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View Full Version : Report: Destroyer's command triad blamed for suicide, assaults



Rusty Jones
12-16-2014, 08:35 PM
http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2014/12/15/destroyer-james-e-williams-command-triad-investigative-report-command-climate/20454555/?sf34741992=%5B%271%27%5D

A young boatswain's mate committed suicide on the destroyer James E. Williams in June and a subsequent investigation has found the ship's skipper, the former executive officer and the command master chief responsible for a toxic command climate that contributed to the tragedy.

When investigators started digging into the suicide, they found a ship with a rogue chiefs mess led by a junior command master chief with an alcohol problem, and a CO and XO either oblivious or unwilling to reign in the mess, according to a newly released report obtained by Navy Times.

The 313-page report found the James E. Williams' top enlisted, CMC Travis Biswell, failed to control a chief's mess that fostered a "culture of retribution" where sailors were afraid to report to their senior leaders for fear of their chiefs. Furthermore, the report found neither the CO, Cmdr. Curtis Calloway, nor the XO, Cmdr. Ed Handley, did enough to address the poor atmosphere on board.

Calloway's failure to hold chief petty officers accountable, concluded Carrier Strike Group 12 boss, Rear Adm. Andrew Lewis, "enabled a culture that empowered CPOs to target, belittle and bully junior Sailors."

Lewis concluded that Calloway failed to identify or correct the problems.

"Cmdr. Calloway was either willfully blind to the problems on board his ship or he was in an extremely negligent state of denial," Lewis wrote in a Sept. 26 endorsement. "He owned the culture that, I believe, contributed to the suicide of [the boatswain's mate]."

Handley had turned over as XO three weeks before the suicide and was off the ship at leadership school, but was cited by Lewis for the breakdown of command programs, which failed to adequately support the sailor when she was in crisis.

The investigation into the climate on board began in June, a month into their deployment, after Boatswain's Mate Seaman Yeshabel Villot-Carrasco ingested a lethal dose of the over-the-counter sleep aid Unisom.

Villot-Carrasco took the sleeping pills after being written up for talking to another sailor as she was standing aft lookout, the report said, noting that there were rumors the married E-3 was carrying on an affair with the other sailor.

The report said she was confronted by a superior and counseled for failing to keep a proper watch, but indicated that the counseling likely took place because of the rumors about the affair. Afterward Villot-Carrasco filed an equal opportunity complaint alleging she was being singled out because of her gender since no one else had been counseled for talking on watch.

After she filed the EO report, her superior told her she was being written up and would face ​non-judicial punishment, an action the report found to be a clear case of reprisal.

Calloway, Handley and Biswell did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment Monday.

Shortly thereafter, Villot-Carrasco took the sleep aids. After discovering her in a distraught state, one sailor reported, Villot-Carrasco told her she thought everyone was against her and felt like everything was "crashing down," according to the report.

The sailor rushed to get help, but by the time she returned, Villot-Carrasco had already begun to lose consciousness.

The report notes that sailors in the ship's medical fought for three-quarters of an hour to revive her but ultimately could not.

The reprisal that preceded Villot-Carrasco's suicide was part of a deeper problem on board the destroyer, the report found.

A separate enclosure alleged that Biswell, the CMC, was getting drunk "in every liberty port." In one port visit in Norway, several sailors claim to have seen the CMC take his shirt off and twirl it around his head.

In Seychelles, he claims he had about seven beers during a "Beer on the Pier" party, then got on the 1MC after and told everyone on the ship to "get in their f------- racks," which neither Calloway nor the current XO reported up the chain of command.

Biswell, an operations specialist, made command master chief in 15 years, which is rare. Most CMCs have well over 20 years in the Navy.

The report also stated that another chief on board had an abusive style with her sailors and "dropped F-bombs like commas." One sailor claimed to have "never been more disrespected, humiliated and insulted by a single individual" than the chief described.

Even more troubling, multiple chief petty officers are accused of sexually assaulting a junior sailor in a hotel in Seychelles while she was too intoxicated to consent. The sailor is suspected to have been impregnated during the assault, the report claims, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating.

The report makes clear that investigators and leadership believe the climate on James E. Williams contributed to Villot-Carrasco's suicide.

Calloway, Handley and Biswell were all disciplined at captain's mast and Biswell was referred for alcohol treatment.

Additionally, the supervisor who wrote up Villot-Carrasco was given non-judicial punishment for leadership failures and for the "clear equal-opportunity reprisal against" Villot-Carrasco, the report said.

In his letter, strike group commander Lewis said he was troubled by the revelations in the report.

"I am incredibly disappointed in the leadership triad for allowing a climate of fear and intimidation to take hold," Lewis wrote.

Stalwart
12-16-2014, 09:58 PM
Here are links to the investigation:

Part 1: http://www.public.navy.mil/usff/foia/Documents/JEWilliams_Invest_Part1.pdf

Part 2: http://www.public.navy.mil/usff/foia/Documents/JEWilliams_Invest_Part2.pdf

BURAWSKI
12-16-2014, 10:17 PM
Thanks for providing those links. The investigation is comprehensive and I am still looking through it. A lot of factors involved though.

Rusty Jones
12-17-2014, 02:41 PM
Here are links to the investigation:

Part 1: http://www.public.navy.mil/usff/foia/Documents/JEWilliams_Invest_Part1.pdf

Part 2: http://www.public.navy.mil/usff/foia/Documents/JEWilliams_Invest_Part2.pdf

I left the Navy after being assigned to a similar command. I'm not sure if this was an attempted suicide or not, but we lost a BM1 who ended up on the fifth floor in Portsmouth after being hauled off from home when he tried to saw his legs off, dreading going to work the next morning. Whether or not he actually got some saw in his flesh, I don't know. What's interesting is that, of all rates on the ship, you would think that a BM1 has been there and done that, and could take anything that was thrown at him. But, nope - our command was THAT bad.

I watched three First Classes get busted to Second Class within a six month period, and three more First Classes with more than ten years of service separate at their EAOS (I was one of them).

The day I reported onboard my ship, I came down with the flu - very bad omen. I saw that it was a shitty place within days, and the ONLY thing that helped me keep my sanity was the fact that I knew that my EAOS was 15 months away. Otherwise, I really do believe that that BM1 could have been me.

A couple of people on our ship went crazy - including our OPS, who was a newly pinned LCDR. IIRC, we lost people to the fifth floor in Portsmouth every other week - I was the Personnel Officer, so I had to process this every time it happened. We also had plenty of females getting pregnant as well, before we even knew when we were deploying.

Granted, I don't know what the "normal" rate of female Sailor pregnancy is, since I had only been to one ship before that and it was all male; but it was certainly higher than I expected.

Rollyn01
12-17-2014, 02:59 PM
I guess in the Navy, bad leadership is something that is easy to contain, but in doing so, concentrates it to the point of destroying entire ships and their command. I see loose lips do indeed sink ships. Fucking cripe.

Rusty Jones
12-17-2014, 03:11 PM
I guess in the Navy, bad leadership is something that is easy to contain, but in doing so, concentrates it to the point of destroying entire ships and their command. I see loose lips do indeed sink ships. Fucking cripe.

The other problem is, not every career officer is sticking around and hoping to fulfill a dream of wearing four stars. For most SWOs, by the time they take command of their first ship, they've already got enough time in to retire. And that's exactly what the CO of my last ship did not long after his tour was up.

Rollyn01
12-17-2014, 03:31 PM
The other problem is, not every career officer is sticking around and hoping to fulfill a dream of wearing four stars. For most SWOs, by the time they take command of their first ship, they've already got enough time in to retire. And that's exactly what the CO of my last ship did not long after his tour was up.

Just a stepping stone to retirement? Seems like a military-wise systemic problem. The unit I was in before I got out had that issue. In five years, it ran through 5 commanders plus one that was a notational (as in, it was just on paper). How fucked up is that? I thought it was bad in my active Army unit, it was God-awful in the reserve one. Thank my recruiter I had some great NCOs or else that unit would have been destroyed a long time ago.

BURAWSKI
12-17-2014, 04:05 PM
Just a stepping stone to retirement? Seems like a military-wise systemic problem. The unit I was in before I got out had that issue. In five years, it ran through 5 commanders plus one that was a notational (as in, it was just on paper). How fucked up is that? I thought it was bad in my active Army unit, it was God-awful in the reserve one. Thank my recruiter I had some great NCOs or else that unit would have been destroyed a long time ago.

The Navy has a LEADERSHIP CRISIS (Total Failure of Leadership) on their hands but won't admit it. There are serious issues with fundamental tenants of leadership that are not being adhered to. I think the Navy is trying to solve the problem by sending Sailors to the classroom, when in my opinion, other avenues need to be addressed as well. Specifically a range of issues that have an overall adverse affect on morale in general, including the whole aspect of promotions, evaluations, deployments, watchstanding assignments, sexual abuse and investigations and a host of other concerns that I can't think of right now. BTW, in reading that report I have to say I have served on at least one ship with the same type of leadership issues involving the command triad which makes it impossible to be able to use the chain of command to solve problems.

B. M. Burawski
Chief Yeoman, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

Rollyn01
12-17-2014, 05:58 PM
The Navy has a LEADERSHIP CRISIS (Total Failure of Leadership) on their hands but won't admit it. There are serious issues with fundamental tenants of leadership that are not being adhered to. I think the Navy is trying to solve the problem by sending Sailors to the classroom, when in my opinion, other avenues need to be addressed as well. Specifically a range of issues that have an overall adverse affect on morale in general, including the whole aspect of promotions, evaluations, deployments, watchstanding assignments, sexual abuse and investigations and a host of other concerns that I can't think of right now. BTW, in reading that report I have to say I have served on at least one ship with the same type of leadership issues involving the command triad which makes it impossible to be able to use the chain of command to solve problems.

B. M. Burawski
Chief Yeoman, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

I think every branch has that. The most common thread among them seems to be the idea that you are basically told that progression is the most important part of your job as a leader. To the mission first, safety second, everything else on an as-needed basis. However, many so-called "leaders" only see the next rank as more important than anything else and once they get it, defer most of their responsibility down the line so that they have less to do. All this does is make the next in line think the same way and want to get promoted just to attain the same "privileges". It's a fucking crying shame.

BURAWSKI
12-17-2014, 06:19 PM
I think every branch has that. The most common thread among them seems to be the idea that you are basically told that progression is the most important part of your job as a leader. To the mission first, safety second, everything else on an as-needed basis. However, many so-called "leaders" only see the next rank as more important than anything else and once they get it, defer most of their responsibility down the line so that they have less to do. All this does is make the next in line think the same way and want to get promoted just to attain the same "privileges". It's a fucking crying shame.

I will add that speaking from experience, and what I have personally witnessed, that the CPO Mess/Community is completely dysfunctional and unable to operate in the climate of today's Navy.

Rollyn01
12-17-2014, 07:09 PM
I will add that speaking from experience, and what I have personally witnessed, that the CPO Mess/Community is completely dysfunctional and unable to operate in the climate of today's Navy.

The Army has the same issues. I lose all motivation to try and get promoted because I couldn't bear living with the idea that many of my would be peers are a bunch of morons at a level that even the lower enlisted couldn't achieve. And this is coming from a E-4. How sad is that?

Rusty Jones
12-17-2014, 07:10 PM
Reduced shipboard manning and 14-year E5 HYT - in my estimation - is what destroyed the enlisted force. E5 and above are now far younger than they used to be, and with the gruntwork now being performed by senior Petty Officers alongside their juniors, their authority is undermined.

But what do I know...

Rollyn01
12-17-2014, 07:26 PM
Reduced shipboard manning and 14-year E5 HYT - in my estimation - is what destroyed the enlisted force. E5 and above are now far younger than they used to be, and with the gruntwork now being performed by senior Petty Officers alongside their juniors, their authority is undermined.

But what do I know...

I'm all for promoting someone who knows there shit and gets shit done, but you're right. It seems to be about getting the young and brightest in the cue. Problem is, it take time to properly cultivate a leader, much less an actually useful trooper. The branches have flipped the switch to increase production but neglect the side-affects of doing so. Now we have an "I Love Lucy" situation that doesn't seem like it will be solved anytime soon.

Rainmaker
12-18-2014, 01:07 AM
The Navy has a LEADERSHIP CRISIS (Total Failure of Leadership) on their hands but won't admit it. There are serious issues with fundamental tenants of leadership that are not being adhered to. I think the Navy is trying to solve the problem by sending Sailors to the classroom, when in my opinion, other avenues need to be addressed as well. Specifically a range of issues that have an overall adverse affect on morale in general, including the whole aspect of promotions, evaluations, deployments, watchstanding assignments, sexual abuse and investigations and a host of other concerns that I can't think of right now. BTW, in reading that report I have to say I have served on at least one ship with the same type of leadership issues involving the command triad which makes it impossible to be able to use the chain of command to solve problems.

B. M. Burawski
Chief Yeoman, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

The NATION has a Leadership crisis. It's a symptom of the Moral decay of the society.

Stalwart
12-19-2014, 01:17 AM
There are serious issues with fundamental tenants of leadership that are not being adhered to. I think the Navy is trying to solve the problem by sending Sailors to the classroom, when in my opinion, other avenues need to be addressed as well. Specifically a range of issues that have an overall adverse affect on morale in general, including the whole aspect of promotions, evaluations, deployments, watchstanding assignments, sexual abuse and investigations and a host of other concerns that I can't think of right now.

I agree that there are pockets of poor leadership, I am fortunate to have not served in a toxic command. I have seen poor leaders as DH's, Dept LCPO's, DIVO's and LCPO's in good commands -- some of them I would say had been promoted once or twice beyond their ability. I have yet to serve with an XO or CO who was truly bad. At one command we had a CMC who was already out the door to being retired (8 months before his retirement.) The guy had been in the Navy 27 years, and probably should have just held his ceremony early because he was never there; it created significant problems for the command. Every other CMC I have known have been outstanding.

In reading the report in the USS James E. Williams case, it shows a pretty disfunctional command. It is entirely possible that one member of the command triad could be weak (either personally, professionally, technically, ethically etc.) but bolstered by the other two; two out of three being weak would cause significant strain and three of three ... well ...

Some things I wonder based on reading the 300 page report:

1. Was the CO really that oblivious to what was going on?
2. Was the (previous) XO that bad of a program manager that the CMEO program was all hosed up, did the XO never talk to Sailors on board?
3. Was the CMC ineffective or unassertive that he was not able to control what the senior enlisted was doing?
4. What the hell was going on while this ship was in the Seychelles? It sounds like the partying was out of control.

A lot of lessons learned and this probably failed in the "dont become a case-study" rule.

BURAWSKI
12-19-2014, 02:04 AM
There are still a lot (but still not enough) of outstanding leaders throughout the Navy, but the number of leadership failures creates a real dilemma for the First Class and CPO Communities as well as the Wardroom. I believe the Navy should take a formal look at it with a goal of fixing it. Clearly, it is broken but the Navy is in denial. I hope I am not misunderstood about where I am coming from either, because I know toxic leadership so prevalent in the Navy today is hurting the senior enlisted and officers who are doing an outstanding job. But they can only do much, especially when they are in the minority. The Washington insiders need to come down from their ivory towers and start approaching the issue as real, and needing resolution, which is a complex problem requiring a number of expert resources to fix it. The other alternative is business as usual. Burying your head in the sand seems to be a common occurrence among a lot of the leadership I have seen. The willingness to take on a controversial and tough problem takes courage and a willingness to accept that positive changes will be painful.


B. M. Burawski
Chief Yeoman, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

Stalwart
12-19-2014, 02:53 AM
I hope I am not misunderstood about where I am coming from either, because I know toxic leadership so prevalent in the Navy today is hurting the senior enlisted and officers who are doing an outstanding job. But they can only do much, especially when they are in the minority.

My only disagreement is that I don't think the good leaders are in the minority; bad leaders just get a lot more attention. Navy Times doesn't run many stories on the 'good news' except for the Stockdale winners or Sailors of the Year. Even the 'average' leader doesn't really get much attention when compared to the folks who assault people, lose control of their commands, or run ships aground or into other ships. The Navy also has a (sometimes masochistic) tradition of informing Congress if they relieve a CO; something the others services don't do unless the case is newsworthy.

As said often, about 2% of CO's get relieved per year -- a consistent percentage going back several decades. Now, part of me says anything above 0% is too much, but I also have to be realistic and know that sometimes the wrong people make it through the system, and sometimes good people have "oh shit" moments that cost them dearly. Now, just because someone does not get relieved doesn't mean they are not a bad leader, just not bad enough to get fired; I am lucky in that I have never worked for a CO who was not good; but I had friends who up until recently worked for what was perceived by many to be a substandard CO; but ... he completed his tour, got a medal and retired ... so on some level he was doing things right enough to keep his job.

The difference between the 60's/70's and now is that more people were relieved then for mishaps and now more are relieved for personal issues (DUI, affairs, fraternization, command climate etc.) Standards have changed, expectations have changed, and the (possibly biggest factor in this) ability for what once would have been a localized story to go around the country or world has changed. Command climate is a big deal in an all-volunteer force where retention is a concern; it is what it is; and anecdotally, in my 24 years I have seen that you can be firm, be a hard-ass etc. but still treat people with personal respect and dignity ... and you tend to get more out of them when you do so.

WINTHORP1
01-01-2015, 07:30 PM
I really think the Navy needs to make an example out of this situation and I don't normally say that. I believe in handling situations at an appropriate level and not have a knee jerk reaction. However, this needs to be handled at a public level to show the Navy takes these situations seriously. Some of those E-7's need to go to Court Martial and have their anchors taken away. They completely failed at their jobs. They were suppose to teach, support, lead, and protect their Sailors, and they epically failed. Especially the E-7 who was directly responsible for the death of a Sailor and the other who tried to strike a junior Sailor. A message needs to be sent that if you can't or won't do the job that is expected of you once you receive your anchors, then it will be taken back. Make that the standard and I think we'll start to see things begin to turn around.

Rusty Jones
01-01-2015, 07:44 PM
I really think the Navy needs to make an example out of this situation and I don't normally say that. I believe in handling situations at an appropriate level and not have a knee jerk reaction. However, this needs to be handled at a public level to show the Navy takes these situations seriously. Some of those E-7's need to go to Court Martial and have their anchors taken away. They completely failed at their jobs. They were suppose to teach, support, lead, and protect their Sailors, and they epically failed. Especially the E-7 who was directly responsible for the death of a Sailor and the other who tried to strike a junior Sailor. A message needs to be sent that if you can't or won't do the job that is expected of you once you receive your anchors, then it will be taken back. Make that the standard and I think we'll start to see things begin to turn around.

Well, we all know that it's not that easy. As a rule, CO's can only take away what they can give - the authority to promote someone to E6 or below is delegated to CO's. Not the case for E7 - E9. As such, they can only be busted through Court Martial. Of course, that's the way it should be, as it provides them necessary protection when they need to speak up against a JO.

Having served 11 years active duty Navy, and now in the Air Force Reserve... I can see how, in the Navy, the temptation to be content with, and complacent at, E7 is there in the Navy and not so much in the other services. You've got your khakis, you've got the ability to lounge around in the CPO Mess; what more do you want?