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Getting “fired” in the military means something different than it does in civilian world. Military leaders are held to high practical and ethical standards. High-ranking officers can be relieved of duty for infractions ranging from running a ship aground to having an affair, but that doesn’t mean they’re discharged from the service. We explore the reasons for, and consequences of, the seemingly increased incidence of officers being removed from command in the military.
- Charles Hoskinson Managing Editor, Navy Times
- Peter Daly Vice Admiral, USN (Ret.); Chief Executive Officer, United States Naval Institute
- Eugene Fidell Florence Rogatz Visiting Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School; co-founder and former president, National Institute of Military Justice
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. There's been an unusually high number of firings of Navy commanding officers over the last two years. Getting fired usually means clearing out your desk, handing in your ID badge and no more paycheck. But if you're in the military, getting fired might be a different experience, one that a number of leaders in the service are getting firsthand knowledge of.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to help us better understand the phenomenon, why it's been occurring more frequently of late, its causes and effects is Charles or Chuck Hoskinson. He's the managing editor of the Navy Times. He's an Army veteran. Chuck Hoskinson joins us in studio. Thank you for joining us.
MR. CHARLES HOSKINSONThank you. Good afternoon, Kojo.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Maryland is Peter Daly. He's a retired vice admiral who served in the United States Navy for over three decades. He's currently the CEO of the United States Naval Institute. Thank you very much for joining us.
VICE ADM. PETER DALYGlad to be here.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone from Connecticut is Eugene Fidell, senior research scholar in law and Florence Rogatz Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale University. He's also the co-founder and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice. Eugene Fidell, thank you for joining us.
MR. EUGENE FIDELLGreat to be here.
NNAMDIChuck Hoskinson, what accounts for the increased number of firings in the Navy over the past two years, and just who's getting fired and for what?
HOSKINSONWell, so far, there have been 11 commanding officers fired this year, 22 last year, so we're -- we've had the same pace for 18 months, and it's the largest -- highest pace of firings in almost a decade. The bulk of these cases are for personal misconduct. The -- and what's interesting is that this is the same trend that we've seen over the past decade, that personal misconduct makes -- accounts for the bulk of the firings. Another interesting thing is that -- that has Navy officials very concerned is that many of them are related to alcohol abuse, or alcohol abuse is a factor in the firings.
NNAMDIAdm. Daly, what is your own view of why these firings have increased so much in the last couple of years?
DALYWell, my own view is that there are some cyclical elements here. As was mentioned, we have seen these levels before. It's been a decade or so since we had this many, and the Navy is always concerned when any commanding officer does not succeed in command. If you look at the bigger picture, there's some -- I think it's some 1,500 billets in the whole Navy that are coded as command billets.
DALYAnd these firings represent about 1 percent of that number. So in the end, I think the most important thing is that you deal with it, that there's accountability, especially for the personal misbehaviors, and that's probably not going to be forgiven. But then you take those lessons and apply them to the others and make the fix that you need to make.
NNAMDIChuck Hoskinson, in the civilian world, getting fired is pretty cut and dry. You no longer have a job. What does it mean in the military?
HOSKINSONWell, to be accurate, when the Navy says it fired a commanding officer, another senior leader, it really means that they were relieved of that particular job, but then they get reassigned within the Navy. It's not common for the fired commander to actually be kicked out of the Navy afterwards.
NNAMDIWhat's the distinction between being fired and being discharged? Because if you are fired, it's my understanding, you can be detached for cause, doesn't mean you will be discharged.
HOSKINSONThat's correct. We use the term fired what the Navy calls relieve for cause, and what that really means is that you're appointed to command a ship, for example, and something happens. And the Navy says, OK, you're no longer the commander. Your commanding officer will relieve you for cause because you got drunk or you had an affair or you hit another ship or you did something that that incurred the displeasure of your chain of command.
HOSKINSONWhat's most likely to happen after that is the person gets reassigned to some other job within the Navy. To be actually dismissed from the Navy, one would have to, in many cases, be prosecuted for a crime under military law.
NNAMDIEugene Fidell, can you go into a little more detail? What kinds of actions or behavior can get someone fired from his or her job in the military?
FIDELLWell, the ones that have already been mentioned, which involve personal misconduct of one kind or another, some of which don't have civilian analogies. You know, having an affair, it does happen. It may get you in trouble with your board of directors. But it's, you know, for most people, it's not going to get you fired from your job. Or there may be issues of ineptitude. You may have somebody who is simply a poor ship handler or not the greatest -- well, pilots are a separate category. But let's say somebody who's had a mishap at sea, a grounding or a collision.
FIDELLSo there are ineptitude issues that come to light occasionally. And then there are what I would call command climate or environmental issues where you just have somebody who was either running a loose operation or alternatively is an abusive commander, somebody who's running -- I won't say too tight an operation -- but running an operation, running a command in a way that just creates too much wear and tear on subordinates. And that does happen from time to time.
FIDELLAdm. Daly can refresh everybody's recollection on this, but I think there was a C.O. of a vessel out of Norfolk who got fired because she was screaming at people. And, you know, being in charge of a floating unit is a very stressful environment, but you still don't want somebody in charge who's going to basically fly off the handle.
NNAMDICan you expand on that, Adm. Daly?
DALYWell, Eugene is correct that there was a case on an amphibious ship a couple of years ago where the chain of command above the commanding officer was informed that there was a bad command climate, and the Navy sent out that person's commanding officer to ride that ship, to look at the situation. And it was concluded that she had a bad environment, that she was not a good leader, and the conclusion was that she needed to be removed.
DALYAnd it's an example of that may contribute to some -- and I do say some -- of the increased numbers is the speed of information these days. I can think of cases perhaps in -- back in my career where some of this wasn't found out until later. Now, the communication is instantaneous.
NNAMDIWe're having a conversation about military firings, which there's been a spike of in the Navy lately, and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. If you serve in the military, we'd like to get your take on leadership within the ranks, 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there.
NNAMDIDo you think the military is too hard on its leaders or not tough enough? 800-433-8850. Peter Daly, some of these people are fired for issues that in the civilian world might not lead to firing in the workplace. Why is the line between personal life and professional life a finer life -- a finer line in the military?
DALYWell, it's just a very high standard, and, of course, we've already talked about the responsibility of the commanding officer for his or her command is absolute. And the way that the Navy views it, Kojo, is that the parents of the -- send their sons and daughters to the Navy, and there's a trust there. There's trust that they'll be well led, that they'll be taken care of properly. And we are looking to commanding officers to set the highest possible example.
DALYAnd there are behaviors that might pass in a civilian workplace, but they just simply will not pass at sea. I'll give you an example. If there is a case where somebody took up an office affair in an office environment, that would have certain set of consequences in the civilian world, but it's absolutely toxic within a command of a ship to have improper male-female relationships up and down the chain of command. So I would say it's a higher standard, and also, it demands a higher standard.
NNAMDIAnd, Chuck Hoskinson, I'm thinking about something that we read about in the Navy Times, and that was a Capt. David Geisler who was fired from his job as commodore in Bahrain because he was abusing alcohol, which was apparently bad enough, but apparently he was hanging out with his subordinates which is definitely a no-no.
HOSKINSONYes. That was a big problem in his command, and that was one of the reasons that led directly to his firing. The -- Geisler's behavior, his partying with his subordinates being seen as the, I guess, the head party organizer in that command engaging in activities while using alcohol, such as skinny dipping, for example, left the impression within his command that certain people were getting favorable treatment.
HOSKINSONIt left the impression that senior people were able to get away with behaviors that junior people would be prosecuted for. These are the kind of things that, in the military, erode the authority of the commanding officer and erode the esprit de corps of the unit. And when this was brought to the attention of Geisler's superiors, they launched an investigation and removed him.
NNAMDIEugene Fidell, if someone is fired from a civilian job and that person thinks it was unjust, he or she could file a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination. What kind of legal recourse do members of the military have?
FIDELLWell, there are quite a few options. I'll give you an interesting one, Kojo. And this is -- now, I'll talk about a land side service, not the Navy or the Coast Guard.
FIDELLBut maybe you recall that a woman who was the officer in charge of the Army's drill instructor program got fired, and she was the rare individual who not only protested her firing -- and I mean removal as head of that school -- but succeeded, and she was reinstated. There were allegations against her. There were -- the allegations were sufficiently plausible, let's say, that she was removed.
FIDELLAnd my hat's off to her and whoever advised her because they actually got her reinstated. It is very, very infrequent for an officer who's been detached for cause or relieved for cause to actually be reinstated. You can protest. There are what I'll call rough due process rights. If you really don't like it, you can go to board for correction of military or naval records. People have occasionally tried to take reliefs for cause or detachments for cause into the federal courts.
FIDELLThey're very tough cases. Trust me on this. So there are remedies, but basically, what you and the listeners have to understand here is you're talking about a relationship of trust and confidence. And if the management loses trust and confidence in a commander, the commander is out. Now, let me just make one comment here, and I'd be very interested in knowing what Chuck Hoskinson and Adm. Daly think about this. Obviously, accountability is a serious requirement. I mean, for the reasons Adm. Daly gave, young people come in. We need them.
FIDELLWe can't, you know, if the sources of new personnel dried up, we'd be in quite a mess. So we need accountability. And on the other hand, there are dangers in having what I will call a zero defect environment because people are imperfect. And I -- what I think that creates is a need for managers to exercise in sound discretion. Not every offense is a firing offense. Of course, by the time a person gets to be a commanding officer or a commander, they ought to know better in most incidences. But I wonder if the zero defect environment has maybe been carried a notch too far, at least, at times.
NNAMDII'll allow you to ask that question, but we have to take a short break. And then both Peter Daly and Chuck Hoskinson can present their responses to it. You can also join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. In your opinion, does someone's personal life reflect on their fitness as a leader? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. If you've called, stay on line. We will get to your call. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing military firings, what leads to them and how they might be reduced, particularly in the U.S. Navy. We're talking with Peter Daly. He's a retired vice admiral who served in the U.S. Navy for over three decades. He's currently the CEO of the United States Naval Institute. Eugene Fidell is senior research scholar in law and Florence Rogatz Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale University.
NNAMDIHe's also the co-founder and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice. And Chuck Hoskinson joins us in studio. He is the managing editor of the Navy Times and an Army veteran. Chuck Hoskinson, Eugene Fidell directed a question to you just before the break.
HOSKINSONIf I remember correctly, you asked about...
FIDELLWell, it was really the tension between the need for accountability, which everybody agrees on...
FIDELL...and the potential dangers of going too far in the direction of zero defect.
HOSKINSONWell, these concerns actually do that. I say they come in pairs in the sense that there's a great deal of concern about whether the Navy is creating a zero defect culture where people will get fired for taking just about any risk that doesn't go well. People -- there are people who say that someone like Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would not make it in today's Navy. Adm. Mullen was fond of recalling, when he was a young lieutenant, that he -- his first -- he took his first command and ran the ship into a harbor buoy and got fired.
HOSKINSONOf course, he went on to a very successful military career after that. But then on the flipside, let's talk about -- here's a situation. There is Capt. Robert Marin. He was the commander of a Japan-based cruiser, the USS Cowpens. He was fired in February for having an affair with the wife of another captain, and this was not something that affected his command directly. And then we were told that the Navy considered him to be a good officer who'd made a mistake and probably continued to have value to the Navy, and as far as we know, continues to serve in the Navy.
HOSKINSONSo why was he fired? One point that gets raised is that, you know, adultery is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. As captain of a ship, he would be in a position to prosecute others for the crime and, therefore, could not be tolerated if he committed it himself.
NNAMDIPeter Daly, same question from Eugene Fidell to you.
DALYI think the key -- there's really two key consequences that can derive from a perception of a zero defect environment. First is we do not want our commanders to be overly risk averse. And if we wake up one day and we find that our commanders are frozen, not able to take action and be appropriately aggressive and bold in command, that's a huge loss.
DALYThe second thing is is that if you wake up one day and you find yourself in an organization where people feel they cannot make a single mistake without their career being ended, that's the day you've got another huge problem because people will do anything to avoid discussing a problem or putting light on a problem at a lower level for fear of consequences. So that's another loss because the Navy prides itself on being able to solve problems, to self-assess and correct.
NNAMDIBefore I go to the phones, Eugene Fidell, how are the rules and regulations outlining what behavior is and is not acceptable? Explain to members of the military's leadership.
FIDELLWell, explain to the leaders themselves?
FIDELLWell, there are training programs, you know, when a person becomes a commanding officer. By then, you know, they'll have gone to some senior schools, and these kinds of issues are going to be discussed in the ordinary course. And also you sort of digest it because, for better or worse, the military considers itself a separate society with a separate value system and a separate set of oral tradition, so to speak.
FIDELLAnd these things are passed then, whether it's around the water cooler or in the officer's club or in training programs, as I mentioned. So people, at least the theory is, are on reasonable notice of what's expected of them. Now, are there going to be things that you wouldn't dream of that happen? Yes, that's the charming quality of life in the service. People do things that are quite bizarre.
FIDELLI mean, my favorite case, of course, is the famous case of U.S. against Sadinsky, a man who jumped off an aircraft carrier underway on a dare. Well, you know, where do you read that it's a crime to jump off an aircraft carrier underway on a dare?
NNAMDINot even in the fine print.
FIDELLNot in any kind of print. So, you know, a lot of this is common sense, or it's the custom and tradition of the service. We believe there is such a thing as custom of the service. Custom of the service has the force of law under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And, Kojo before you go to the phones, can I offer one other comment that is quite interesting, I think?
FIDELLEven people who have ascended quite high in the official hierarchy, the totem poll of the ranks, do things that are inexplicable, and often -- or I'll say sometimes -- they will do them at the point of greatest vulnerability which is when they're on a list of officers selected for promotion to the higher grade.
FIDELLThey are supremely vulnerable in career terms at that point because all that has to happen is the Senate Armed Services Committee can refuse to confirm them, or the president or one of the secretaries can take them off the promotion list. That's a position of great vulnerability, and yet, even at that time, call it hubris, call it chutzpah, choose your word, it's still -- people still do the darndest things.
NNAMDIOn now to the telephones. Here is Jim in Annapolis, Md. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
JIMHi. Thanks for taking my call. I am especially interested in today's show because my brother graduated from a Naval Academy, went to nuclear power school and served on board a nuclear submarine. I'm curious, hypothetically speaking, what you would do in the event of a commanding officer or executive officer on board a nuclear submarine, say in the course of a two months underwater mission, who was not behaving properly? Would you abort the mission in order to enforce action against that person?
NNAMDIWhat do you do in a situation like that, Peter Daly? Or what would be done in a situation like that?
DALYWell, that's a very interesting case. It almost has the "The Caine Mutiny," you know, aura on it.
DALYBut in a case where a very senior officer on a ship, if it's below the commanding officer, it's up to the commanding officer to identify the problem and, if necessary, remove that officer from the chain of command. And I think that, in the case that was just given, if it was a hypothetical, it is possible that if that person was key to the mission, it may result in termination of the mission.
DALYIf it's the commanding officer himself or herself, then there are provisions in the chain of command and in the regulations where you can identify a problem with your commanding officer. It usually involves communicating to his or her superior that there is a problem. And in that case, I'm pretty sure the mission would be impacted and truncated.
NNAMDIJim, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. What do you -- what lessons do you think your workplace could learn from the military or vice versa? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIYou can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Chuck, we got an email from Rita, who says, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but in private industry when a CEO is fired, he often loses all or most benefits and salary. The military seems to carry their dead weight. Why do benefits and pay continue?" Chuck, after an officer is fired from a job, what is the outlook for the rest of their career, and could you answer Rita's question about why they are being still -- why they are still being carried?
HOSKINSONWell, as far as the outlook for the rest of their career, it depends on the circumstances of their firing. I mean, they -- if they're still considered a good officer who made a mistake, then they'd likely be able to overcome it. If the firing is for behavior that reveals serious shortcomings that are likely to continue, then the person's career is probably likely over. The person would not -- would no longer be promoted.
HOSKINSONMy understanding -- I guess, if Mr. Fidell could weigh in on this, my understanding is that as far as taking away things like benefits, a person can't actually lose benefits except by virtue of a judicial process. I mean, if a – if an officer -- a senior officer is eligible to retire, they would -- you can't just say, OK, you can't retire. We're going to dismiss you. They would have to be dismissed through a judicial process.
NNAMDIAnd is there an aspect of this, Adm. Daly, that the military in particular, maybe the Navy, but the military has already invested a great deal of time in this person's education. This person may have had a lot of practical experience on the job. And letting the person go at that time will be more costly than holding on to that person while that person can still be of some significant usefulness?
DALYI think that is the case, but that's pretty rare, Kojo.
DALYEarlier Chuck said that, you know, often we have these firings, but the people stay on in the service. But what normally plays out is the scenario that Eugene just mentioned is you are removed from command, you are detached for cause, and you may not be directed to be discharged immediately, but there are other ways that the service deals with it. First, they can do what's called a show cause and show cause why you should be retained given the performance that led to your removal.
DALYOften those show cause proceedings lead to a removal of a person from the service -- not always. It's not a sure thing, and it's not a slam dunk. But it's certainly a procedure that's often used. And, secondly, with respect to admirals, while it's true that, you know, some people might say, well, what did we do with a senior officer or a captain? These are relatively senior officers. Are they just staying and getting benefits?
DALYOften, they're told to go, and it's at a time when they might retire at a pay grade or even two pay grades below where they would have retired if they'd been allowed to continue to serve. So there are severe consequences for benefits for those people over an entire lifetime.
NNAMDIOn to Byron in Bowie, Md. Byron, your turn.
BYRONYes, sir. Thanks for having me. The question is why is there an apparent inconsistency between the firing of senior officers and not the same for a senior non-commissioned officers? And I'll take my answer offline. Thank you.
NNAMDIWe also got an email from Keith in Silver Spring, who says, "As a Navy vet, 1974 to '82, I can tell you it's no secret that there are different standards for officers and enlisted personnel. Fortunately, I was part of the special warfare in diving communities, which are much less tolerant of poor performance and lacks leadership. I was happy to not be out in the fleet." Notice any of that in your coverage, Chuck Hoskinson, different allegations of different standards for officers than for enlisted personnel?
HOSKINSONWell, I will say that so far this year, 11 commanding officers have been fired. Ten senior enlisted leaders have been fired. So there's a...
NNAMDISeems to be some parity there.
HOSKINSONYes. There is parity, yes. As a matter of fact, there was -- I'll give you one case. This relates back to the question about the nuclear submarine. There was a chief of the boat as they call them. The senior enlisted leader aboard a nuclear submarine of the guided-missile submarine Florida, he was fired because he did not deal with -- essentially, because he did not deal effectively with a hazing case aboard the submarine that occurred while the submarine was on combat patrol off the coast of Libya and firing tomahawk missiles in support of the NATO operation there.
HOSKINSONAnd the commanding officer was not fired. And one of the reasons why is because the -- it turned out that the chief of the boat had not done his what was considered his duty and informed the commanding officer of the hazing problem.
NNAMDIOh, I see. So he was unaware of that?
HOSKINSONHe was trying to deal with it himself.
HOSKINSONHe was -- he felt that he dealt with it effectively, but he had not.
NNAMDICare to comment at all, Eugene Fidell, on the alleged discrepancy between what happens to officers and enlisted personnel?
FIDELLWell, it's a great question. And I don't think it should be dismissed as kind of a Navy urban myth. I think it's something that people have to be alert to. I think if that idea really takes route, it would have a very corrosive effect on morale. And I think managers have to be aware of this. Now, I think it is regrettable on a certain level that the services have tended not to apply the full force of the UCMJ in the case of senior officers, basically because it's costly, it's time consuming, and it also has -- it's all corrosive effect.
FIDELLI mean, it's not a great thing to put on trial one of your own senior people. Instead, the services tend to administer what's called non-judicial punishment or mast, Capt. Smith or Adm. Smith to punish officers who violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice and use administrative sanctions, such as detachment for cause or relief for cause, show cause hearings and also docking people a stripe on the way to retirement. I mean, that's a major sanction that was mentioned.
FIDELLI think Chuck may have mentioned it, that on the verge of retirement, the service can say, look, you're only entitled to retire in the highest grade in which you satisfactorily served. And therefore, you're going to retire as a commander instead of a rear admiral or, you know, whatever it may be. So there are differences, and there are differences in the status, the legal status of commissioned officers versus enlisted personnel. Commissioned officers are not employees.
FIDELLThey hold office by commission of the president of the United States, confirmed by the Senate. It's a somewhat different relationship with the service. But I think the symbolism is important, and I think it's a concern. And I think if people below decks feel that there's one set of rules for the wardroom and another set for the chiefs' mess and another set for everybody else, there is a problem.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, you may have heard Eugene Fidell refer to the UCMJ. That's the United Code of Military Justice. You cannot be subjected to disciplinary action unless you have violated that code. Chuck, you wanted to say?
HOSKINSONYes. I wanted to...
FIDELLThe Uniform Code.
NNAMDIUniform Code. I'm sorry.
HOSKINSONRight. I wanted to ask you to clarify something about that. One of the things that a lot of civilians see that -- a lot of civilians see about these -- when you talk about actually dismissing someone from the service, don't they, you know, don't they have their -- in all of these cases, whether it be a show cause proceeding or another kind of action, don't military people have larger amounts of due process rights in those proceedings than many civilian employees do, especially people who are employed at-will?
FIDELLWell, I'll assume that's addressed to me.
FIDELLYeah. I won't dismiss that as an urban myth, but I think there's less to it than is there. It's a commonly held view, and there certainly are a couple of respects in which people in the military have rights that are a little broader than people in the civilian community.
FIDELLHowever, there are any number of, I think, very profound differences where people in the military enjoy narrower rights, whether it's free speech, whether it's the right to be indicted by a grand jury instead of simply charged, whether it's untrammeled access to the Supreme Court of the United States, which is a major scandal, actually, in the current statutory arrangements.
FIDELLOnly a narrow group of cases that are decided by the highest court of the military justice system are even eligible for review by the Supreme Court. And that's very different from cases tried in the federal district courts or cases tried in state courts. So let's not get all dewy-eyed about military justice. It has many strengths. But it's not perfect, and it could use some change.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. Peter Daly, I know you want to get in on this conversation. We're going to have to do that after the short break. If you have called, the lines may be all busy. Go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. If you're a veteran working in a civilian job now, we'd like to hear about any differences you've noticed in the way complaints about bosses are handled. Go to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking about military firings with Eugene Fidell, senior research scholar in law and Florence Rogatz visiting lecturer in law at Yale University. He's also co-founder and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice. Charles or Chuck Hoskinson is the managing editor of the Navy Times. He's an Army veteran.
NNAMDIAnd Peter Daly is a retired vice admiral who served in the United States Navy for over three decades. He's currently the CEO of the United States Naval Institute. Peter Daly, you never had a chance to offer your view of the alleged discrepancy between how officers are treated and how enlisted personnel are treated in terms of discipline.
DALYWell, thanks for letting me in on that one. I agree with Eugene Fidell that the perception of a different standard between flag officers, more junior officers and junior sailors would be extremely harmful. I would tell you that with respect to flag officers, I have witnessed several cases where a very, very minor infraction of something even like a small travel regulation violation has resulted in an officer being investigated and having their career stopped or truncated and removed or just retire from the service.
DALYThere's an entire group of inspectors general in each of the services, including the Navy, and there's an entire group within the Department of Defense, the DOD Inspector General. And I know that that latter group has an entire unit that's just focused on senior officers. So I would tell you that the scrutiny is great, and it's great at all levels.
NNAMDIHere now is Tim in Alexandria, Va. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMI would say my two pennies here is about how it's so easy for these officers to get released from command, and even NCOs, senior NCOs. But having served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I understand that the lives of thousands of men and women are in the hands of these officers and NCOs. So although they may get relieved for such things as having an affair or drinking, their decisions and their examples are integral to the functioning of the unit and for the lives either being saved or lost of those under them.
NNAMDIAnd you feel that?
TIMAnd I feel that it's important that if they've been drinking and driving or if they've abused alcohol or they've abused their command in any way, they should be relieved. They should be fired and moved forward to some other place.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call, Tim. I'd also like to go to Lowell (sp?) in Manassas, Va., who, I think, served also in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lowell, your turn.
LOWELLHi. Thanks for taking my call. The toxic leadership issue came up on my last tour as a staff officer in Afghanistan, and it sounded like the Navy was taking the lead in dealing with that. And having served in a three-star command with lots of small section leads, there was a lot of manic leadership style amongst some of the senior O-7, O-6s, et cetera.
LOWELLAnd people were rotating in and out and just a lot of burnout and a lot of discussion among staff officers from other nations and reserve components coming together. We had a ray of hope from the Navy that they were going to start to systematically look at toxic leadership as an issue. Can they address that?
NNAMDIThank you very much. Peter Daly?
DALYWell, I can tell you that the record report on officers is called a report of fitness -- in military jargon, it's called a fit rep or a fitness report -- and it doesn't always tell the whole story. So, recently, Navy leadership directed the chain of command to look at ways that we could get a more full understanding of an officer's performance, with the idea that you would identify a flaw or a small thing before it got to be a big thing.
DALYAnd I applaud that, and I think that that's an example of how you can have a training program and a mentoring arrangement that will help identify these before you get to the point where the caller just mentioned. And I think that's going to be an enhancement that'll help a lot.
NNAMDIYou are known to favor a formal mentorship program in the Navy. Is one aspect of this also the idea of adding subordinate reviews?
DALYYes. That's part of what Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Greenert has already directed, is that there should be some type of what's called out there a 360 system where you don't just take input from seniors, but you look at juniors and peers. And I think the key has to be how do you do that in a way that -- again, we talked about earlier the zero defect thing. How do you do that in a way that allows people to have an honest discussion without penalty and correct or modify their behaviors since they come up to the chain of command and gain additional responsibilities and authority?
NNAMDILowell, thank you very much for your call. Chuck Hoskinson, we've been primarily focusing on the Navy, but this is not an issue that is unique to one branch of the military. How hard is it to get a sense of how broad this issue is across the service branches? And do you think we'll eventually see a broader Department of Defense-directed effort at addressing this?
HOSKINSONWell, Kojo, it's very difficult to get a broader sense across the service branches because the Navy is the only service that makes a policy of announcing when it fires a senior commander. They take the position that the firing of a commanding officer is a public record, and they announce it. The Army, the Marine Corps or the Air Force do not do this as a rule. So while there's certainly a perception that the Navy is firing commanders at a higher rate, we can't tell for sure because we don't know.
HOSKINSONThe Army, the Air Force, the Marine Corps do not provide that data as a rule. Another thing that's important to consider is that when you compare commanders, you have to remember that, for example, in the Army, a captain in his or her 20s can command a company, and that person is considered a commanding officer, whereas the Navy equivalent, which would be a lieutenant, would not be able to command anything.
HOSKINSONSo Navy commanders tend to always to be at a more senior level than commanders in their equivalent service -- in their equivalent ranks in the other services, so there's been -- while there's been a lot of talk, for example, about toxic leadership in the Army, there's not been, at least publicly, the kind of service-wide approach to dealing with it that we've seen in the Navy.
NNAMDIEugene Fidell, earlier this month, an Army colonel was fined $300,000 and reprimanded by a jury of his peers after pleading guilty to charges, including bigamy, fraud, adultery and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. A lot of people contend that the punishment is too light, but you say there may be still more to come in that case.
FIDELLWell, Kojo, when that case came to light, I commented to some journalist that I didn't know who had represented this colonel, but next time I committed bigamy -- or next time I was charged with bigamy, I wanted that lawyer to represent me. My wife was not amused. Let me say that I understand why many people thought that was a strange sentence, and all I can do, since reasons are not given for sentences under the uniform code of military justice, I can speculate.
FIDELLAnd my speculation is that the goal of the sentence was to make sure that the lawful wife of this officer and their dependents, the children, were not disadvantaged. In other words, had this officer been sentenced to a dismissal, which is a kind of punitive separation that a court-martial gives to officers, he would have lost his entire retirement. And, therefore, his wife would have lost her interest in that retirement, and the children would also have lost.
FIDELLSo that, I believe, is what led to this, on the surface, quite strange sentence. Let me add also that if he does not repay the $300,000 or pay the $300,000, he's subject to term of imprisonment. So it's a peculiar sentence. It's one that certainly raises people's eyebrows and makes them scratch their head, but there's a certain logic to it.
NNAMDIHere's Carol in Takoma Park, Md. Carol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAROLHi. A couple of minutes ago, there was a comment that said it would be, I don't know, unbecoming for senior officers to be guilty of crimes or poor behavior. And I -- that caused me to pick up my phone because I worked for the Department of Defense -- I'm a civilian -- overseas for a few years. And in my first year there, the senior officer -- the senior person in charge was removed from his job along with a woman that he'd apparently been having an affair with.
CAROLAnd I have to say that everybody on the staff cheered because he had mistreated a previous person in a job. So he removed her from the job so that he could bring his mistress in. And I don't know who reported this or how the investigation started, but I do think that he had left evidence in his email, I mean, in such...
NNAMDIAnd what was -- after he was removed from the post, do you know if he was either, A, discharged from the service or transferred to another position?
CAROLI think he came back to this area and retired.
NNAMDIOh, OK. And you say it had an effect on the morale in the office? It boosted morale in the office?
CAROLYes, because, previously, everyone thought that he was getting away with his poor behavior and what seemed like illegal things...
CAROL...removing someone that you...
NNAMDII can understand that, but I'd like to address this to you, Peter Daly. If we take out of the equation the apparent fact that he removed someone in order to bring his mistress in -- in the '90s, after a spate of firings involving adultery, Rep. Barney Frank proposed legislation that would have allowed consensual sexual relationships within the military. Some people think it might be time to reconsider such a proposal. What do you say?
DALYI do not think that would be well advised because I'm still in line with the argument that was raised earlier in the program, that if you have consensual relationships between people in the change of command, inevitably, in my view, it will eat away unit cohesion, and there will be a perception of some people having more power or more advantaged than others.
DALYAnd I think the whole system turns on the fulcrum that everybody is treated with respect, everybody has equal footing, and I just see that leaving or leading to a very poor command climate. And I think the current way of looking at it is the best way, that there should be no relationships between seniors and juniors and that there should not be a fraternization environment that could eat away at unit cohesion.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's going to have to be the last word on that topic. Peter Daly is a retired vice admiral who served in the United States Navy for over three decades. He's currently the CEO of the United States Naval Institute. Peter Daly, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIEugene Fidell is senior research scholar in law and Florence Rogatz visiting lecturer in law at Yale University. He's also the co-founder and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice. Eugene Fidell, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Charles or Chuck Hoskinson is the managing editor of the Navy Times. He's an Army veteran. Thank you for joining us in studio, Chuck.
HOSKINSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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