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Report: Seabees played favorites, and some showed up drunk, in Fla. Reserve unit

Sep. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Capt. Sean McDonell, left, and Command Master Chief (SCW) Pedro Villacorta were fired Nov. 27 as commanding officer and CMC of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14. William McCrae, the unit's previous CMC (SCW/SS), was fired from his post as CMC of NMCB 23 for his actions while with NMCB 14.
Capt. Sean McDonell, left, and Command Master Chief (SCW) Pedro Villacorta were fired Nov. 27 as commanding officer and CMC of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14. William McCrae, the unit's previous CMC (SCW/SS), was fired from his post as CMC of NMCB 23 for his actions while with NMCB 14. (Navy photos)
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Ammo handling rules ignored. Chiefs skipping the physical readiness test without consequences. Drunkenness tolerated on duty. Paperwork routinely late. A qualification process that differed from sailor to sailor. Supervisors who berated their sailors or asked them for personal favors.

How far did this command break down?One supervisor even asked her sailors to pack up her parents’ house for a move, saying this “would be their PT for the day” and that they’d get the rest of the day off. Most of her office helped; the move took 3½ hours.

These are among the many revelations of a dysfunctional Reserve Seabee command in a newly released report, obtained by Navy Times via the Freedom of Information Act. It found problems at the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14 with six important programs and also instances of fraternization, abusive leadership and misuse of sailors and government property — sailors fixed the brakes of a supervisor’s car in the shop during the workday, for example.

The report did not find any evidence of racial discrimination, as was alleged in one of the three anonymous complaints to internal watchdogs in 2011 and 2012. But the other findings cost two leaders their jobs last year: Capt. Sean McDonell, the commanding officer, and Command Master Chief (SCW) Pedro Villacorta.

The Navy also canned the unit’s former CMC, Command Master Chief (SCW/SS) William McCrae, who was then serving as the top sailor at Naval Construction Battalion 23. McDonell and McCrae didn’t respond to calls and emails seeking comment. But Villacorta, who retired in February, said the Navy’s programs aren’t flexible enough for Reserve commands and said he was working to fix the problems, but was fired anyway.

“I really care about my battalion,” Villacorta said in a Sept. 13 interview. “I was trying to do the right thing by the Navy in the battalion, get the standards corrected.”

Villacorta said he did not see the report until the day after he was fired. “It left a sour note,” he said.

The rap sheet

The details come from a 108-page investigation of the command, launched after the complaints and completed in August 2012.

The NMCB 14 report documents a host of problems as the unit ramped up for its deployment to Afghanistan in September 2012:

■ Two instances of accidental discharges of small arms weren’t investigated or reported.

■ Chiefs showed up on regular workdays and drilling weekends drunk or reeking of alcohol and weren’t turned in or subjected to the mandatory fit-for-duty assessment.

■ The active-duty sailors who ran the unit weren’t subjected to urinalysis tests for years.

Fraternization took place between a senior enlisted member and an officer.

■ Chiefs took the PRT on their own and reported their scores. As many as 71 sailors didn’t take the PRT, without consequences.

One particular area of disgust was the Seabee combat warfare qualification program, which differed from one sailor to another. Some got away with missing prerequisites, like the safety supervisor course. Others skipped the mandatory, two-day field exercise — and still got their pins.

“The NMCB-14 SCW program was inconsistent, unfair, and numerous sailors suffered,” the report concludes.

One senior chief was especially a problem. The construction electrician, whose name was redacted from the report, was going through a divorce and let his temper flare at work, according to the report. Colleagues said he routinely slammed things and cursed at sailors.

He “would say things like, ‘That’s right b-----s, the f------ senior chief is here now,’ ” one sailor later told investigators. He was especially rough toward a female chief, whom he called a “loud, black b----” and “tried to get rid of her” when she got pregnant, presumably in the lead-up to deployment.

He admitted to swearing and screaming, but denied making discriminatory statements.

In addition to the CO and two CMCs, NECC said a lieutenant, senior chief and chief were reprimanded. The command declined to disclose the nature of the punishments for privacy reasons.

When investigators confronted the battalion’s leadership about the myriad problems they found, the leaders replied that they had a lot to do and this wasn’t their fault.

“Unfortunately, in the Reserve world, there just isn’t enough hours in the day to get everything done between mandatory training, mobilization training, managing programs, and all of the other administrative issues that sailors have to take care of,” one unnamed leader told the investigators.

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