Saturday, August 9, 2014

Man's impromptu World War One gesture is the most heartwarming storyyou'll read all day

Annoyed at the lack of an official commemoration Gary Jones, 31, rushed to Tesco and bought 250 candles for his local memorial.

Gary Jones at Irlam War Memorial

A dog walker frustrated by the lack of a First World War tribute in his town rushed to Tesco to buy 250 candles so he could set up an impromptu vigil.
Gary Jones, 31, a wedding DJ from Irlam, Salford, was annoyed there was no official commemoration for the centenary at Irlam and Cadishead war memorial in Prince’s Park.
So he spent £11.80 on 250 supermarket tea lights and a plastic-handled lighter and did the job himself - spending 45 minutes arranging and lighting all the tiny candles in memory of the fallen.
Two passers-by joined in to help and the three stood back to observe a quiet moment of reflection as the candles flickered in the night, the Manchester Evening News reports.
The spur-of-the-moment tribute coincided with civic ceremonies held across the nation to mark the hour of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany 100 years ago in August 1914. Single lights were left on inside iconic buildings and homes across the country between 10pm and 11pm.

Gary JonesGary Jones tribute
Gary's candlelight vigil twinkling in the dark
Gary, who walks his dog in the park every night, said: “Something just started to niggle at me that nothing was being done in Irlam at the memorial. As I walked the dog that night I counted up all the names and just thought that it would be a nice thing to do. I thought I would do it seen as no one else was going to.
“Two other men, Owen Pritchard and Steve Blay, who were walking their dogs stopped to help me light the candles then we had a quick step-back and a think about things. It looked really nice and was a fitting tribute. It was just a spur of the moment thing for all the right reasons.”
Gary’s impromptu tribute was widely celebrated on Facebook after he posted a picture of the scene and said: “So as Irlam didn’t do anything to mark the 100 years anniversary it was really bugging me. So off I popped to Tesco. 250 candles later and one for every hero. RIP boys.”
Claire Mitchell wrote in reply on Facebook: “That is amazing. Well done to you. Such a shame that nothing was officially organised by the powers that be.” And Natalie Annis added: “Really proud of you Gary. What a very thoughtful and respectful thing to do for all our local heroes.”
The war memorial commemorates losses of both world wars. It was unveiled in November 1949 to replace the First World War Memorial, which was unveiled on April 7 1923.
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World War I: Liverpool went hungry but never starved on the home front

Panic buying and ordinary folk facing the long arm of the law for food hoarding were the hallmarks of rationing during the Great War

A policeman checks the identity papers of a young man outside a butcher's displaying a no beef or mutton sign

Food supplies were a major issue, writes Catherine Jones, as the ECHO commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Great War.
The day war was declared, two things happened in Liverpool.
Firstly, some unscrupulous retailers immediately put up their prices.
Sugar doubled in price and bacon, cheese, butter, cereals and tinned goods all saw a steep increase in costs.
Then, as a result, some worried residents started panic-buying and stockpiling food, either hoping to beat the increases or in case there were shortages.
As it was, there were no immediate shortages of food in the war.
And it would be a year to 18 months before the activity of enemy submarines increased to the point where supplies from America, Canada and beyond were imperilled.
It’s true, not everything remained easily available.
Ten days before Christmas, 1915, the ECHO reported “Dearer Christmas Birds”, explaining: “The French and Normandy turkeys will be off the festive English board, and so with the Italian and Russian birds, and we shall rely chiefly upon Ireland, whose turkeys will be in a position to wipe the field clean.
"English and Welsh birds will be in a very significant minority.”

Liverpool Record OfficeWorld War I ration book
World War I ration book
In January 1916, the Liverpool Bread and Flour Association decreed a decrease in the weight of a four-penny loaf.
The situation was critical enough that, by April, Britain only had just over a month’s supply left of wheat.
Coal too became difficult to obtain, and the autumn of 1916 saw coal rationing introduced, dependent on the number of rooms a property had.
By 1917, and the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare, food in general was becoming scarcer.
On April 15, new restrictions were introduced on meals served in restaurants, clubs and boarding houses, making Wednesday a meatless day, while no potatoes could be served on any day except for meatless days and Fridays.
And then, in January 1918, the Government took the unprecedented step of introducing formal rationing.
First was sugar, and then meat, cheese, butter and margarine.
On January 1, the ECHO outlined the Liverpool Food Committee’s plans to ration butter (4oz per person, per week), margarine (4oz), and tea (1½oz), and to prioritise milk supplies for those most in need, including “nursing mothers, invalids and children”.
Days when meat would not be for sale initially caused confusion, with Birkenheadresidents said to be disappointed to arrive at their butcher’s shop only to find it closed.
Meanwhile, setting the meat ration at 8oz per week, per person for Liverpool and Birkenhead caused “considerable comment”, particularly when it was much more liberal in neighbouring Wallasey.
And, suddenly, some people found themselves on the wrong side of the law.
One restaurant owner was prosecuted for wasting bread by having the crusts cut off toast and thrown in a bin.
And a Southport woman, Mary Kerr, was one of several people brought before the courts for hoarding after she was discovered to be in possession of 64lb of sugar.
Another was Wallasey resident Edward Weals, who was accused of holding 120lb of flour, 40lb of sugar, and 6lb of tea.
While the limits were strict, there were people who qualified for supplementary rations.
By April 3, 1918, 24,000 applications had been received in Liverpool alone, with the Ministry of Food estimating nationally a seventh of the population could be entitled to additional food.
In Liverpool, the figure was one in five, or an estimated 160,000, including dockers, tramwaymen, postmen, policemen and other people engaged in war work.
But, despite the privations, rationing worked and while the country may have been hungry, it never starved.
You can also use our search tool to find ancestors or people from your area who died in WW1, see our WW1 images transformed into colour here and see the ECHO'sgraphics which show the number of WW1 casualties by area in Merseyside and Liverpool.

Y-12: Poster child for a dysfunctional nuclear weapons complex

In early June 1995, while I visited the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a small aircraft flew over the site, dropping about 100 leaflets that local police described as “pornographic” and “libelous.” Word had it that a spurned lover had decided to get even by depositing sexually explicit photos at a Y-12 employee’s workplace. Witnesses reported the plane dove to 150 feet above the weapons plant, in violation of federal aviation rules.
At the time, I was an advisor to Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary, and it disturbed me that this stunt was treated merely as a racy instance of littering. I had just toured the site’s main storage facility for highly enriched uranium (HEU)—a 51 year-old wooden warehouse manifestly unsuited to store highly flammable fissile material. A fire at the warehouse, which contained one of the largest stores of weapons grade uranium in the world, could have meant a national radioactive disaster; the ability of a small airplane to fly over Y-12 graphically illustrated how vulnerable the site was to aeronautical accident, or attack.   
The United States halted production of new nuclear weapons in 1989, with the end of the Cold War. But the US nuclear weapons complex—composed of eight key facilities that have an annual budget exceeding $8 billion—has stumbled on, in the form of a massive, decaying empire that in many cases does its work poorly or dangerously, or both. The Y-12 National Security Complex is the poster child for much of what ails the weapons complex. Although Y-12 has not produced weapons for some 25 years, its annual budgets have increased by nearly 50 percent since 1997, to more than $1 billion a year.
For decades, the Energy Department—which manages the weapons complex through the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA)—has not been able to reconcile competing objectives at the 811-acre Y-12 site, whether they involve storage areas for HEU and other fissile materials, the restarting of old weapons facilities, environmental cleanup, the building of new weapons facilities, or the downsizing of the site. As a result, costs have significantly increased, and long-standing problems have continued, unresolved, for years that have run into decades. For every dollar spent to maintain and modernize the US nuclear weapons stockpile, nearly three dollars is spent “to provide the underlying infrastructure” for maintenance and modernization at Y-12.
Long-term secrecy and isolation have created a dangerous form of hoarding at Y-12; a panoply of severe hazards continues to build up, constantly awaiting ever more costly mitigation in the future. But the stark reality is that there are no more cans to kick down the road. Y-12 has inexorably caught up with its future. Its environmental and security problems are too threatening to leave unaddressed, and questions about its mission will have to be answered definitively in an age of budgetary austerity and relatively little need for new nuclear weapons.
A historic mission, now history. Construction of the Y-12 complex began in 1942 in Bear Creek Valley, nested between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cumberland Mountains, about 18 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee.  Its primary mission at the time was to produce sufficient quantities of uranium 235 for the Hiroshima atomic weapon. During this period, some 50,000 people were employed to operate electromagnetic separation facilities (calutrons) designed by nuclear physicist Ernest O. Lawrence and his research team at the University of California. "By any scale, the operation there was mammoth,” historian Gregg Herken wrote in his 2002 book, Brotherhood of the Bomb. Two 500-tank calutron “race tracks” were installed “each measuring four football fields long.” By 1946, the uranium-enrichment operation was shifted to the Oak Ridge K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant, sharply curtailing the calutron operations.
In 1949, the Y-12 plant began a significant transformation, becoming a major center for the processing of nuclear and other materials and the fabrication of nuclear weapons components during the Cold War. Over time, the plant acquired foundry operations for shaping highly enriched uranium and depleted uranium, production facilities for lithium used in nuclear weapons, weapon-component fabrication and dismantlement operations, and storage facilities for a variety of materials used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. In addition to building several types of fission warheads, Y-12 produced the components for the canned sub-assemblies (CSAs) used in US hydrogen bombs. CSAs contained the highly enriched uranium, lithium deuteride, depleted uranium and other materials that are squeezed to about one-thirtieth of their size and heated to the temperature of the sun’s surface by the fission detonation that triggers hydrogen bombs. More than 70,000 weapons components have been made at Y-12 since the late 1940s.   
During its heyday, Y-12 produced some 1,000 CSAs per year. Now, its annual production capacity has dwindled to less than 100. Though the NNSA declares that Y-12 has multiple missions, including non-proliferation efforts that involve the downblending of HEU and the provision of fuel for the Navy's nuclear-powered submarines, nearly 99 percent of its budget comes from funds dedicated to maintain the US nuclear weapons stockpile. More than anything, Y-12 serves to stockpile thousands of CSAs from discarded nuclear weapons, as well as depleted uranium, lithium, and other hazardous chemicals.
Because Y-12's historical role—producing the components for vast numbers of thermonuclear warheads—has largely vanished, the NNSA has made a number of attempts to stretch the national security mission of the complex, and some of those attempts also stretch the boundaries of imagination. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office finds that “NNSA’s decision to retain many CSAs … poses significant challenges to Y-12’s ability to plan its disassembly workload.” Although exact numbers have been classified since the 1990s, there are likely several thousand excess CSAs, containing hundreds of tons of HEU, awaiting dismantlement at Y-12
Problems, unaddressed for years and years. In the aftermath of my 1995 visit to Y-12, nuclear weapons officials in the Energy Department did their best to stall a planned vulnerability assessment of the department's highly enriched uranium storage operations, mainly because of the large potential cost of fixing problems at Y-12. Hundreds of tons of HEU were stored at Y-12 then. Just a year earlier, Building 9212, Y-12's main uranium processing facility, had been shut down as a result of serious safety violations uncovered by the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board (DNFSB). This setback renewed serious discussion in Energy Department headquarters of closing Y-12 altogether. The discussion proved to be idle chatter. The impacts of closing Y-12, which has dominated the wage and benefit structure for several generations in east Tennessee, was not lost on the White House, mindful of the 1996 elections.
Around New Year's Eve of 1996, a long-awaited vulnerability assessment of HEU storage at Energy Department sites was released. Y-12 had the most significant problems. Even though fires posed the greatest danger of radiation and chemical exposure to workers and the public, buildings, mostly constructed in the 1940’s, had deteriorated and had insufficient or non-existent fire-protection systems, despite the very real possibility of a truly catastrophic fire and resulting release of radiation. It wasn't until 14 years later that a replacement facility for the aged wooden structure serving as the main HEU storage warehouse was opened; it cost five times the original construction estimate. That facility gained notoriety in August 2012, after nonviolent peace protestors, including an 84-year-old nun, penetrated its security barriers.
Making matters worse, there was a backlog of more than 100 tons of “combustible in process materials" that had accumulated in “virtually every building.” Containers holding unstable and flamable forms of HEU sat for decades in hallways, narrow production aisles, and in process lines. Inspectors found that the site’s overall safety plan “often does not contain such fundamental information as the physical forms, storage configurations, or inventories of HEU assumed to be present in the facilities; and, therefore, were not evaluated for potential releases during major accident scenarios.” And more than 60 percent of the many thousands of containers holding HEU had never been opened and lacked documentation as to what was inside.
To its credit, the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board has played an important role over the past 20 years in improving safety at Y-12 and continues to pressure the NNSA to come to terms with problems there. Several improvements have been made, particularly regarding the removal of unstable nuclear material from deteriorated structures, safer packaging of nuclear materials, upgrading fire protection, and establishing a formalized safety culture.
But these improvements haven't come close to eliminating Y-12's many security, environmental, and budgetary problems. Between 2006 and 2011, remote-controlled equipment meant to protect workers from inhaling uranium failed in Building 9212. For five years, kneeling workers had to load uranium oxide by hand into canisters, while wearing respirators
From 1997 to 2006, there were 21 fires and explosions at Y-12 involving electrical equipment, glove boxes, pumps, waste containers, and nuclear and hazardous chemicals. Several resulted in worker injuries and destruction of property.  
After the 1994 shutdown of Building 9212, it took 12 years for uranium processing operations to restart there. The cost of resuming operations was more than $500 million—five times the original estimate. The facility has yet to achieve an adequate capacity to process the backlog of unstable materials and produce purified HEU.
An inability to downsize. Although the end of the Cold War has eliminated much of Y-12's bomb-manufacturing mission, attempts to downsize by eliminating ancient, excess infrastructure have largely been unsuccessful. More than half of the Y-12’s structures were built in the 1940s. Several buildings have been shuttered for years and are seriously deteriorated. Years of leaking roofs have created chronic safety problems, including standing water in fissile material storage areas and water accumulation near electric control panels. In March 2014, a large portion of a concrete ceiling collapsed in a building that was once part of the weapons operation. It was a near miss: Foot-long concrete pieces bounced onto walkways and an area where welders had been working just a day before. 
Over the course of nearly 20 years, however, several plans to downsize the Y-12 complex have foundered. In 1989, the National Research Council noted that Y-12 buildings occupied approximately 5.5 million square feet. Eight years later, the Energy Department announced that “by about the year 2003, the Y-12 facility would be approximately 10 to 20 percent the size of the existing plan."  As of this year, the square footage had shrunk by only about 7 percent. Even with this modest space reduction, the total Y-12 footprint is comparable to the square footage of the Nissan car assembly plants in Tennessee, which produces more than 550,000 vehicles annually. 
Other attempts to close facilities at Y-12 have also evaporated. These failures are mainly due to the large expense of downsizing, which would increase the NNSA’s budget and compete with funds for weapons modernization. Congress is less likely to approve large-scale spending for downsizing antiquated structures than for a mission of maintaining thousands of nuclear weapons for national defense. And so efforts to close or dramatically shrink Y-12 have gone nowhere.
In 2005 a Department of Energy Task Force on the Nuclear Weapons Complex Infrastructure, citing the lack of “modern-day production technology,” recommended the closure of the Y-12 complex and urged the Energy Department to “immediately begin site selection processes for building a modern set of production facilities with 21st century cutting-edge nuclear component production, manufacturing, and assembly technologies, all at one location.” After the Tennessee and other congressional delegations created a political uproar, the Energy Department decided to proceed with a policy of “modernization in-place.”
Modernizing by cost overrun. In 2007, the NNSA began to seek funds from Congress for the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF), which would replace several dilapidated plants at the aging Y-12 site. The UPF was to use new technologies, under development at Y-12 for more than a decade, to replace the chemical conversion and foundry processes used to create HEU weapons components since the 1950s. 
The projected total project cost was $1 billion and operations were expected to begin as early as fiscal year 2013. As with nearly all other new high-hazard nuclear facilities promised by the Energy Department, however, costs for the UPF have soared and its schedule has slipped by several years. The price tag for the UPF, renamed the Uranium Capabilities Replacement Project, now ranges from $6.5 billion to $19 billion.  
With a projected workload an order of magnitude less than during the period of peak weapons production, a major question remains: What should the capacity of the UPF be? The large stockpile of thermonuclear components sitting at Y-12, justified in large part for potential reuse in a dwindling nuclear arsenal, implies that a very modest production capacity is needed.
In April 2014, the NNSA released a “red team” report, led by the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, on the troubled UPF. The team’s most significant recommendation was to rethink a basic, “big-box” approach that would create a UPF to serve multiple functions in one structure. Instead, to hold the line at an estimated $6.5 billion for design and construction costs, the team recommended going back to the drawing board to effectively reduce the size and scope of the project. Meanwhile, in recognition of the growing hazards associated with a deteriorating infrastructure for storing “materials at risk,” the team recommended that greater emphasis should be given to safe consolidated storage of materials, deferred maintenance, and safety upgrading.
Conspicuous by their absence were explicit references to downsizing Y-12 overall. 
The mercury threat. Activities at Y-12 have produced multiple environmental challenges; perhaps the largest is mercury pollution.
During the crash program to build thermonuclear weapons in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Y-12 purchased about 24 million pounds of mercury to purify lithium. Of that amount, about 10 percent (2.4 million pounds) was released into the environment or could not be accounted for inside buildings. To put the problem in perspective, Y-12 mercury losses are about eight times the annual mercury emissions estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency for the entire United States during the years 1994 and 1995. 
Despite the well-recognized hazards of mercury, a neurological poison, workers were not provided with adequate protection from it. People living nearby, including hundreds of school children, were exposed for years to an estimated 73,000 pounds of mercury released to the air. In 2012, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded that “elemental mercury carried from the Y-12 plant by workers into their homes could potentially have harmed their families (especially young children).” A rough measure of harm to workers can be found in compensation statistics maintained by the Department of Labor. Nearly 9,000 Y-12 workers have received some $417 million for exposure to non-radioactive substances
The Upper East Fork Poplar Creek and Bear Creek continuously transport about 500 pounds of mercury from heavily contaminated soil on the site to downstream areas.The contaminated creeks then feed into the lower Watts Bar reservoir of the Tennessee River and the Clinch River, where tens of tons of mercury have accumulated in sediments. In 2002, nearly 40 percent of the anglers using the Watts Bar Reservoir continued to eat mercury-contaminated fish, despite a public ban on consumption.African-Americans were the least aware of the ban and were the most vulnerable to potential harm. 
After recognizing the magnitude of the mercury problem at least 35 years ago, the Energy Department is just beginning to construct a water treatment plant to remove mercury from the contaminated creeks and to reduce offsite mercury run-off. The total cost of mercury cleanup at Y-12 has not been determined. However, it may rival the cleanup costs of profoundly contaminated areas such as the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington state. 
Cosmic mission creep.The current national security mission at Y-12 is so ill-defined and expansive that it strains credulity. For instance, the Government Accountability Office recently reported that one of the primary justifications for stockpiling excess canned sub-assemblies at Y-12 is “for potential use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids.” In 2013, the Obama administration convened a senior-level team and established a now-stalled joint project with Russia to try to fend off asteroids bound for Earth, using nuclear weapons.  
Regardless of the wisdom of or need for an asteroid-protection program, the future of Y-12 should be focused on earthly realities: cleaning up the environment, decontamination and decommissioning of facilities, stabilizing nuclear and other hazardous materials, and the dismantlement of a large excess stockpile of weapons components. There is a very real need to replace the collapsing infrastructure at Y-12 with facilities that can accomplish these goals. 

World War One: The nurse, her remarkable diary, and the woundedservicemen she cared for

It’s hard to imagine what life was really like during World War I but an astonishing diary kept by nurse Emily Connell - and held today in the Glamorgan Archives - helps provide a snapshot of those dark times

Pages from nurse Emily Connelly's diary signed by some of the servicemen she cared for

Caring for patients in a makeshift Cardiff hospital during the war nurse Emily Connell kept a diary, which she shared with some of the servicemen she cared for.
The delicate book has for the most part stood the test of time and provides a remarkable, and surprisingly vibrant, glimpse of life during the Great War.

Crammed full of colourful drawings, it contains the writings of around 100 wounded soldiers and sailors from 1915 to 1918.
Emily’s forward thinking has now, nearly a century on, given us a unique insight into the men who were treated at the 3rd Western Hospital housed at the city’s Howard Gardens School, and the women who cared for them during their convalescence.
Glamorgan Archives, which holds Emily’s diary, has carefully digitised the pages bringing these writings and sketches to life.
Emily Evelina R Connell was born in West Derby, Liverpool, in 1871. She trained as a nurse and records from the 1911 census show she was working in Bideford, Devon. In 1910 she had enrolled in the Embodied Territorial Force Nursing Service (TFNS).
Emily was appointed as a Staff Nurse in September 1914 and worked at the Howard Gardens hospital throughout the war.
Described as “reliable and tactful” by Dame Sidney Brown, Matron in Chief, a report of her work describes how Emily had charge of the “shell shock” patients in a section of one of the base hospitals and had “shown ability in dealing with these cases on night duty”.
Soldiers with shell shock had suffered extreme traumatic reactions to the horrors of war, ranging from physical symptoms such as tremors and seizures, to psychological symptoms such as hallucinations and night terrors. By the war’s end, some 80,000 British soldiers had been diagnosed with shell shock.
The hospital Emily worked at cared primarily for the wounded from France and Belgium but also received many men wounded in the famous Gallipoli campaign in 1915.
The majority were soldiers from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand and most signed her book by contributing a short verse, cartoon or a sketch.
Yet what shines through most from the diary is the thanks registered to staff nurse Connell and her colleagues for their care.
“Sergeant Lawson”, in a note dated July 6, 1916 wrote: “In your golden chain of friendship consider me a link. Sisters – your kindness I will never forget.”
One of the most striking images, meanwhile, is that by Lance Corporal EJ Workman from the 1/6th North Staffords who added a two-page watercolour of a warship leaving for sea.
L/Cpl Workman also added a sketch of the regimental badge of the Prince of Wales’ North Staffords Regiment with the motto “Wherever the battle rages hottest, there you’ll find the Staffordshire knotties”.
Very few of the injured gave detailed accounts of action from the frontline in the book, preferring instead to keep the subject matter to light-hearted comments and cartoons or simply register their thanks to hospital staff.
An exception was Private James Gorman from the 2nd Welsh Regiment, who had been with the first British troops to arrive in France in 1914 and was involved in the bitter and intense fighting in the retreat from Mons - the focus of some of Monday’s most high profile centenary commemorations, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prime Minister David Cameron paid their respects at St Symphorien Military Cemetery.
Pte Gorman’s brief account of his experience touches on the action at the Battle of the Aisne on September 15, 1914 that led to the motto associated with the Welsh Regiment, “Stick it, Welsh”.
“Mobilised August 4th ‘14. Sailed for France 8th. In action Aug 28th in the retreat from Mons. Also in the Aisne, Marne etc. Received shrapnel wound in groin on Oct 30th ‘14. Sent to Stoke-on-Trent Hospital Nov 20th ‘14. Entered 3rd WG Hospital, Cardiff, October 9th ‘15.
“Leaving here today for Rest Hospital taking with me many pleasant recollections of sisters here.
“On September 15th ‘14 we got to a ridge on the Aisne where our brave Captain Haggard practically held the ridge himself amidst bursting shells and rapid fire from guns and rifles which were almost hitting our caps off. He roared ‘Charge’ and ‘don’t be downhearted’ after which he was wounded and called out the famous ‘Stick it, Welsh’.
“We did so with all our might. The Germans cried we don’t want to fight and we surrender. Neither did we, but wished to return to Wales, which few of us did.”
Emily was awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd Class in June 1916 for good work and valuable service but by 1919 she was on sick leave and was demobilised by November of that year. She died in Wallasey in 1944 aged 72 years. But her foresight in helping to capture a snapshot of the lives of World War I casualties mean her actions continue to echo down the corridors of history.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Report: Navy skipper abdicated command

Report: Navy skipper abdicated command

Problems on USS Cowpens ran deep

Capt. Gregory Gombert, commanding officer of Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63), lays a wreath and pays homage at the Manila American Cemetery in March 2014.
Capt. Gregory Gombert, commanding officer of Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63), lays a wreath and pays homage at the Manila American Cemetery in March 2014. US Navy

The ailing skipper of a San Diego-based Navy cruiser retreated to his cabin for several weeks in the middle of a recent deployment, leaving the crew to largely fend for itself.
A Navy investigation made public this week reveals that the Cowpens was in considerable disarray during a recent solo deployment that included a near-brush with a Chinese warship and providing disaster relief to the typhoon-rocked Philippines.
The skipper, Capt. Gregory W. Gombert, was also having an improper and “unduly familiar” relationship with the cruiser’s acting executive officer — something that caused consternation among the 330-member crew.

(Left to right) Capt. Gregory Gombert, commanding officer of USS Cowpens, Lt. Cmdr. Destiny Savage, Cowpens executive officer, Cowpens' Command Master Chief Gabriel Keeton, and Manila American Cemetery superintendent, Master Chief Larry Adkison, at the Manila American Cemetery in this photo from March 2014.— U.S. Navy photo

But the investigation shows that the problems on the Cowpens went deeper than equipment issues.
Navy officials said Gombert’s medical woes — which weren’t disclosed — shouldn’t have left him unable to lead his crew. They also shouldn’t have required him to retreat to his in-port cabin, a good distance from the ship’s bridge, from early January through March, investigators wrote.
The three-star admiral in charge of the Navy’s Pacific surface ships noted that an independent deployment like the Cowpens’ can be a career high point.
Instead, “the Cowpens triad, especially and inexcusably the commanding officer, violated this trust and in so doing placed their ship and crew at increased risk,” Vice Adm. Tom Copeman wrote.
He added: “The violations revealed by the investigation, especially the blatant abdication of command responsibility on the part of the (commanding officer), are among the most egregious I have encountered in my 32-year career.”
The Cowpens has had bad luck with skippers, even prompting old salts to call it a cursed ship. Three commanding officers have been ousted in the past four years. The cruiser was slated to be decommissioned until it was pulled back from the brink and deployed in September.
At a July 25 administrative hearing, Gombert was found guilty of several counts of disobeying an order and conduct unbecoming an officer. So was the former acting executive officer, who is identified in a Navy photo from March as Lt. Cmdr. Destiny Savage.
Keeton was found guilty of two counts of disobeying an order, apparently because he failed to notify anyone outside the ship of the troubles on board — despite telling crew members that he would.
The former skipper’s career is probably over, while those of Savage and Keeton may be hampered.
Gombert couldn’t be reached Wednesday through a Navy spokesman. An email to Savage did not draw a response.
The trouble aboard the Cowpens seems to have started in August 2013, when Gombert became disenchanted with his then-executive officer and sought a replacement by December.
The chosen person was to join the ship in January, leaving a short gap when the No. 2 job on the Cowpens would be filled by the chief engineer — Savage.
But the replacement was delayed. Gombert finally told him to join the ship in April when it returned to San Diego, leaving a big leadership hole on the Cowpens.

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