Responsibility of Command
Why doesn’t it rise to the top?
by Steve Dupree
Let’s say you are the captain of a U.S. Navy ship. You are educated, decorated, motivated, and dedicated. Your competence has been proven time and time again in countless maneuverings of this ship and those you operated as a junior officer. Your ship has passed all inspections. You have successfully participated in training exercises. Your star is bright; you are the “fair-haired lad.”
So one night, just like hundreds of other nights, you leave a junior officer in charge of the bridge while you address some unavoidable paper work, make some plans, and get some well deserved rest. Sometime late in the night/early in the morning, in a comedy of unlikely errors by an officer and enlisted bridge personnel and an improbable mechanical failure, your ship runs aground. From the second you wake up from your learned, light sleep, which happens at the first shudder of the ship, you know who is responsible. You are.
Such is the mien of command. What happens under your command is your responsibility. An inquiry will be held. You know that if the physical aspects of the situation line up on the side of minimalism, if damage is slight, your career is “only” badly damaged. You will likely never be promoted again and will retire at your current rank. You also know that if the damage involves loss of life and/or severe damage to your ship, retirement will not be an option for you—resignation is your best hope. Whatever the actual outcome, if the damage is severe, your career is over.
At the moment of the incident however, these thoughts pass fleetingly through your mind. Your primary concerns are the welfare of your crew and the “fightability” of your vessel. Above all, your job is tofight your ship,or be ready to fight your ship immediately upon the need.
The fact that the CO (commanding officer) will be held accountable gives no comfort to the other officers and enlisteds involved. They know that they too will have to answer for whatever failings of theirs it is determined contributed to the incident. According to the severity of the incident, the subordinate individuals’ careers may recover and even thrive, but there is no doubt that their careers will be negatively affected. In such a situation, neither heights nor depths of rank can effectively insulate one from accountability for actions.
For many youngsters, the military is where one learns the large lessons of responsibility. Yes, mothers and fathers might have initialized those lessons, but the military is where they are writ large upon one’s psyche.
Obviously, for some unfathomable (to me at least) reason, the civilians in charge of the military, (branch secretaries, SECDEF, and POTUS) are exempted from any level of, or even, expectation of, responsibility. When the invasion of Iraq was not met with flowers and the cheering of thousands upon thousands of Iraqis, those who incorrectly claimed that that would be the case received raises, promotions, and accolades. When the WMDs, WMD programs, and/or WMD program-related activities failed to be located after an extensive search of the areas where we were assured they were, as well as the rest of the Iraq, by a bunch of dedicated military experts who believed they were doing so in defense of this nation, those who had made unqualified, and fallacious, claims about the existence and location of the WMDs (programs and related activities) received raises, promotions, and accolades. When it was predicted, several different times, that the completion of a seminal event in the establishment of the new nation of Iraq would blunt the “rapidly weakening insurgency,” those making the predictions—regardless of being proven horribly wrong by increasing rates of death for U.S. Military members (whoops, I meant coalition forces) and Iraqi and international civilians, and graphic demonstrations of the ability of the insurgency to kill at will—received raises, promotions, and accolades. (Not to mention extended vacations.)
Regardless of the cost in human lives, money, or international respect for the nation, no one in this administration has been held accountable in any discernible way for their tragic miscalculations. Certainly, no one is held to the standard to which we routinely expect our military to adhere. Why? The title of Commander-in-Chief is one of the more important aspects of being POTUS. This is simply not a power to be pettily abused. The military is deserving of civilian leaders that they can look upon as one of them in spirit. Members of this (mis)administration have demonstrated that they have no concept of the spirit of responsibility that is the foundation of military command. They have nothing in common with the fighting men and women.
Here is something for you to ponder. Why shouldn’t the CinC be as responsible as those he commands? Why shouldn’t the captain of the “Ship of State” be held at least to the standards of the captain of a naval vessel? I think he should.