Hearing about the USS Fitsgerald incident brought up a lot of memories for me. Not only because I was in the Navy, not only because I was stationed in Yokosuka like the Sailors at the Fitzgerald, but the fact that the ship I was on at the time was in a collision. I'm not here to talk about the one I was in, however; the Blue Ridge was in the equivalent of a fender bender and no one was hurt, as far as I know (though as I recall, the captain's gig got torn up.
But that's nothing compared to the hell that the USS Fitzgerald and its crew just went through.
We just found out that seven of the Sailors missing were found dead, trapped aboard ship in a flooded compartment. I'd like to discuss that, first.
The above is a watertight door, which is everpresent on US Navy ships; in fact, you're less likely to find a regular door on a ship than a watertight door. But the point of it is the name: watertight door. Unless that door is compromised, it does what the name implies - hold the ocean out of the compartment. Ship floods, the seals are set, the door is dogged down and it's the newest bulwark aboard, designed to hold the water from getting in. And these doors are rigorously tested and constantly maintained. So I'm sure that if one of these was involved, it did its job.
Which gets to my second part: Sailors are trained to do damage control. It's just built into us. Some are better than others, but we all know what we have to do when the ship's flooding. So, for seven of them to just not be able to stop the flooding on that part of the ship (it was believed that damaged portion is officer country, the part of the ship where the officers bunk), something went wrong to the point that they could not do their jobs. Now, if they were knocked out, that's understandable. But if they weren't...it's not.
Keep in mind that I'm not blaming these poor souls in the least. If I am blaming anyone, it's their supervisors: their leading petty officers, chiefs, DIVO and department heads, even the DCA. These Sailors should've been better trained. Even during the time I was onboard, I did my best to learn the stuff, but there's only so much one person can learn if it's not made a priority. And believe me, when you're in the middle of the ocean and you can't just walk back to shore, it is a priority.
It also calls into question the status of the gear onboard. On the ships I served aboard, there were small lockers and locations where damage control gear was placed so that any compartment could be attended to if needed. If the gear was not there, that is also a problem. And that's a problem of logistics. The Navy has been underfunded in many ways, and while I'm not going to go on a tirade of what I think is waste, I am going to say that some things compare little to the lives of crewmembers. And often normalization of risk makes you think that you won't need those things.
Until it's too late.
Now people are dead, and the captain's career is over. Yes, he went off the ship injured as well, but the Old Man is responsible for the ship and he or she goes down when something goes wrong. That's the responsibility of command. The Officer of the Deck and the Conning Officer are likely going to be sacked as well as possibly the helmsman. The OOD and the Conn in particular are responsible, as they're supposed to keep any eye out for things (like a huge ship in the way). The helmsman also should've had control of the helm as well. That job isn't easy - I've done it before, and have been relieved before because I could not keep helm steady. Sure, it's tough, but it's a duty we all share. Others may be found responsible as the inquest goes.
But that doesn't matter to the seven Sailors or their families. They would just give anything to have their loved ones back. And I wish I could do that, as does everyone aboard the Fitzgerald right now.
But all we can do for the moment is honor their sacrifice - and hope that JAG and the review board will see justice through.
Sorry for this detour, but Ayne and I were talking about it and she said this terrified her and that's why she went Army instead of Navy. I told her this was just the part of the things we accept when we go haze gray and underway.