Headline of the Year (And It's Only March)
We did a double-take after spotting this one in Time:
"Sexism and the Navy's Female Captain Bligh"
The Captain in question is Holly Graf, dismissed two months ago as commander of the USS Cowpens, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser. The gang at MilitaryCorruption.com led the pack in documenting Graf's reign of terror as skipper of the Cowpens and before that, the USS Winston S. Churchill, a guided missile destroyer.
Captain Graf's conduct makes Bligh look like a boy scout. As the Navy Inspector General documented, Graf (at various times) spat in the face of a crewmember; choked a junior officer under her command, hurled ceramic coffee mugs at subordinates and heaped withering verbal abuse at scores of sailors, petty officers and commissioned officers who crossed her path. Officially, Graf was fired for "cruelty and maltreatment" of her crew and conduct unbecoming an officer. Admittedly, our knowledge of Navy dismissals is limited, but we can't recall the last skipper who was relieved for "cruelty and maltreatment," giving Graf a very dubious distinction, indeed.
And amazingly, Holly Graf is still in uniform. She has been reassigned to the Navy's Aegis BMD command, headquartered at Virginia's Dahlgren Navy Base. Of course, it doesn't hurt to be an Annapolis product (Graf graduated from the boat school in 1985), with an older sister who happens to be an admiral. A lesser mortal would probably face a courts-martial, or at least the end of their career. To be sure, Holly Graf will never advance beyond her present rank--or hold another command--but she's still a Captain in the U.S. Navy and will (apparently) be allowed to finish her tour at Dahlgren.
The real question, of course, is how she made it that far in the first place. A former officer (who requested anonymity) told MilitaryCorruption.com that Graf seemed "unstable" when they served a sea tour as lieutenants. The former shipmate told the website that she brought Graf's behavior to the attention of the ship's executive officer, but no action was ever taken. Holly Graf receiving glowing fitness evaluations and continued her climb to the top, culminating in command of the Churchill and later, the Cowpens.
Which brings us back to Time and their explanation for the rise (and fall) of Captain Graf. According to the magazine's normally-capable defense reporter, Mark Thompson, the case of Holly Graf can be explained (in part) by the long history of sexism in the Navy's ranks, and the service's desire to overcome that stigma. At various points in the account, Thompson speculates that Graf was rushed into command to improve diversity among the service's operational commanders, with little regard for her obvious problems. Time also wonders if a male officer--with the same, toxic leadership style--would have suffered a similar fate.
To be fair, there is an element of truth in Thompson's first hypothesis. But his conjecture also does a grave disservice to other female Navy officers who have commanded ships and performed superbly in those assignments. While Holly Graf was the first woman to command a cruiser, the novelty of a female "skipper" has long since worn off. The idea that Graf's assignment on the Cowpens was part of damage control from the Tailhook scandal is far-fetched, at best.
More bizarre is the notion that Graf's dismissal was unique, or rooted in her gender. As we've noted in previous posts, the Navy is quick to fire ship commanders who don't measure up; given her track record, it's amazing that Holly Graf survived her first tour on the Churchill and got a second command in a cruiser.
We believe Captain Graf's perseverance was the result of several factors. First of all, don't underestimate the ability (or willingness) of the Annapolis fraternity to look after fellow graduates. There's also speculation that older sister Robin used her influence as a flag officer to look after her sister. Now a Rear Admiral (and married to another flag officer), Robin Graf is Deputy Commander of the Navy's Recruiting Command. Oddly enough, Admiral Graf is a product of Officer Candidate School and spent most of her career in communications and maintenance positions.
And finally, the failure to identify Holly Graf's problems--and keep her out of command billets --is indicative of something common in many organizations, i.e., a lack of leadership. Past supervisors were aware of her issues and failed to act. Making matters worse, they provided the sterling fitness reports that put her on the command track, setting the stage for her stints on the Churchill and the Cowpens.
On the whole, we'd say the military's system for evaluating and promoting commanders works, and works rather well. But the system is far from perfect, and the occasional bad apple manages to slip through, sometimes with disastrous consequences. At least Captain Graf didn't kill anyone with her bully behavior and marginal ship-handling skills, though she came close on at least one occasion.
We refer to the "drag race" between the Cowpens and the destroyer USS John McCain last February. MilitaryCorruption.com was the first to publish a photo of the race, taken from the bridge of the McCain. Maneuvering at high speed, the Cowpens nearly collided with the smaller destroyer, coming within 300 feet of the McCain. In case you're wondering, the drag race incident was conspiciously absent from the Time account.
The lack of senior leadership was also on display--with far more serious consequences--in the case of Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter. Yesterday, the Washington Times published portions of e-mail exchanges between Hasan's former supervisors.
In one message, the supervisor of the psychiatry residency program at Walter Reed Medical Center suggested that Hasan be placed on probation and have his residency "extended" for chronic unprofessionalism and a poor work ethic. But the plan of Major Scott Moran was rejected by his superior, who worried about having to convene a "relook" board if Hasan was put on probation. Instead, the Army psychiatrist completed his residency on time, received promotion to Major and was even selected for a prestigious fellowship.
The Army is considering sanctions against Hasan's former supervisors at Walter Reed. Some of the comments in the Times' report came from Major Moran's civilian attorney, which speaks volumes about how the investigation is proceeding. When in doubt "fry" the guys at the O-4 and O-5 level. But the e-mails suggest that Moran was trying to do his job and got no support from officers higher in the chain-of-command. It will be interesting to see if anyone at the O-6 (or flag level) is implicated in this mess, and what sort of punishment, if any, they receive.