In another disturbingly repetitive occurrence, the CO and XO of the
Tortuga were relieved due to “loss of confidence” in their ability as a result of their ship striking a buoy.
There are no publicly available details so we can’t pass judgment as to whether their relief was appropriate or not. However, at some point, don’t we have to start questioning either the standards that we’re holding our commanders to or the process used to select our commanders?
Every year, dozens of
COs are relieved due to “loss of confidence”. Are every one of these guys total incompetents and deserving of relief or are we unrealistically demanding absolute perfection with zero tolerance for any mistake no matter how minor?
The problem with setting the standard to absolute perfection is that it leads to several bad outcomes.
- Potentially good commanders are lost to the service because of a single mistake that may not even be directly their fault.
- The Navy loses the enormous investment that goes into producing a commanding officer.
- Zero tolerance fosters an atmosphere of micromanaging.
- Zero tolerance absolutely squelches a mind-set of healthy risk-taking.
- Zero tolerance discourages delegation of responsibility to junior officers because they might make a mistake that will cost the CO their job.
On the other hand, if these dozens of
COs are, indeed, incompetent then we need to look very carefully at the screening process that selects such incompetent people. In fact, I would argue that for each CO who is relieved for incompetence we should also relieve everyone involved in screening and recommending them for command because clearly the screeners were totally incompetent and utterly failed at their job.
Finally, consider that the dwindling number of available ship commands combined with the brevity of command tours and the atmosphere of avoidance of risk taking is actually causing some of the problem. The opportunities for the practice of shiphandling are becoming limited and the unwillingness to allow junior officers to freely practice is creating COs who have limited shiphandling experience.
We’re our own worst enemy.