To say that the Navy is integrity-challenged is to put it mildly. Let’s refresh our memories. Here’s the history of relieved CO’s over the last several years with the number of firings shown for each year. The numbers in parentheses are just the reference citations as listed at the end of the post.
2016 – 18 (1)
2015 – 20 (2)
2014 - ?
2013 – 17 (3)
2012 – 25 (3)
2011 – 22 (3)
That’s an average of 20 commanding officers fired each year. To add some perspective, the Navy only has around 280 ships. To be fair, not all of the relieved commanders were ship captains. Many were but some were base or organizational commanders.
Well, perhaps you think those numbers, while not pleasant, are not really indicative of a systemic problem. Let’s look at more evidence.
The “Fat Leonard” scandal that has rocked the Navy and the 7th Fleet, in particular, has, thus far, seen several current and former Navy commanders, including admirals, convicted of various charges with several others “censured or disciplined” for ethics violations. Currently, 30 admirals are still under investigation (5). Charges and violations cover the gamut from “simple” ethics violations to bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal investigators. So, that’s somewhere around 40 people involved in just one scandal and the investigation is still ongoing. More people will, undoubtedly be charged. The 7th Fleet command structure was, apparently, riddled with criminals.
Even more disturbing than the violations and the number of people fired or charged with crimes is that none of these people were called out by their peers. Do you really think that all these hundreds of people were able to conduct their misdeeds in utter secrecy from those who worked closely with them on a day to day basis with some of the misdeeds covering years? Of course not! Other people knew that wrongs were being committed and those who knew but said nothing are just as guilty of a failure of integrity (if not actual crimes!) as the principals.
For the period 2011-2016, we see that there were around 120 firings and another 30+ firings, charges, and convictions in the Fat Leonard scandal. Those, alone, give us a total of around 150 people who demonstrated a direct lack of integrity. If we assume, conservatively, that five other people knew about each individual’s failures but said nothing, we have an additional 750 command level people who also demonstrated ethical cowardice and a lack of integrity by not speaking up and reporting. That has us approaching a thousand integrity-challenged command level people who failed themselves, the Navy, and the nation.
Note that we’re not even considering executive officer and below levels – just command levels.
There’s yet another level of integrity failings that we’ve documented in this blog and that is the commonplace practice of retired admirals taking jobs with the very defense industry companies that they were supposed to be dealing with during service. At the very least, this represents an egregious conflict of interest and may well constitute actual bribery, extortion, and payback. Thus, add dozens and dozens of retired admirals to the list of demonstrably integrity-challenged command level people. While taking such jobs may not be against the law, it’s certainly a clear case of a lack of integrity and judgment unworthy of flag officers. Admirals have a pretty nice retirement package so it’s not like they desperately need the money.
Thus far, this post is depressing but the real point has not yet been made. The real point is that the Navy is clearly systemically integrity-challenged and yet, if we go to war tomorrow, these are the very people who will be leading us in combat. Do we really want these kinds of people to be our combat leaders? Do we really think people with no integrity will lead us to victory?
Even more immediately relevant is the fact that these people are making today’s decisions about tomorrow’s weapons, systems, and platforms. We’ve repeatedly noted the highly questionable (baffling?) decisions being made about various acquisition programs that seem to have no other explanation than graft, corruption, and payback in the form of retirement jobs with defense companies. Are these the people we want shaping our future Navy?
CNO Richardson recently described what he called the four core attributes of the Navy: integrity, accountability, initiative, and toughness (4). Note the first – integrity. Does CNO Richardson really believe that the Navy is exhibiting widespread integrity at the command level? The evidence would overwhelmingly suggest that the Navy is failing and, thus, CNO Richardson is failing by failing to recognize that. I had cautious hopes for CNO Richardson but he has become as big a disappointment and failure as his predecessor, CNO Greenert.
Integrity? Sadly, it’s not common in the Navy command ranks.
(4)Navy website, “CNO Identifies 4 Core Attributes to Guide Navy Leaders”, Story Number: NNS151206-02, Release Date:
(5)The Washington Post, “Admiral, seven others charged with corruption in new ‘Fat Leonard’ indictment”, Craig Whitlock,