Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Guess Bull Halsey Or Uncle Ernie King...

...would be unwelcome in the modern Navy.

To some of his subordinates, Capt. Greg Thomas was direct and demanding, but got the job done.

To others, he was “abusive and lacking in trust, dignity and respect,” as described in an April 4 command climate survey launched following an anonymous hotline complaint about Thomas’ conduct.

In mid-May, Naval Sea Systems Command temporarily yanked Thomas, a rear admiral selectee, from his perch atop Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va. A naval inspector general investigation completed Aug. 31 found Thomas’ conduct “went beyond the limits of professional conduct expected of persons in authority.” The firing was made permanent Oct. 25 after Thomas was formally reprimanded for conduct unbecoming an officer.

The IG interviewed 45 witnesses who served in various leadership positions under Thomas during his nine months as commanding officer of the shipyard. Nine said they were subjected to “demeaning, insulting or profane language or intimidating behavior” privately as well as in public. All names other than Thomas’ were redacted from the report, which was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Down at the bottom we see the possible reason for Thomas' behavior:

Thomas told the IG that he was under pressure to improve the yard’s performance on intermediate-level submarine maintenance. Thomas quoted former Submarine Forces commander Vice Adm. John Donnelly as telling him, “My No. 1 distraction in command has been your shipyard’s performance on my I-level work.”

Thomas acknowledged the criticism, telling the IG, “We had a very poor record. ... We were not getting boats underway on time.”

One commanding officer interviewed by the IG said he could relate to Thomas’ situation. “I saw a lot of pushback from the civilian workforce that wanted to maintain the status quo,” the officer said.

So what we had was lazy civilian workers - - probably union workers - - who didn't wish to deal with an old-fashioned ass-kicker who was working them harder than they were used to. A clusterfuck, in other words:


wally said...

First off, I think the charges related to using cursewords are just bullshit. But Robert, you make a huge leap there at the end. From an oblique comment at the very end of the article, you conclude "so what we had was lazy civilian workers..." But you're totally ignoring the quote near the top of the article: "An active-duty officer with more than 30 years in uniform told the IG that while some of his interactions with Thomas had been amiable, 'There have been times when it rises to the worst experience of my naval career in terms of dealing with a superior who will not listen, who wants to be very vocal and loud, and who just wants to dress [me] down.'" Whatever you think of this officer's claim, it's clearly not simply a case of something trumped up by lazy civilian workers. How could you have missed that? It's almost as if you were just skimming the article to find something that might possibly reinforce the belief you already held, rather than reading with an open mind. But I know you wouldn't do that.

Bob said...

@wally: The article states that 9 out of 45 witnesses called had bad things to say about Capt. Thomas. That means that only 1 in 5 was complaining about his behavior, which is probably pretty good in a situation where sub-standard work is being performed. It's also a military command, which means that you don't motivate your people by summoning them into a boardroom and saying pretty please with sugar on top.

It seems to be a George Patton-type situation, where an effective leader (and bear in mind, although you quoted an officer "with more than 30 years in uniform" that Capt. Thomas presumably had the same sort of record, or he would have been cashiered long before) had a couple of lapses under stress. No excuse for striking a subordinate, especially a woman, but no excuse for her not to immediately bring it up, either, if she felt it was a genuine assault. That she didn't indicates to me that it wasn't much of an assault to begin with.

None of this invalidates my original point, that naval heroes such as Bull Halsey or Ernie King would be out of place in today's Navy because the sort of behavior cited for Capt. Thomas was just the sort of behavior that those two worthies would have engaged in had they been charged with cleaning up a command that was performing at less than Navy standards.

wally said...

I wasn't arguing your original point, and I actually agree with it. There have been other recent cases here in Norfolk where officers have lost their commands for essentially behaving like traditional Navy officers. The military is not just another business concern.

My response was to the conclusion you jumped to at the end of your post, and that alone. Blaming this on "lazy civilian workers" was pure speculation, and not supported by the facts in the article.