of all the other things the poor slobs still on active duty are trying to cover). And, since the Connecticut Congressional delegation basically had to force a second Virginia class boat in 2010 down the Navy's throat, I kind of doubt the Bush Administration really cares about that whole "keep the terrorists out" rhetoric. (At least, not unless the nativist whackjobs get the idea that hordes of brown people are using subs to steal Ammurican jobs.)
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
One hundred eight years ago, the United States Navy purchased its first submarine, USS Holland. Today is thus the official Submarine Force Birthday. I think the only time I ever wore my miniature medals was when I went to the Submarine Birthday Ball one year at Pearl Harbor.
You haul sixteen torps, and whaddya get?
Another year older and deeper in depth.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
... not quite so scary story. At least, not so scary to somebody (like me) with a bit of a clue about submarines. The Edinburgh Evening News headline reads Hole found in nuclear submarine:
SAFETY fears have been raised after a hole was discovered in the hull of a nuclear submarine berthed in the Firth of Forth.
The hole – about the size of a fist – was found during routine checks on the decommissioned sub HMS Revenge at Rosyth Dockyard.

The vessel is one of seven redundant nuclear subs stored at Rosyth by the Royal Navy since the early 1980s.

The breach, discovered during a routine inspection in February, was in one of six external ballast tanks of the Polaris submarine, and was immediately sealed by Navy engineers.

Although weapons and high-level radioactive fuel have long since been removed from the submarines, successive governments have failed to come up with a safe way of disposing of the radioactive reactor compartments, which remain at the centre of the subs.
Apparently, HMS Revenge has been quietly rusting away for a couple of decades, now, ever since she was decommissioned. US subs eventually go through a recycling program; I gather the Brits haven't developed one of their own.

A hole in a main ballast tank would be annoying, but not terribly dangerous if fixed quickly (as this one apparently was). The worst case scenario would be that the boat would lose some freeboard - but five MBTs would still provide plenty of reserve buoyancy, and being tied up next to the pier is about the best possible place for a casualty like this to occur.

OTOH, it's the sort of thing that sounds bad, especially to folks who don't like nuclear anythings anyway. And from what I hear, the MoD has more than enough other issues on its plate; the last thing they're likely to do is stump up more funding for preventive maintenance on decommissioned warships.

And, at least it's not as bad as an article I saw on the BBC website a while back. Apparently, HMS Alliance (a WWII boat that's the feature exhibit at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum) has rusted out badly enough that a flock of pigeons has moved in.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Back in September, the submarine USS Hampton pulled into her new homeport of San Diego, California, following a seven-month deployment. Two weeks ago, they had their keys taken away - "Right now, it's not leaving the pier, it's not getting underway" - due to officially unspecified "issues" with "conduct of procedures". My initial thought was that they'd managed to fail their Operational Reactor Safeguards Exam, an annual test of how well the crew runs their nuclear reactor, which is often inflicted on a crew on the way back from a long deployment.

However, as more information started to leak out, some of the other submarine-related blogs that I follow began speculating that the Engineering Laboratory Technicians had been "radioing" some or all of the required daily analyses of the primary coolant. "Radioing", like "gundecking", is a squidly term meaning "making up the results of doing something without actually doing the work involved". As the Navy Times reported later, that appears to be the case:
According to one source with knowledge of the investigation, the central problem involves how often sailors analyzed the chemical and radiological properties of the submarine's reactor, which is typically checked daily.

During preparations for the boat's Operational Reactor Safeguard Examination, which is typically conducted as a nuclear submarine ends its deployment, officials discovered that the sailors hadn't checked the water in at least a month, and their division officer, the chemistry/radiological controls assistant, knew it, the source said.

They also learned that the logs had been forged — or "radioed," in submarine parlance — later to cover up the lapse and make it look as though the sailors had been keeping up with required checks all along.
Unsurprisingly, the skipper of the Hampton, CDR Michael Portland, was fired last week; now the top Navy submariner, VADM Jay Donnelly, is looking at the rest of the Submarine Force:
The investigation into doctored reactor logs onboard the attack submarine Hampton continues with a sharp eye on the rest of the undersea fleet, according to Vice Adm. Jay Donnelly, submarine force commander.

"We're looking very, very carefully at the root causes of what happened on Hampton, and the investigation is ongoing, so it's a little early to draw conclusions, but I expect we'll wrap this up in the very near future," he told an annual gathering of the Naval Submarine League in McLean, Va., on Nov. 1. "We had a group of individuals — not a single individual, but a group — [that] was working together, and they compromised our integrity. I think they were pushing the 'easy button.' "

The Hampton investigation has led to administrative discipline for one officer and five enlisted crewmen who allegedly skipped regular chemical tests of reactor water and then falsified records to make it appear the work had been completed. Donnelly described it as several crewmen "working in collusion and falsifying some records."

On Oct. 25, Hampton's captain, Cmdr. Michael Portland, was relieved of command for loss of confidence. Another officer and two more enlisted crew members were also reassigned. A total of 10 Hampton personnel have been punished since the problems were discovered in September.

Donnelly said the discrepancies aboard Hampton were discovered by a chief petty officer from the squadron who came aboard for routine inspections, "noticed irregularities and began pulling the thread, and brought this whole incident to light, and that light is very bright."

In the aftermath, Donnelly said he plans to meet "eyeball to eyeball with all submarine commanders and command teams on the East Coast, and Rear Adm. Joe Walsh, commander of the Pacific submarine force, will do the same throughout his command.

"My question is, 'Is this a one-time isolated incident, or do we have this problem throughout the force?' I don't have indications now that I have a forcewide problem, certainly not on the magnitude that we had on Hampton," he said.
VADM Donnelly may not yet have any official indications that this is a force-wide problem, but he's certainly got one if some of the commentary on Bubblehead's The Stupid Shall Be Punished blog is to be believed.

Now, this mess is bad enough on its own. But CDR Portland is the fourth SSN skipper this year to be booted off his boat for cause. Back in January, the skipper of the Minneapolis-St. Paul was relieved after two of his sailors drowned trying to get underway in rough weather, and the skipper of the Newport News was relieved after colliding with a Japanese supertanker in the Persian Gulf. In May, the skipper of the Helena was relieved for "a pattern of performance over time that was consistently not meeting the standards" expected of submarine skippers in general (one of six skippers relieved in a six-week period).

Combine those Navy problems with the recent joyride taken by half a dozen Air Force nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and the Army's well-documented woes (just ask the Army Chief of Staff), and it's looking to me like the entire American military is overstretched beyond its breaking point. Not that our "Heckuva job!" President is likely to do anything to fix the problems ...
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
According to this front-page story in today's Boston Globe, the Army is stretched so thin that "the current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies."

Who's making that claim? Some filthy scumbag liberal hater-of-the-troops, right?

Wrong. GEN George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, that's who:
WASHINGTON - The Army's top officer, General George Casey, told Congress yesterday that his branch of the military has been stretched so thin by the war in Iraq that it can not adequately respond to another conflict - one of the strongest warnings yet from a military leader that repeated deployments to war zones in the Middle East have hamstrung the military's ability to deter future aggression.

[ ... ]

Officials said Casey, who appeared along with Army Secretary Pete Geren, personally requested the public hearing - a highly unusual move that military analysts said underscores his growing concern about the health of the Army, America's primary fighting force.

Casey, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wanted a public forum even though he has ample opportunity to speak to lawmakers in closed-door meetings.

Representative John M. McHugh, a New York Republican, said Casey's blunt testimony was "just downright frightening."
Emphaisis mine - because, AFAICT, this is the first time any top brass have come out and pushed something that might be possibly imply that the President's policies are less than wonderful. We've seen the brass admit to problems when Congress (or the press) rubs their face in them (for instance, the mess at Walter Reed earlier this year). BUt actually going out and asking for a public platform to sound the alarm? For a Bush appointee, that's Career Ending Maneuver Number One.

Other choice bits from the same article:
Several Pentagon insiders have privately remarked that Casey's apparent alarm about the Army heightened when he returned from nearly three years of duty in Iraq. One civilian military adviser said that Casey was taken aback when informed at a recent meeting that some combat units were heading into battle short of key personnel. After the meeting, the adviser said, Casey took an officer aside and peppered him with questions about exactly which units were affected.

Casey and Geren insisted that the units now deployed to the combat zone are highly trained and outfitted with the proper equipment. However, they said the units of most concern are the ones returning from Iraq or those preparing to deploy without all the proper equipment.

Stocks of equipment the Army has positioned around the world are also growing low because of the war, they said. Replenishing those stockpiles, Casey told the committee, "will give us back our strategic flexibility."

A major risk for the future, however, is that the Army currently spends nearly all of its time training for counterinsurgency operations - "to the detriment of preparedness" for other types of combat, Casey testified. If troops don't continue to train, their skills "will atrophy over time."

Army units are now deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan for 15 months at a time. At current force levels, that allows them 12 months or less back home before being sent overseas again. Casey said yesterday that the cycle allows for "insufficient recovery time."
Gee, fifteen months on and twelve off isn't enough time to recover from a combat deployment? The phrase "No shit, Sherlock?" comes to mind.

Anybody want to take bets on how soon GEN Casey is asked to resign? Or at least to re-spin his testimony?
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
I would have thought this impossible, but according to the Military Times, last week the Air Force loaded up a B-52 with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles for a little jaunt from Minot AFB to Barksdale AFB. Inadvertently.
The Air Force continued handing out disciplinary actions in response to the six nuclear warheads mistakenly flown on a B-52 Stratofortress bomber from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30. The squadron commander in charge of Minot’s munitions crews was relieved of all duties pending the investigation.

It was originally reported that five nuclear warheads were transported, but officers who tipped Military Times to the incident who have asked to remain anonymous since they are not authorized to discuss the incident, have since updated that number to six.

Air Force and defense officials would not confirm the missiles were armed with nuclear warheads Wednesday, citing longstanding policy, but they did confirm the Air Force was "investigating an error made last Thursday during the transfer of munitions" from Minot to Barksdale.

The original plan was to transport non-nuclear Advanced Cruise Missiles, mounted on the wings of a B-52, to Barksdale as part of a Defense Department effort to decommission 400 of the ACMs. It was not discovered that the six missiles had nuclear warheads until the plane landed at Barksdale, leaving the warheads unaccounted for during the approximately 3 1/2 hour flight between the two bases, the officers said.
This is simply astounding. I can neither confirm nor deny whether or not we ever had nuclear weapons on the old Ustafish, but we did go through the qualification process and I remember the incredible amount of checks, balances, multiple signoffs and assorted fooferaw that goes along with handling those beasts. I literally cannot imagine how anybody could accidentally load one nuclear weapon on an airplane, let alone six.

Frankly, I'd thought that all the nuclear-tipped cruise missiles had been decommissioned back in the early 1990s. I guess I was wrong on the decommissioning. Looks like I was wrong on my assumption that the Air Force had its act together as far as dealing with nuclear weapons is concerned, too.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
LTG Douglas Lute, the so-called "war czar" (officially, the Deputy National Security Adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan), gave his first interview since taking the job to NPR's All Things Considered yesterday, in which he said that it made sense to consider reinstating the draft:
When military leaders, though, talk about the breaking point, what are they talking about? What's the real worry there?

I think that most who have talked about the stress on the force are concerned that in today's all-volunteer force, especially with the sort of quality individuals that we're interested in attracting to the all-volunteer force, that we're actually competing in the marketplace — in the labor marketplace — for a very narrow slice of high school graduates without records with the law who come to us with a clean bill of health and the potential to serve this country in some very demanding missions.

So when you're competing in that marketplace, I think the concern is that these people are challenged and feel the respect to the nation and feel a calling to something beyond themselves, beyond just a personal calling, and that these things remain in place and, therefore, make the all-volunteer force viable in the long run.

You know, given the stress on the military and the concern about these extended deployments for an all-volunteer military, can you foresee, in the future, a return to the draft?

You know, that's a national policy decision point that we have not yet reached, Michele, because the —

But does it make sense militarily?

I think it makes sense to certainly consider it, and I can tell you, this has always been an option on the table, but ultimately, this is a policy matter between meeting the demands for the nation's security by one means or another. Today, the current means of the all-volunteer force is serving us exceptionally well. It would be a major policy shift — not actually a military, but a political policy shift to move to some other course.
As the Associated Press (via boston.com) notes, the Administration officially doesn't think a draft is necessary:
"The president's position is that the all volunteer military meets the needs of the country and there is no discussion of a draft. General Lute made that point as well," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Of course, the Army has already watered down its standards dramatically, with one out of every nine recruits having a criminal record. And the Administration has steadfastly refused to build up the Army to the point where it could do an effective job of counterinsurgency in Iraq - even with the much-vaunted "surge", the US has less than one third of the number of troops needed for the job in-country (and even with the Iraqi Security Forces, we still don't have the twenty counterinsurgents per thousand population that GEN Petraeus' own COIN manual calls for).

Realistically? A draft would be an admission by the Administration that their policy of invading Iraq on the cheap was an utter failure, and as such I can't see it happening.

But I'm not at all looking forward to the price those currently in uniform are going to have to pay before United States foreign policy changes to something sustainable. What we've got now ain't even close.
edschweppe: A closeup of my face, taken at Star Island during the All-Star II conference in 2009 (Default)
Her Majesty's Army is pulling out. Ending its counterinsurgency work. Turning it over to the locals.

Not in Iraq, but in Northern Ireland, that is. As the BBC reports:
The British army's operation in Northern Ireland came to an end at midnight on Tuesday after 38 years.

Operation Banner - the Army's support role for the police - had been its longest continuous campaign, with more than 300,000 personnel taking part.

A garrison of 5,000 troops will remain but security will be entirely the responsibility of the police.

British troops were sent to Northern Ireland in 1969 after violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants.

When the first soldiers were deployed in August 1969, commanders believed they would be in Northern Ireland for just a few weeks.

But the Army quickly became involved in what came to be known as Operation Banner.
That's some seriously good news. I don't for a moment believe that Northern Ireland isn't going to hit rough patches in the future, but a British Army pullout would have been considered a pipe dream not too many years ago.

The British Army end strength in Northern Ireland peaked at 27,000 troops. I don't have a date when that peak occurred, nor do I know the date at which the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the police force during the Troubles) end strength peaked at 8500 plus 5000 reservists[1], nor do I know the population of Ulster at that time. But, figuring that the population was somewhere around 1.4 to 1.6 million [2], and guesstimating that the RUC and RA forces peaked around the same time, the "troop density" in Northern Ireland maxed out at around 22 counterinsurgents per thousand population. All this is relevant to the current mess in Iraq, because according to the US Army's Counterinsurgency manual [3], paragraph 1-67:
However, no predetermined, fixed ratio of friendly troops to enemy combatants ensures success in COIN. The conditions of the operational environment and the approaches insurgents use vary too widely. A better force requirement gauge is troop density, the ratio of security forces (including the host nation's military and police forces as well as foreign counterinsurgents) to inhabitants. Most density recommendations fall within a range of 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1000 residents in an AO. Twenty counterinsurgents per 1000 residents is often considered the minimum troop density required for effective COIN operations; however as with any fixed ratio, such calculations remain very dependent upon the situation.
Even with the much-vaunted "surge", the US troop density (160,000 total) in Iraq falls way short of the twenty-per-thousand that GEN Petraeus called for in FM 3-24. If you add in the Iraqi army and national police (whose end-strength "officially" is 353,100 [4]), the resulting total of 513,000 is almost enough to reach the twenty-per-thousand mark for the IRaqi population of 27 million [5] - we'd need 540,000 to accomplish that. And that's assuming that all the Iraqi Security Forces actually show up - I can't find the link off hand, but I do recall reading that if only half of an Iraqi unit fails to report for duty, it's considered a good sign by the Iraqi commanders.

but let's assume that there really are enough boots on the ground, at the moment, for effective counterinsurgency. The British Army spent thirty eight years on Operation Banner, with the support of at least half the local population. It took nearly four decades of fighting and politicking to get to the point where the Army no longer needs to support the local police service. Is there anybody in the United States who truly believes the American public is willing to spend the next four decades in the middle of the Iraqi Civil War?

[1] According to Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Ulster_Constabulary
[2] The 2001 population was 1,685,267 in 2001, according to the census, so this is a decent guess.
[3] FM 3-24; also known as MCWP 3-33.5 to the Marines.
[4] According to the State Department's "Iraq Weekly Status Report" dated June 20, 2007 at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/87080.pdf
[5] Per the CIA World Factbook at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/iz.html#People

[Edited to correct incorrect references to the "Royal" Army]
edschweppe: (vote at your own risk)
I saw this story as I was packing for my canoe trip, and decided not to write about it then because it was too depressing. As Bryan Bender wrote in Friday's Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- Nearly 12 percent of Army recruits who entered basic training this year needed a special waiver for those with criminal records, a dramatic increase over last year and 2 1/2 times the percentage four years ago, according to new Army statistics obtained by the Globe.

With less than three months left in the fiscal year, 11.6 percent of new active-duty and Army Reserve troops in 2007 have received a so-called "moral waiver," up from 7.9 percent in fiscal year 2006, according to figures from the US Army Recruiting Command. In fiscal 2003 and 2004, soldiers granted waivers accounted for 4.6 percent of new recruits; in 2005, it was 6.2 percent.

Army officials acknowledge privately that the increase in moral waivers reflects the difficulty of signing up sufficient numbers of recruits to sustain an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq; the Army fell short of its monthly recruiting goals in May and June.

Since Oct. 1, 2006, when the fiscal year began, more than 8,000 of the roughly 69,000 recruits have been granted waivers for offenses ranging in seriousness from misdemeanors such as vandalism to felonies such as burglary and aggravated assault.
That's more than one recruit of every nine coming in with a criminal record - and not just parking tickets, or kids given the choice between enlisting or jail time. These are people with either multiple misdemeanor convictions, or a single "less serious" felony conviction:
Moral waivers must be approved by an officer of the rank of lieutenant colonel or higher and are required when an Army applicant has been found guilty of committing four or more minor offenses such as littering or disorderly conduct -- or two to four misdemeanors such as larcency, trespassing, or vandalism.

Applicants who have committed a single felony such as arson, burglary, aggravated assault, breaking and entering, or marijuana possession must also receive a moral waiver to join. Applicants with more than one felony -- or with a single conviction for a more serious crime such as homicide, sexual violence, or drug trafficking -- are not eligible.
That high a percentage of folks with criminal records is going to leave a legacy of disciplinary problems for years to come. Then, there are the Aryan Nations types that are joining up for the training (and leaving graffiti in the streets of Baghdad).

Oh, well. Just another example of how the current Administration is doing its best to break the armed forces, I suppose.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Today has a couple of bits of historical significance.

On the one hand, it's Flag Day, celebrating the 230th anniversary of the Continental Congress's approving the Stars and Stripes as the national flag:
Resolved, that the Flag of the thirteen United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation.
Remarkably, the current fifty-star flag is less than a year older than I am, having been put in place on July 4, 1960, following Hawaii's statehood the previous August.

On a more personal note, though, today is the 25th anniversary of my flying out to Recruit Training Center Great Lakes for eight weeks of boot camp "fun", which was followed by six years and change of other Fine Navy Days. Somehow, I ended up as the man-in-charge of ten other recruits flying out of Logan that morning. I had a few nervous moments when several of the other recruits figured that this was the last chance for two months to wet their whistles, so they hit the airport bars running. Luckily for me, nobody missed the flight, and nobody missed the bus at O'Hare, so my first "leadership" mission was successfully accomplished. The next morning, at zero-dark-thirty, we got the traditional Flying Trash Barrel wakeup call ...

Looking back, joining the service was definitely the right thing to do at the time. Had I stayed in, I'd be either a master chief petty officer, a chief warrant officer, or (most likely) a mid-grade officer by now. However, that would have required some things to have gone rather differently; as it turned out, leaving the service after just shy of seven years was also the right thing to do at the time.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
WTF? Six US Navy commanding officers fired from their commands in the last six weeks?

April 16: The commander of VAQ 140 (an electronics-warfare squadron flying EA-6B Prowlers) was relieved "due to loss of confidence in his ability to command."

April 21: The commander of Navy Recruiting District New York was relieved "due to loss of confidence in his ability to lead his command," supposedly due to failing to meet recruiting goals.

May 8: The commander of the destroyer Higgins (DDG 76) was relieved because commanders lost "confidence in his ability to command."

May 10: The commander of Old Ironsides, USS Constitution, was relieved "due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command."

May 16: The commanding officer of the submarine Helena (SSN 725) was relieved "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command".

May 21: The commanding officer of the destroyer Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) was relieved due to a "loss of confidence in her ability to command", possibly linked to the Arleigh Burke running aground on May 15 off Norfolk.

That's an awful lot of skippers being canned for cause in an awfully short time frame. The various official releases don't mention specifics about why the various COs were fired, although another Navy Times article claims that "sources have suggested causes range from incompetence to fraternization to an allegation that a captain struck an enlisted crew member."

And there's probably more heads about to roll. The frigate Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 56) experienced "engineering difficulties" May 11 about a mile off of Puerto Belgrado, Argentina and had to be towed into port. Plus, Arleigh Burke's squadron commander was on board when she ran aground, which may well call his leadership into question.

That also doesn't count the skippers of two Coast Guard medium endurance cutters who've gotten themselves into hot water - USCGC Alex Haley's skipper was temporarily relieved April 30 for "loss of confidence", while USCGC Escanaba's skipper was arrested May 15 for getting into a bar fight in Key West.

So what the hell is going on the the collective wardrooms of the Fleet? I hope this is just a weird set of coincidences, but ...


Apr. 13th, 2007 08:16 pm
edschweppe: A closeup of my face, taken at Star Island during the All-Star II conference in 2009 (Default)
Well, this has been an exhausting week. Town Meeting Monday and Tuesday nights, plus a loooong choir rehearsal Thursday night, plus trying to pull together a presentation on test-driven development for work, plus coding around the fact that the folks for whom I'm developing the current application still haven't come to closure on what it's supposed to do.

I'm too brain-fried to really go through the results of the study on abstinence-only education released today - but the short answer is that it doesn't work worth a damn. From the Associated Press (via boston.com), the headline is Study: Abstinence classes don't stop sex:
WASHINGTON --Students who took part in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, according to a study ordered by Congress.

Also, those who attended one of the four abstinence classes that were reviewed reported having similar numbers of sexual partners as those who did not attend the classes. And they first had sex at about the same age as other students -- 14.9 years, according to Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

The federal government now spends about $176 million annually on abstinence-until-marriage education. Critics have repeatedly said they don't believe the programs are working, and the study will give them reinforcement.
The full study is available here (720Kb PDF). The executive summary makes for interesting reading. So does the timing of the release - late Friday afternoon, when hopefully nobody's paying attention.

Meanwhile, today is the 18th anniversary of my getting out of the Navy (or, as we used to say, "PCS to CIVLANTFLT"). Just like signing up was the right thing to do at the time, so was getting out - although I do sometimes think about how life would have been different had I chosen to remain in uniform.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
According to today's Boston Globe, the Army is having serious problems retaining West Point graduates:
Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army's top young officers.

According to statistics compiled by West Point, of the 903 Army officers commissioned upon graduation in 2001, nearly 46 percent left the service last year -- 35 percent at the conclusion of their five years of required service, and another 11 percent over the next six months. And more than 54 percent of the 935 graduates in the class of 2000 had left active duty by this January, the statistics show.

The figures mark the lowest retention rate of graduates after the completion of their mandatory duty since at least 1977, with the exception of members of three classes in the late 1980s who were encouraged to leave as the military downsized following the end of the Cold War.
How bad are the numbers?
But the sharpest increases in those leaving the military were among those whose commitments expired in 2005 and 2006, as many units were going back to Iraq and Afghanistan for their second and third tours. In each of those years, covering the classes of 2000 and 2001, about 35 percent got out at their earliest opportunity.

The rate was significantly more than the classes from 1977 to 1986, which averaged 18 percent. For those who graduated between 1990 and 1999, 29 percent left after their five-year commitment.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the Bush White House is looking for somebody to take over as "war czar", to run the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns - and getting no takers:
The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but it has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.

At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.
The other generals noted in the article are retired Army General Jack Keane ("one of the primary proponents of sending more troops to Iraq" who "presented Bush with his plan for a major force increase during an Oval Office meeting in December") and retired Air Force General Joseph Ralston, a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Yep, I feel a whole lot safer now. </sarcasm> Especially since I just saw this gem from the Army Times:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday that all active Army soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the Central Command area of operations will spend a total of 15 months in theater.
That's a twenty-five percent increase in tour length, with no corresponding increase in recovery time. Back in my day, the Navy aimed for no more than one-third of a unit's time spent on deployment (six months out, six months recovery and maintenance, six months working up), and I could have sworn that the Army had (or used to have) a similar policy. Gates' new plan is for combat outfits to spend at least fifty-five percent of the time deployed!

Insane. Just completely insane. This administration is doing everything it can to wear out the armed services.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Army Surgeon General LTG Kevin Kiley has "put in for retirement". From the Army Times:
The Army Surgeon General has resigned his post, the end of yet another high-level career brought about by the still-expanding scandal over shoddy care for wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, Army Surgeon General and commander of the Army Medical Command, submitted a retirement request Sunday to Acting Secretary of the Army Pete Geren.

Geren announced Kiley’s request during a speech intended to lift the spirits of the staff at Walter Reed Monday.

Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, current deputy surgeon general, immediately assumed the surgeon general’s duties.
Now, according to the Associated Press (via boston.com), it wasn't really his idea:
Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren had asked Kiley for his retirement, said a senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the events.

Kiley's removal underscored how the controversy, which began with reports of dilapidated outpatient housing and a nightmarish bureaucracy at the Army's flagship hospital, has snowballed into a far broader problem for the Bush administration.
After Kiley's butt-covering performance last week, I figured his neck was on the block. THen, a couple of days ago, I saw another Army Times article about a new brigade at Walter Reed to take over command of the medical hold units:
The Army’s vice chief of staff announced a new brigade and a new general officer position to help solve problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

All of the new positions, including 122 new platoon sergeants in the medical hold units, who will form the backbone of a new Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade, have been filled by combat arms soldiers.

"We’re an Army at war and we demand an awful lot of our medical professionals," Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody said during a media roundtable at Walter Reed. "We need to let them concentrate on the medical thing."

Combat arms soldiers, Cody said, have the right level of leadership to take charge of the new brigade.
Talk about a vote of no confidence in the medical community - at least, the medical community under LTG Kiley's leadership. Getting wounded soldiers follow-up care isn't "the medical thing"?

Defence Secretary Robert Gates continues to show that he's willing to take tough action in the short term - which gives me some hope that maybe he'll also take effective long-term actions. I"m still uncertain, though, how bad things are at the other service medical institutions, and how effective Gates can be at fixing problems there while also having to fight multiple hot wars without political support or adequate manpower.
edschweppe: Submarine warfare qualification badge, aka "dolphins" (dolphins)
Yesterday's Army Times reported that LTG Kevin Kiley (currently Army Surgeon General and Walter Reed's CO back in 2002-2004) was trying to duck responsibility for the screwed-up nature of Army medicine in general and Walter Reed in particular:
As Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley worked to push the blame away from himself during Monday congressional hearings on problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker and Vice Chief Gen. Richard Cody seemed to place it squarely on Kiley's shoulders.

[ ... ]

But Kiley said he didn't know, either, explaining that when he served as Walter Reed commander from 2002 to 2004, he was "dual-hatted" as chief of the Army's North Atlantic Regional Medical Command — as was Weightman [MG George Weightman, Walter Reed CO from last fall to last week] until he was relieved of duty last week.

Kiley said he did read reports of problems, but that he was concentrating on an 80 percent return-to-duty rate of injured soldiers.

"We still have problems," he said, "but we were still healing and returning to the force large numbers of soldiers."
I suspect LTG Kiley is going to get himself canned in the rather near future - especially after reading today's Army Times:
Even as the Army reviews outpatient care procedures at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and 11 other posts, the Pentagon has ordered a senior-level review of medical care provided by all the services, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today.

Gates, who last week fired Army Secretary Francis Harvey over his handling of the administrative problems and poor living conditions for some outpatients at Walter Reed, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference that he has directed David S.C. Chu, undersecretary for personnel and readiness, and William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary for health affairs, "to comprehensively review all the departments' medical care programs, facilities and procedures - to ensure that we're providing all of our troops the standard of care they deserve."

[ ... ]

Gates said he has also told acting Army Secretary Pete Geren to brief him by the end of the week on the Army’s action plan for Walter Reed, and to provide timelines on changes in Walter Reed outpatient care.

Gates said he expects progress reports "every two weeks."

Some details of the so-called "Army Action Plan" for Walter Reed are expected to be revealed Thursday afternoon at a news conference at the hospital. Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody will provide the update, officials said.
It really does sound as though Gates (a) gives a damn and (b) has a clue. Kiley may be getting one last chance to shape up, but those biweekly progress reports sound like Gates is going to have his people on a really short leash.

The other big question, though, is just how deep the rot is in the military healthcare system. It took pictures in the Washington Post to get any action at all on Walter Reed ...


edschweppe: A closeup of my face, taken at Star Island during the All-Star II conference in 2009 (Default)
Edmund Schweppe

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