Saturday, July 22, 2017

Official: USS Fitzgerald Crew Likely at Fault in Collision with Containership

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) sits in Dry Dock 4 at Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka to continue repairs and assess damage sustained from its June 17 collision with a merchant vessel. U.S. Navy Photo

ReutersWASHINGTON, July 21 (Reuters) – The crew of the USS Fitzgerald was likely at fault in the warship's collision with a Philippine cargo ship in June and had not been paying attention to their surroundings, according to initial findings in an investigation, a U.S. defense official told Reuters on Friday.

Multiple U.S. and Japanese investigations are under way into how the USS Fitzgerald, a guided missile destroyer, and the much larger ACX Crystal container ship collided in clear weather south of Tokyo Bay in the early hours of June 17.

The collision tore a gash below the Fitzgerald's waterline, killing seven sailors in what was the greatest loss of life on a U.S. Navy vessel since the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen's Aden harbor in 2000.

"There was not a lot that went right leading up to the crash. There were a string of errors, but they did a lot after the collision to save lives and the ship," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said that in addition to crew members not paying attention to their surroundings, they did not take action until it was too late.

While the investigation is not complete, the official said crew members had given statements and radar data had been gathered, and it was unlikely the findings would change.

A U.S. Navy spokeswoman said the investigation was in the early stages and it was premature to speculate on the causes.

The incident has spurred a number of investigations, including those by the U.S. Navy and a probe by the United States Coast Guard on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board. The Japan Transport Safety Board and the Philippines government are conducting separate investigations.

Last month Reuters reported that an account of the incident by the Philippine cargo ship's captain said that the U.S. warship had failed to respond to warning signals or take evasive action before the collision.

The ACX Crystal had been chartered by Japan's Nippon Yusen KK. (Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Friday, July 21, 2017

The U.S.S. Bennington: Policy or Personnel

Who to blame for the gunboat explosion?

SBennington victims' funeral. Some said the boiler had a small leak, which caused the explosion. Others said the safety and sentinel valves were rusted.
  • Bennington victims' funeral. Some said the boiler had a small leak, which caused the explosion. Others said the safety and sentinel valves were rusted.
  • San Diego Historical Society

Qn July 21,1905, the USS. Bennington, a patrol gunboat, anchored in San Diego harbor. The “trim, white, buff,” 230-foot vessel had a crew of 197 officers and men. During the Spanish-American War of1898, the Bennington patrolled the coastal waters of the Philippines, “showing the U.S. flag” and suppressing an insurrection.
The 12-year-old ship’s boilers once produced 17 knots. Now they labored to make 12. Scuttle said its next duty, escorting the broken-down Wyoming to Port Hartford, could be its last.
Under an overcast sky, at 10:30 a.m. two dull explosions—a “rumble like distant thunder” — echoed across San Diego Bay. Steam erupted through the Bennington s deck amidships. Men splayed about, “tossed by the detonation.” The steam “parboiled” Ensign Newman Perry, “his uniform blasted off his body.”
Boatswains mate Lee Strogel: “Still conscious, I realized that I was being carried toward the forward hatch, perhaps 50 feet from where Gauthier and I had been talking.” Charles Gary Wheeler: “I could not imagine what had happened.... Immediately the quarters were filled with scalding steam. It grew dark, too, because the steam was so thick.”
After the explosion, as bluejackets screamed and scrambled about, Rade Grbitch ran down the forward hatch, shouting, “This way out!” — an act that saved many lives.
Hospital steward William S. Shackiette, having sustained a violent blow on the head, came to in scalding water. “Although almost fatally burned, he resumed assistance to his shipmates and, at the hospital, refused treatment until all others, some much less injured, had been cared for by physicians.”
The Coronado ferry Ramona and the Spreckels tug Santa Fe pulled survivors from the bay. The Santa Fe then pushed the Bennington into a mudbank to prevent it from sinking.
More havoc. Flames “licked at the door of a magazine that contained several tons of ammunition.” Several bluejackets secured all watertight doors. John Clausey, “with great risk to his life,” ran through scalding water and over dead bodies to open the valves and flood the magazine.
At 11:00 a.m., steam still spewed, and a thick green slime covered the decks. At this time, the captain of the Bennington, Commander Lucien Young, came on board: his whereabouts to that point a mystery.
The explosion injured at least 50 sailors and filled 64 flag-draped coffins, most of which received burial at Fort Rosecrans. The Bennington explosion was a “disaster unprecedented in the peacetime Navy.” For years afterward the question remained: What happened?
Until 1899, midshipmen at the Naval Academy trained to become either engineers or officers. A caste system evolved, the officers looking down on the engineers. The Personnel Bill of March 3, 1899, combined the two: “Henceforth all cadets at Annapolis had to receive both engineering and deck training.” Officers already in the fleet “had their ranks merged and became liable to serve in either engineering or deck divisions aboard ship.”
The move promised more well-rounded seamen, but to many it made no sense. Unqualified officers became responsible for the “complex yet delicate machinery of steam driven, coal-fired warships.”
Charles T. Wade, chief engineer of the Bennington, was a young ensign three years out of Annapolis. He had no training as an engineer— didn’t have a warrant machinist to help his duties — and may not have detected the trouble with Boiler B.
Some said the boiler had a small leak, which caused the explosion. Others said the safety and sentinel valves were rusted. Others estimated that “not more than $50 worth of repairs had been done on the boilers in the previous five years.”
A correspondent from the Chicago Record-Herald: “The Bennington was obsolete. The Navy wanted to get rid of it but waited too long. The fault lay in the Navy department. It was the fault of policy, not of any one man.”
The Navy blamed Wade — whom it wanted to “make an examplue” — and Commander Young.
In the court of inquiry, Wade came off as “ignorant or careless or both.” The engineering logs lacked data. Wade’s response: “I always had trouble getting the machinist to log the repairs.” Though they were “old,” Wade continued, no one considered the boilers “in the least dangerous.” They received “very, very careful attention.”
During the long inquiry the Scientific Americancriticized the Navy’s new system, noting a “need for engineering specialists.” The Nation went further: “Costly errors by unqualified personnel laid up a number of ships with machinery malfunctions.... In 1897 the Bennington went to sea with two engineers with a total of over 30 years of experience. In 1905, the gunboat had only Ensign Wade.”
Several witnesses for the prosecution experienced what came to be known as “Bennington amnesia,” omitting key evidence that discredited the Navy.
W.H. Allerdice, Naval engineer, testified that the life of a Bennington-type boiler spanned about nine years. “The boilers should have been removed.”
After a long court-martial, the often-decorated Commander Young received a letter of reprimand and eventually rose to the rank of Rear Admiral.
“By 1975, Navy policy had changed to include ‘restricted’ line officers, men who would specialize in but one field, engineering among them.”
Declared not guilty, Wade returned to active duty. He reached lieutenant commander in 1911 and retired in 1913. During WWI, he taught at the Naval Academy. “Holder of the Spanish Campaign Medal, the Philippine Campaign Medal, the Nicaraguan Campaign Medal, and the Navy Expeditionary Medal, Wade struggled all his life to be rid of the Bennington onus...[he] proved unsuccessful in this battle. Wade died on July 14,1942, still known then and even today as ‘that ensign on the Bennington.’”

Monday, July 17, 2017

Centennial Event: The Doughboys Return to Paris, 14 July 2017

On 4 July 1917 to Mark the Arrival of American Troops in France the 16th Infantry of the First Division Was Invited to Parade in Paris. Yesterday to Mark the Centennial of that Event and Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of America's Joining the War, the Doughboys Were Invited to Lead France's Annual Bastille Day Parade.

The U.S. Color Guard from the 1st Division in Period Uniforms
The Division's Flag and WWI Battle Streamers Displayed
All U.S. Services Were Represented at the Parade
The Parade Advances Down the Champs-Élysées
Flanked by First Lady Melania Trump and 
French President  Emmanuel Macron,
President Donald Trump Salutes the Colors
The USAF Thunderbirds Participated in the Flyover  (Rehearsal Photo)
The American Contingent

Photos from: AP, Breitbart, and Stars and Stripes

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The Loss of USS Jacob Jones

USS Jacob Jones

The first of three U.S. Navy ships named after Barbary Coast War Commodore Jacob Jones, Destroyer DD-61 was laid down 3 August 1914 by New York Shipbuilding Corp.. Camden, N.J. Launched on 29 May 1916, it was sponsored by Mrs. Jerome Parker Crittendon, great-granddaughter of Jacob Jones, and commissioned on 10 February 1917. It was destined to be the first American destroyer lost to enemy fire.

After shakedown, Jacob Jones and her crew of 102 officers and men began training exercises off the New England coast until entering the Philadelphia Navy Yard for repairs. Upon the outbreak of war between the United States and Germany on 6 April 1917, Jacob Jones patrolled off the Virginia coast before departing Boston for Europe on 7 May.

Arriving at Queenstown, Ireland, on 17 May, she immediately began patrol and convoy escort duty in waters of the United Kingdom. On 8 July she picked up 44 survivors of the British steamship Valetta, the victim of a German U-boat. Two weeks later, while escorting British steamship Dafila, Jacob Jones sighted a periscope, but the steamship was torpedoed before an attack on the submarine could be launched. Once again a rescue ship, Jacob Jones took on board 25 survivors of the stricken Dafila.  Throughout the summer the destroyer escorted supply laden convoys and continued rescue operations in submarine-infested waters. On 19 October she picked up 305 survivors of torpedoed British cruiser Orama

U-53 on an Earlier Visit to Newport, Rhode Island

After special escort duty between Ireland and France, she departed Brest, France, on 6 December on her return run to Queenstown. At 1621, as she steamed independently in the vicinity of the Isles of Scilly, her watch sighted a torpedo wake about a thousand yards distant. Although the destroyer maneuvered to escape, the high-speed torpedo struck her starboard side, rupturing her fuel oil tank. The crew worked courageously to save the ship, but as the stern sank, her depth charges exploded. Realizing the situation was hopeless, Comdr. Bagley reluctantly ordered the ship abandoned. Eight minutes after being torpedoed, Jacob Jones sank with 64 men still on board.

Survivors of the Sinking After Rescue

The 38 survivors huddled together on rafts and boats in frigid Atlantic waters off the southwest coast of England. Two of her crew were taken prisoner by attacking submarine U-53 commanded by Kapitän Hans Rose, who had visited America earlier in the war. In a humanitarian gesture rare in modern war, Rose radioed the American base at Queenstown the approximate location and drift of the survivors. He also took two severely injured American sailors aboard. Throughout the night of 6 to 7 December British sloop-of-war Camellia and British liner Catalina conducted rescue operations. By 0830 the following morning HMS Insolent picked up the last survivors of Jacob Jones

Photos:  NAVSource

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GAO-17-527, Military Personnel: Improvements Needed in the Management of Enlistees' Medical Early Separation and Enlistment Information, July 14, 2017

What GAO Found

GAO's analysis of Department of Defense (DOD) accession and attrition data found that early attrition rates due to medical reasons during an enlistee's initial term of commitment were generally stable for fiscal years 2005 through 2015. As shown in the figure, the medical early attrition rate at the 48-month point was an estimated 14.9 percent in fiscal year 2005 and an estimated 13.7 percent in fiscal year 2011—the most recent year for which 48 months of data were available. The leading category for early attrition was "unqualified for active duty, other," which DOD defines as a nondisability condition such as obesity.

Figure: Cumulative Medical Early Attrition Rates by Selected Intervals by Accession Year Cohorts for Fiscal Years 2005 through 2015


Note: Medical early attrition rates for all time periods are not available as enlistees in later accession years have not been in military service long enough to determine longer-term early attrition rates.

U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM), DOD's organization responsible for medically qualifying applicants for military service, does not fully obtain, analyze and use information about enlistees who separate early due to medical reasons. This is because DOD does not have a clearly defined process for the military services to provide USMEPCOM with all relevant medical records. Further, the database that USMEPCOM relies on to analyze these records is inoperable and no schedule has been developed to repair it. As a result, USMEPCOM has provided limited feedback to chief medical officers—responsible for the medical qualification decisions—that they could use to improve screening outcomes. Without addressing these issues, DOD has limited assurance that medically disqualifying conditions among new enlistees will be identified before the services invest substantial resources in their initial training.

DOD has not implemented its new electronic health record system at the Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) and its schedule to do so is uncertain. Known as MHS GENESIS, this new system is intended to give DOD the capability to electronically share more complete medical data with and between both federal and private sector medical facilities that are similarly equipped. Without a clear and complete schedule for implementation of MHS GENESIS, DOD has limited assurance that the system will support the MEPS as planned.

Why GAO Did This Study

For fiscal years 2005 through 2015, the military services enlisted over 1.7 million servicemembers at an estimated cost of approximately $75,000 each. Incomplete medical information or inadequate screening of enlistees at MEPS may result in them not fulfilling their initial terms of commitment and the military services losing their investment in them.

The House Report accompanying a proposed bill for the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision for GAO to review applicant medical screening issues at the MEPS. This report assesses the extent to which (1) enlistees have not completed their initial terms of commitment due to medical reasons; (2) USMEPCOM obtains, analyzes, and uses information about enlistee medical early attrition; and (3) DOD has implemented its new electronic health record system at the MEPS. GAO analyzed accession and attrition data for fiscal years 2005 through 2015 (the most recent available), visited selected MEPS near services' training bases, and reviewed selected DOD, USMEPCOM, and service policies.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD develop a clear process for USMEPCOM to obtain medical early separation records, a schedule to repair the database used to analyze the records, and a schedule to deploy MHS GENESIS at the MEPS. DOD concurred with the first two recommendations and partially concurred with the third, stating it is already developing such a schedule. GAO continues to believe action is needed as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or

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