“Preventable” is the very last word one wants to read in an official report about a military death.
Yet that's exactly the language used in the reports issued last week by the U.S. Navy that concluded investigations into a pair of 2017 crashes, of the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain. The August accident of the latter is the one that claimed the life of Harristown sailor Petty Officer 3rd Class Logan Palmer, 23, a Sangamon Valley High School graduate. Palmer was an interior communications electrician on the ship, which collided with an oil tanker near Singapore in Southeast Asia, leaving 10 U.S. sailors dead and five injured.
The reports use appalling descriptions for what can only be considered appalling shortcomings by senior officers who should have know better and should have done better on behalf of those serving under them. Along with “preventable,” the reports cited “multiple failures by watch standers” who “lost situational awareness,” “poor judgment and decisionmaking of the commanding officer” and “a lack of preparation, ineffective command and control and deficiencies in training and preparations for navigation.”
The USS McCain was in the world's hotspot. Chinese submarines and North Korea missiles are being monitored. Money is tight or non-existent. Training and safety were clearly secondary to other tasks at hand. Understandable in a vacuum, perhaps. But given the circumstances, the price was unacceptable. Those brave, ready and capable enough to serve in our armed forces deserve at the very least the assurance that those giving them direction do not show “poor judgment” and lose “situational awareness.”
In the wake of the two deadly accidents, eight top Navy officers, including the 7th Fleet commander, were fired from their jobs. The commander and executive officer of the USS John S. McCain were relieved of their duties and reassigned last month.
The Navy has now committed to extensive changes. Japan-based forces will receive better training, better equipment, reduced workloads and more oversight.
Let's hope those commitments are deeply felt and widely held. If the result of the changes is a safer and more well-led force, that can serve as a testament to the life of Logan Palmer and his fellow sailors claimed in the USS John McCain tragedy.