Navy Sacks Yet Another Commanding Officer

USS The Sullivans

I am sad to announce that we beat our record. Last year, 17 Commanding Officers lost their command. And yesterday, Commander Mark Olson, Skipper of USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), was fired by the 2nd Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Daniel Holloway. Our 18th sacking this year.

The Sullivans is a Mayport, Florida based-destroyer. (On a side note, if you have not read the story behind its multi-named moniker, it is quite interesting naval lore.)  The cause of the firing? From the Navy Times article (the news source jokingly referred to inside the Navy as Navy Crimes):

Olson was in command on Aug. 17 when the ship was conducting a gunnery exercise at the Cherry Point Operating Range Area, off the North Carolina coast. During the exercise, The Sullivans mistook a fishing vessel for a towed gunnery target and began firing inert rounds at the vessel. They landed close but did not strike the boat. None of the fishermen was harmed, 2nd Fleet said.

This is not the first time the ship has had issues. Read the rest of the article for details and peruse the comments for tidbits from the crew and other salty (or apparently salty) folks.

As for my experience with Skippers who got relieved, I have one. Without naming names, I was cordial with one such female Commanding Officer. This was not recent, for those trying to place it. I saw her a fair amount at Officer or Navy functions. I had this conversation after she got relieved (with her rank obscured):

Me: I can’t believe LCDR/CDR/CAPT so-and-so got relieved.
Fellow JO: Yup, she is gone.
Me: She always seemed so cordial when I chatted with her.
Fellow JO: She was.
Me: What did she get relieved for?
Fellow JO: Frat. She got too close.
Me: There is cordial and then there is cordial.
Fellow JO: She was cordial.
Me: Yup.

I won’t armchair quarterback the Sullivans’ firing. Life at sea is a tense affair, especially during exercises. As for frat, there is no excuse. COs exist not to befriend Sailors, but to lead them. To be friendly (when appropriate) but not to be friends. . .

18 thoughts on “Navy Sacks Yet Another Commanding Officer”

  1. Perhaps he was fired for not hitting the target rather than for misidentifying the fishing vessel?

    In all seriousness, firing on a civilian vessel during a training exercise is no small thing. You can argue that it maybe shouldn’t be a career-ender (Nimitz was court martialled for running aground, after all), but relief of immediate command seems to be in order. If nothing else, his crew’s confidence in his judgement is diminished after such an incident.

    As far as the Sullivan Brothers go, “Neptune’s Inferno” by Hornfischer is a good account of the naval battle near Guadalcanal in which the Juneau was lost. It’s a side of that battle rarely told, and does a fair bit to answer the “where was the Navy?” questions asked by Marines since 1942. Highly recommended.

  2. Frat is a difficult concept. We live in an egalitarian society, and it takes a special mindset to keep a respectful distance, whether you are above or below. When I started life as a young lawyer, my secretaries, all older than I, intimidated me. Despite my ostensible rank (“me lawyer, you secretary”), I didn’t feel at all alpha, and they quickly took advantage of that fact. Same with me and my bi-monthly housekeepers. I’ve finally learned not to talk to them at all about personal things. If I view them as employees, I can handle the situation, treating them respectfully but from a distance; if I view them as fellow humans, I lose control over the situation and they stop doing the job for which I pay them quite well.

  3. I learned that as well from the military perspective; you cannot allow yourself to be their friend, particularly as a leader…when you lose sight of that, you lose’s like being a parent…..the fraternization principle has been pretty much dismissed in much of the military establishment some years ago…sad to say…much like parenthood, I’m afraid…

  4. I know it’s a big deal in the Navy when a commander gets fired…I should write stories of all the times in Bosnia or Iraq when we had commanders who should not only have been fired, but went to jail. But what did they tell me: “Well, he’s real close to getting promoted, so they don’t want to do anything to him.”
    So, they promoted being stupid? Looking back, I guess I should have acted stupid and I would have been promoted more often.

  5. Sean: I agree with you, it is a big deal. I will have to find that book. . .
    Book: Yikes, do you look at other Bloggers as fellow humans?
    Kris: I saw Os call Es by their first name and I always correct ’em. Always friendly, never friends. Until one or both leave the military or something changes.
    Dan: That really annoys me. If we don’t handle misbehavior at the lowest level, than we get hurt as the d-bag advances (d-bag=dirtbag, not the other one.)(Well okay, the other one too. . .)

    1. Cynic, NavyOne…but getting burned even once is enough to learn something…it’s that leading by example business…sometimes today, the familiarity that breeds contempt is on the uptick and the actual respect is missing…

  6. It sounds cynical, but I have been burned. Respect is two-fold, the type earned by the collar and the type earned by character. I don’t always get the second type, but I work for it. By being professional and hard-working. Sometimes I have failed, sometimes I have not. . .

    1. You’re right Navy One…and you need the wherewithal to keep on and never quit…that’s what it’s about…k

        1. I saw enough of that too…you’re not with it Navy One…there must be some updated term to describe it…that was fraternization with marriage as the end result…I’ve seen that too…living in that too small CT community…loads of it…and that’s what being a family is all about..

  7. Didn’t we just HAVE this conversation??? Sigh… Remember the old adage, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”… You can screen to your heart’s content, and the Navy DOES do this, but on occasion they miss character ‘issues’. I was in a situation where I had to work with an XO that was fleeting up to command, and I was talking to another retired guy that was on the project, and I told him this XO was NOT going to make a full tour. Found out later he was relieved within the first WEEK, cause he went totally off the deep end with his ‘command’ authority, and the prior CO had to come back and re-assume command (to the relief of the ENTIRE crew)…

  8. Hello Navy One,
    IMO it’s important to be pleasant, fair and approachable with subordinates either in the military or in biz. But it is ABSOLUTELY VITAL to keep a certain amount of distance, unless you’re going to abandon all pretense of objectivity in favor of getting extra ‘cordial’ as you put it.

    Not only can it affect your decisions, but it affects the rest of the team’s morale and your own authority as they question whether those decisions are based on politics and who’s closer to ‘the boss’ rather than ability and accomplishment.

    And seriously, Navy One…you dream about being in a courtroom with Martina Navratilova?? Each to his own, I suppose!

    Best Regards,
    Rob Miller

    1. Rob,

      I agree. Either no one is my favorite or everyone. Or, I give the whole team the opportunity to excel as a group.

      As for Martina, she resembled a delicate Martina. (Is there any other kind?) And don’t forget, per your dialogue, you too were fooled! (Juror number 7=you=everyone who read it.)

      I can’t wait to hear from the folks who came to the site for Martina info and then read that post. . .

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