Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Skimmer XO Court-Martialed

Check out this story from about the ongoing court martial of the former XO of USS San Antonio (LPD 17) for dereliction of duty relating to the death of a Petty Officer in February 2009 during a small boat mishap. Excerpts:
Prosecutors contend that Kearns did not ensure effective training or supervision of small boat operations on Feb. 4, 2009, when the amphibious transport dock ship -- the first in its class -- was operating in the Gulf of Aden.
That morning, an 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boat with three Sailors aboard was lowered to the water. Its engines failed to start, and it flipped over soon after hitting the water. Two Sailors were rescued. Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong, the small boat's engineer, apparently drowned. His life vest, too large for his frame and improperly closed, was recovered; his body was never found...
...Kearns, whose duties as second-in-command included supervising small-boat operations, was not on the bridge for the launch of Ansong's rigid-hull inflatable boat, Burby said. Instead, he was in his stateroom, checking e-mail...
...Kearns refused the option of facing non-judicial punishment in an administrative hearing. Instead, he opted to have a jury decide his fate.
More information can be found in this Navy Times article. Based on what I've read (XOs almost never personally supervise RHIB ops on amphibs, there is still no standardized procedure for this class for this evolution) I don't see how they could win a conviction, but remember the jury is a bunch of O-5s and O-6s who might buy into the Big Navy philosophy of "blame individual Sailors on the deckplate so we can avoid having to acknowledge and fix systemic problems". I personally have a problem with the attitude that people should be punished for doing what everyone else does if there's an accident involved, but it's clear the Navy leadership does buy into that idea.

Update 1613 08 Nov: LCDR (soon to be CDR) Kearns was acquitted. Money quote:
Prosecution witnesses, for instance, had said the “best practices” gathered from general experience on systems common to many Navy ships, including small boat operations, were known to and disseminated to shipboard leaders, an apparent defense of the lack of formal training guidance.
But, Carmichael said in his closing statement, “Are best practices the standard that we hold somebody criminally negligent for?”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Virginia-Pilot ( has more info on this, including endorsements from his two previous COs as well as comments on the class problems.

11/03/2010 9:03 AM

Anonymous YNC(SS), USN, Retired said...

Very sorry for the loss of the man. Interesting about a life vest that was, to large for him, and improperly put on by a PO1 who is a boat crew member.

What does it say in their SORM about XO supervision/observation of the launch operation; or do they have one?

11/03/2010 9:52 AM

Anonymous pc assclown said...

Off Topic...

Reading Golf Digest (Oct or Nov issue) while setting on the can this morning...... I came across the name Don V. Hahnfeldt, ex-submarine skipper. He's now spending his retirement playing golf and shuffle board at The Villages in central Florida.

Thought I'd throw out his name in case anyone knew him or was just interested.

BTW, all came out well.......

11/03/2010 12:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sailor Bob has a pretty good discussion on this, as well.

This sounds like Big Navy trying to pin a tragedy on the junior guy in the room - I'm pretty sure that isn't what they're teaching at Leadership School in Newport these days...

And, yes, I acknowledge that it's pathetic that we have a "Leadership School" at all.

11/03/2010 12:45 PM

OpenID lifeloveliberty said...

I, too, have an extreme issue with things being pinned on people that are very obviously not their fault, especially when it involves something that is not even directly related to an actual dereliction of duty by that person.

There are a lot of systemic issues in the Navy that need to be solved, but a lot of the time people aren't willing to admit that there are problems in the first place.

I think this is a problem with any large organization, not just the Navy. It just so happens that the Navy is inherently more dangerous to operate on a daily basis than say, a Fortune 500 company.

11/03/2010 3:49 PM

Blogger Ret ANAV said...

For what it's worth....My read on this:

Fact: The XO waived NJP and CHOSE Court Martial.
Fact: The (New) LPD community has been bitching long and loud that this is a CLASS ISSUE that a) Launching/recovering small craft (RHIB's) is inherently unsafe and, b) Approved operating procedures DO NOT EXIST for said operations.

Here's where opinion comes in: If I were part of the "troika to get fired" after a tier-1 incident, I would probably want my case, with the above KNOWN FACTS heard by the biggest movers-and-shakers I could muster AND, most importantly, GET IT IN THE PUBLIC RECORD.
Was he really derelict in his duties? Maybe, maybe not (but I doubt it)...but he was playing the hand he was dealt, and he wants BigNavy to know that he was forced by a poor class design to go All-In with a 9-High. Again, just my opinion on where his thoughts may be.

11/03/2010 4:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic again

ACLU coming to a JO's aid for wanting to seperate after he stated that he could not carry out his duties

11/03/2010 4:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the XO.. Wecome to the Navy Biotch!

11/03/2010 5:07 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

The Executive Officer is responsible for ship's training. Period. There may be all sorts of reasons that this is going to court martial - last straw with this guy; send a signal to the fleet; emphasize boat operations; bring professionalism to a basic gator function; actual dereliction of specific duties by this guy in this particular case; etc. But rest assured, he's the training officer and if training is on trial, so's he.

Don't knock accountability. The skimmer navy is pretty sloppy overall - this is a good sign.

11/03/2010 5:26 PM

Anonymous Carl said...

There is a balance between accountability and process. In the civilian nuke business one can find plenty of examples where we're afraid to hold people accountable but not afraid of indicting the process and adding more process on top of a lot more process.

There is a happy medium but it's hard to find.

11/03/2010 6:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having only read your snippet, I'll go out on a limb and blame the dead guy. Improperly sized life vest? Possibly can't swim?

As an aside, contrary to the current pinheads at Big Navy and in Dilbert's corporate America, accidents do happen.

11/03/2010 7:08 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where was the LPO, the chief, the division officer, the department head? If this is a "known class problem" then I would have expected lots of khaki on deck . . . and not just the XO. Any LDO BMs on LPD-17s? Improper wearing of a life jacket means a pretty basic deck seamanship failure. That should be a part of the "ready on deck" checklist. Safety gear is supposed to be checked before people are allowed to get into the boat. That's how my BMC taught me, back in the day.

11/03/2010 7:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I left the Navy 31 years ago, but about a year before I got out, I was the subject of a malicious prosecution. I was publicly accused - at morning quarters - of a crime I did not commit. Unfortunately, even though I had proof of my innocence, the command had already committed itself and I was to be the fall guy so that they could save face.

An NJP was their first choice, but that would have been a complete railroad job where no rules of evidence apply, and only the whim of the convening authority - the captain - stood between me and a complete butt-reaming.

In my case, the circumstances were such that I could and did demand a General Courts Martial.

In a General Court, all of the rules of evidence apply, and the defendant exercises all of his Constitutional rights. (Including the right to an attorney.) The downside is that the penalties if convicted can be much higher.

In my case, for nearly a year, the prosecutor kept trying to get me to take a plea bargain of one sort or another. I stood by my guns and refused all of them. It was a General or nothing. And just before I got out, they gave up the fight and dropped everything.

My point is this:

I don't blame that XO even a little bit for demanding a General Courts Martial over an NJP. In an NJP, he is at the mercy of anyone on that board who wants to make him the example. And please don't misunderstand me. He might indeed have been negligent in some way - I don't have all of the facts in the case. But in a General Court, they have to *prove* he was negligent.

His naval career is finished no matter what, but at least in a General court he has a better chance of exoneration and leaving the service with all of his rights and benefits intact.

11/03/2010 8:16 PM

Anonymous YNC(SS), USN, Retired said...

Just so ya know. Back in the day before I was a YN, I was a BMSN, Assault Boat Coxn, that is LCVP Coxn, Motor Whaleboat Coxn, and Utility boat Coxn. Not an easy thing to forget. Although in those days we didn't normally wear life vests; except, on occasion a May West, but that's about it. I am not unfamiliar with launching a boat from an underway condition. I am inclined to support the Exec, and unfortunately, the Coxn and the lost man may bear the most weight in this casualty.

My first ship out of boot camp was a Gearing Class Destroyer (DDR 742).

11/03/2010 8:33 PM

Blogger ETCS (SS/SW) said...

My first thought was 'Why the XO and not the CO'. After reading the article and the follow-on comments, I now believe it is the chief's and (sorry to his family) Petty Officer Ansong's failure. Yes, the navy did not have proper SOP's in place and there perhaps lay the blame for a good part of this loss. But we are talking about a first class, and chiefs, and documented or not, this is basic seamanship that should have been within their level of capability. I think there is more to the story since the navy seems to be anxious for a higher level scapegoat. I don't the XO is at fault here and I think he did the correct thing in requesting Court Martial. I believe he will prevail. I also think the navy needs to get of its ass and get this class of ship finished and documented properly.
I'm sure the navy is covering up

11/03/2010 9:44 PM

Blogger Old Salt said...

I agree that the XO is in charge, but after reading the articles referenced, I don't think he should be the fall guy here. His former CO says he never expected the XO to attend all small boat parties, and with the obvious shortcomings of the new class, I salute him for shedding light on big Navy.

11/03/2010 11:08 PM

Blogger Old Salt said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/03/2010 11:21 PM

Blogger bigsoxfan said...

Not rocket science. We can land jet aircraft on a moving vessel and resupply same at sea for the last sixty years, but we can't launch a RHIB boat with a first class PO losing his life. The issue is not with the XO, but with a larger isssue. A first class can't protect himself with a properly fitting Life Jacket? This is not the XO's fault, assuming they did not have small sized vests. And I'm with Bluewater in that launching the RHIB is fraught with danger, just stand on the deck at davit height and look down. Bugger you big navy, someone needs to get their crap in one stenciled sea bag, the desceased is one and the navy that allowed the SA to go to sea is the other. XO, CO are only quilty in overperforming to get the dog to where it was when the first class lost the number of his mess.

11/03/2010 11:34 PM

Blogger MT1(SS)WidgetHead said...

So the XO is guilty for failing to implement an SOP that doesn't exist in the first place. That's what this whole fucking thing boils down to.

I'm glad I don't live in skimmer land, and I don't blame the XO for opting for a GCM to get this shit out in the open. If you read the latest article you'll also see that his crew and CO are on his side entirely. I'll bet a paycheck that the XO gets off and skimmer land is going to have to take a public whipping on this one for being so damned stupid in the first place. There's no method or set of instructions stating how to lower a rowboat into the water?...and the XO has to pay for it? Like I said, I'm glad I'm not a topside resident.

11/04/2010 12:20 AM

Blogger Ret ANAV said...

Duck, I love ya, man - ya usually have good things to say...but for once in your blogging life will you PLEASE take the myopic blinders off.

11/04/2010 4:45 AM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

XOs (and others) sometimes forget that training is a primary duty. Now and again they get a sharp reminder. I think that improves the herd and shelters the livestock.

Submarines? I've seen boats in which safety was a top priority and they lived in a risk regime normal for the business. I've also seen boats where safety did not have major emphasis ... and often in a CO's tour they lost a kid to carelessness.

Having an XO who trained everyone in safe operations makes the risk to the individual sailor subject to something more than a CO's stupid decision. That's what I think ... and what I saw. I know you guys love XOs, but when their fundamental responsibility is unmet, perhaps they might be at fault.

11/04/2010 5:38 AM

Anonymous Submarine Bos'n said...

I went from being a COB/CMC to getting commissioned as a CWO Submarine Bos'n. Steep learning curve, fortunately my early years in the Navy, I was on a DLG so I at least had exposure to the Deck environment. During one of my tours I was the Ship's Bos'n on a AS. When small boat ops are going on, there is more adult supervioson than you could possibly imagine. There is no requirement fo rhte XO to be present at the davits. However, never did a boat op occur w/o either the 1st Lt or myself present along with most of the BMCs and BM1s and knowledgeble Coxswains. On the most perfect days at sea (no wind, calm seas, no stress) things can and will go wrong at the flip of a switch. No matter how many people are present supervising or observing, things can and do go south. As with any incident in todays Navy, someone is always looking to pin the blame on someone. I would be reasonably sure that none of the folks involved with this incident took small boat ops lightly. These ops and refueling have the biggest pucker factor so any one who would approach one of these evolutions without there butt hole being watertight at test depth is in the wrong game.

11/04/2010 6:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am under the impression that these ships have CWO Bosuns on board to handle this. If the Super-BM isn't the responsible party, who is? I thought that the whole point to having guys like that.

Part of the issue seems to be a lack of procedure that a CWO BM on the follow-on sister ship finally wrote. Why didn't the CWO BM on this ship write it? The XO might have deserved relief (or not), but court martial? The buck stops further down, here.

Also, when did PO1's start getting treated like babies? I feel bad this guy died, but he's responsible for his own safety gear. PO1's have experience and are front-line supervisors - taking care of yourself is the least of it. We're not talking a SN here, who should probably get his safety gear inspected by his LPO.

11/04/2010 9:48 AM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

Carl said:
"In the civilian nuke business one can find plenty of examples where we're afraid to hold people accountable but not afraid of indicting the process and adding more process on top of a lot more process."

Amen, amen, AMEN!!! And in the process we turn off the "big flick" and then management wonders why the work quality/schedule goes straight to hell. I'm doing an outage at a BWR right now that, swear to God, has safety people going around not to make sure we're safe, but that we have the safety sheet signed before we start work. Nevermind that all job hazards are covered in the prejob brief, no siree--gotta have that AFF (another f**king form) filled out. We spend so much time on admin we're cutting corners on actual work.

11/04/2010 7:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of good opinions that I agree with in this thread:
1. The EN1 should have done two things - pre-checked the engines and his life jacket.
2. The CWO Bosun should have been in charge.
3. Besides his overall responsiblity for ships training (that's why he chairs the PB4T) exactly how is the XO responsible for training within Deck Department? Isn't that the 1st LT and CWO Bosun?

In today's VP article about the XO's testimony it is clear that the CWO Bosun was present. What would the XO have been able to add to the overall safety of the evolution had he been on the bridge? None.

11/05/2010 7:49 AM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

Folks, a kid died. It's hard to find much that went right. I'd have considered putting the CO in the dock also.

11/05/2010 8:37 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whose responsibility was it to write the procedure for this evolution? Why was it not done?

How does the XO provide training guidance without a procedure in place?

Why does the CO allow the evolution to occur in the absence of written procedure?

Same question up the chain of command.

Why does the Deck Div CWO skate?

Condolences to the PO’s family but why did he not have his proper gear on?

Going after only the XO seems pretty thin.

A GCM should provide a lot of information re the above and more.

Captain RD, a PO1 is only a kid off the ship.

11/05/2010 5:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rubber Ducky,

The XO was found innocent. Shows how much you know...take your fat wrinkled a$$ and shut up!

11/05/2010 7:23 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/05/2010 8:16 PM

Blogger Rubber Ducky said...

I know he was recommended for court martial following an Article 32 procedure, the equivalent of a grand jury. And that he was found 'not guilty,' not innocent.

And I will bet that XOs all over the fleet are giving thought to their own training program and the readiness of their crews to do their jobs safely and well.

A. This is a serious business.

B. Higher authority may not always be right. But it always is higher authority.

C. The anonymity of the web makes brave men of us all. Even no-name weenies as at 11/05/2010 7:23 PM. Get some balls. Use your name. Mine's out there. Where's yours, sport?

11/05/2010 9:05 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting. The fact that I (and many others) often disagree with you makes it even more important that you keep posting even if it does bring out the a-holes. Its not a discussion when no one disagrees with you - its a political rally!

11/05/2010 9:34 PM

Blogger MT1(SS)WidgetHead said...

Personally, I'm glad the XO was found not guilty. Yes he and the CO are responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen on board ship. I'm also sorry another 1st class lost his life as well. But if you think about it, the only item the jury could have gotten the XO on is failure to make certain the boat crew checked the engines operational status before being lowered into the water. A resources and safety equipment check doesn't take much time or effort to complete.

You don't need the XO to be present for such simple tasks. At his level, it's a simple matter of delegation. I'm glad the jury took that into account before rendering the verdict.

11/06/2010 2:09 AM

Blogger Mike Mulligan said...

"In the civilian nuke business one can find plenty of examples where we're afraid to hold people accountable but not afraid of indicting the process and adding more process on top of a lot more process."

You should read up on the trials and tribulations of the troubled Vermont Yankee plant. We elected a anti plant governor...the plant is going to be shutdown by the end of the year. We went through 6 months of TV political advertisements about the leaking Vermont Yankee plant from the gov elect. This democrat governor wouldn't have been elected if but for the flubs of owners and the nuclear regulatory commission. If but for the screw republican Dubie would have been elected...3000 votes separated them.

If the NRC did their job....Dubie would be governor.

Basically we overrode the power of the corporation and the NRC itself.

There is a high probability we are going to take out the NRC over this! I spent 5 hours talking to a senior investigator within the NRC office of inspector general. Hang in there, we are coming to the rescue!

11/06/2010 10:04 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, does he go back to being XO waiting to fleet up to CO?

11/06/2010 10:57 PM

Blogger Ret ANAV said...

Why is it so hard for some people to believe (Duck), that it is sometimes more appropriate for the PROCESS (as opposed to PEOPLE) to be held ACCOUNTABLE? IMO, the right PERSON (CO) was held RESPONSIBLE, and he did so willingly and with full acceptance of that responsibility. The Court made the right decision here. As I mentioned earlier, the evidence was clear that the ship was basically forced to go All-In with a 9-high and it was high-time to scream to the world on high that this was F#&$ed up.

"Recommended" for Court-Martial? NO...the guy REQUESTED IT and, under the circumstances, I would have too.

And I will bet that XOs all over the fleet are giving thought to their own training program and the readiness of their crews to do their jobs safely and well.

And what do you do when you don't have everything you need to effectively accomplish this, as was (STILL IS) the case with the LPD-17 class? Can't train on procedural guidance that doesn't exist. What then? Wing-It? Kinda hard to bluff on a 9-high, dontcha think?

Higher authority may not always be right. But it always is higher authority.

Tactical Face-Palm here ('cuz a normal face-palm just won't cut it.

Duck, you're entitled to your opinion, and I respect that, but things aren't always as black and white as you'd like to believe.

11/07/2010 4:13 PM

Anonymous BluJacket said...

Was onboard the Roark FF as the Chief PN, and was the division officer for the Navigation and admin department which included postal, medical, YN/PN, signalmen, and QM's. The croc of the matter is this: when things are looking good for any of the above divisions, won't hear anything from the XO, but when something goes wrong...I had some explaining to do. Sounds familiar to some?

How the sailor drowned so quickly even with a loose flotation jacket is a mystery to me. Cheers

11/07/2010 4:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rubber Ducky said...

Folks, a kid died. It's hard to find much that went right. I'd have considered putting the CO in the dock also.

A first class petty officer is not by any stretch a kid.

11/07/2010 6:42 PM

Blogger Ret ANAV said...

You nailed it in the update, Joel. The truth was in the summation.

11/09/2010 3:24 AM

Anonymous deerfieldparksouth said...

Quite helpful piece of writing, thanks so much for this post.

4/28/2012 11:44 AM


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