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Letters to the Editor: Lessons from Porter, 'Semper Fortis' and other Navy slogans

May. 26, 2013 - 03:48PM   |  
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Regarding new details in the August 2012 collision between the destroyer Porter and a supertanker in the Persian Gulf [“Audio recording details run-up to Porter collision,” May 20]:

If you believe the U.S. Navy can create a system in which humans are involved that will ensure that such an accident doesn’t happen again, then you are more naive than I thought possible.

Where humans are involved in a system, errors of judgment will occur on occasion, despite the most rigorous training.

There are practices which can reduce even further the chances of such an accident occurring. In the navy I served in, if the captain was on the bridge and he countermanded the [officer of the watch’s] conning orders, the OOW would immediately say, “You have the con, Sir” and cease giving any more conning orders.

This usually made the captain think twice about what he was doing. I’ve been in that situation both as the OOW and the commanding officer.

South African Rear Adm. (JG)

Anthony Cole (ret.)

Green Point, South Africa

What strikes me most in listening to this audio is the lack of communication between [the combat information center] and the bridge. The bridge lookouts, CO and [officer of the deck] could not see beyond a nearby ship to know there was a supertanker closing. Multiple people in CIC knew. I guarantee it.

CIC maintains a [digital dead reckoning tracer]and surface search operator whose sole function is to maintain a radar picture and relay the data to the bridge.

What we should have heard was, “CIC recommends coming to course 270 speed 12 knots to avoid contact 1204. Contact 1204 is CBDR (constant bearing decreasing range).” Then, “Bridge, Combat. Contact 1204 is 032 range 1,000 yards and closing CBDR. Recommend we come left to 270 18 knots to avoid contact.”

The bridge crew was hot-dogging it. No CIC input and no maneuvering boards. The conning officer could have been in contact with Combat. ... They drove that ship like you’d drive a car: look out the front window, turn, speed up, slow down. That’s not how they were trained.

Ships can get away with driving by sight for months or even years because the ocean is vast and ships are relatively small. But when space is tight and ships are large, the systems we’ve used for generations save lives and keep ships in combat.

The lesson: You’ve got a billion dollars’ worth of sensors and highly trained sailors who do nothing their entire careers but operate them. So use your crew. They’ll keep you out of trouble. Don’t be a hot dog skipper.

If any ship on earth should never be in a collision, it’s a U.S. Navy ship. With that much data, there’s just no excuse.

Former OS2 (SW) Joshua Stout

Durham, N.C.

'Semper Fortis' fits ...

Regarding motto suggestions made by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus [“Mabus has motto if Navy wants one,” April 22]:

I am a corpsman who just finished a tour with the Marines. I admire their esprit de corps. I think the “ooh-rahs” and “Semper Fis” they say build camaraderie.

I love the slogan “Semper Fortis” because it is an apt description of the world’s finest Navy. It seems to me that no one embraces the “Global force for good” slogan, [the core-values slogan of] “Honor, courage commitment,” or even the Sailor’s Creed. I say Semper Fortis now and hope it becomes embraced and recognized as the official slogan.

HM3 (FMF) Rashad Richardson

Silverdale, Wash.

My wife had a white gold ring made for me with a fouled anchor and “Semper Fortis” engraved right below it in 2005, when I was selected to senior chief.

I then had the exact same ring made for her when she was selected to chief in 2008.

I found myself shaking my head when reading some of the negative responses [to “Semper Fortis” as a Navy motto] that were sent in and found myself laughing out loud when reading boot-camper comments like “Turn to” — or, better yet, “Squared away.”

“Always courageous” is what sailors do every time they push away from a pier and shift colors for long deployments, or conduct flight operation putting steel on enemy targets in far-away lands.

Navy ground forces defusing roadside bombs, or conducting “direct action” missions, convoy operations, underway refueling/supply operations, or spending months under the waves on deterrent patrols or [human intelligence] operations — all these have one thing in common.

They all take courage — 238 years’ worth of courage!

EOCS (SCW/EXW) Mike Metheny (ret.)

Newport, R.I.

I think a motto for the Navy makes a lot of sense. I came to that conclusion many years ago and decided to try to do something about it.

I started using “DGUTS” (for “Don’t give up the ship”); unfortunately, people saw it as “mine” rather than adopting it — such that I am often called “DGUTS” and am contemplating using it on my headstone someday.

Having failed in that attempt, I still believe a motto makes a lot of sense, but it should not be an ad slogan; it should be something with more class.

I really like “Semper Fortis.” It is consistent with the other sea services (the Marine Corps’ “Semper Fidelis” and the Coast Guard’s “Semper Paratus”).

Lt. Cmdr. Thomas J. Cutler (ret.)

Annapolis, Md.

... Other slogans don't

The secretary of the Navy has some strange ideas when it comes to today’s modern Navy.

Mr. Mabus wants a Navy based on image instead of men. We have ruled the seas with power and with sailors who did their jobs for this great country time after time.

The Navy is a military force ready for battle, to protect America and our friends. “A global force for good” is not a Navy motto that projects power.

Mabus should spend more time preventing sailors from losing benefits instead of thinking up mottoes.

Former MM3 Rich Porreca

Needham, Mass.

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