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Too many commanders falling short

It would be great if the Navy never had to relieve a commanding officer from duty for failing to meet the code of conduct or for not providing proper stewardship to those under command, but given human nature that would be unrealistic. In fact it would be reason for concern, an indication that the Navy was looking the other way and letting individuals unworthy of command continue in that capacity.

So while it is troubling that over the last three years more than 50 officers have been relieved of duty while in command of a Navy ship, it is better than a military service that tolerates ethical breaches and violations of trust.

Navy commanders are in charge of some of the most lethal war machines ever created by man. The lives of those under command are entrusted to their good judgment, as is the ability to carry out military missions. These men and women should expect to be held to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct.

"Command is the foundation upon which our Navy rests," reads the "Charge of Command," the document that spells out the standards demanded of commanders.

"Trust is a fundamental building block of our command and control structure and our ability to achieve mission success," it states.

But while the Navy does the right thing in demanding adherence to these lofty principles, it must also do some collective soul searching as to why so many commanders are falling short of them. Are there lessons the Navy can learn from these cases that could lead to improvements in preparing officers for command? Has something changed in the Navy culture that invites disciplinary laxness that can manifest itself when promotion requires an officer to adhere to the tougher standards of command?

One of the latest cases, involving the Navy's decision to relieve Cmdr. Michael P. Ward II of command of the USS Pittsburgh after only one week, shook the local submarine community. Cmdr. Ward, age 43, was reassigned to administrative duties after Capt. Vernon Parks, commander of Submarine Development Squadron 12 in Groton, relieved him of duty for alleged personal misconduct that undermined confidence in Ward's ability to command.

The reporting of Day Staff Writer Jennifer McDermott uncovered some of the troubling details behind Capt. Parks' decision. They involve allegations of an adulterous relationship with a 23-year-old Chesapeake., Va. woman, misidentifying himself and his duties in emails to her and faking reports of his death in a caddish and malevolent attempt to get the woman out of his life.

Some have questioned The Day's decision to publish some of the scandalous details of this story. But a news organization's responsibility is to provide readers the information it uncovers that tells the full story, not to sanitize or filter out details that can be uncomfortable.

Remember, this man was in charge of a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine. That he apparently showed such poor judgment and was relieved of duty because of it is news.

The Day has a long history of high-quality reporting on the Navy, both the good and the bad, recognizing it is such an important part of our community. That will not change.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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