Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Let the Dead bury the Dead.

It has been often said that one should not speak ill of the dead. This Final Report into the deaths of Lieutenant Jessica Hill and BM2 Steven Duque does not speak ill of Lt. Hill, but it points the finger at her.
It does not accuse her of being derelict in her duty, but it appears to place the blame on her for everything that went wrong while at the same time never accusing her of any wrongdoing. The three most senior officers on the ship are squarely charged with dereliction of duty. Instances of lax performance by Lt. Hill are mentioned, but she is not accused of misrepresentation or poor performance. This is as it should be, because her actions and recommendations were filtered upward through three levels of senior officers before they were implemented. Even when she gave erroneous advice, the decision to go ahead was ratified by the Operations Officer, and the Executive Officer and the Commanding Officer. So, the ultimate responsibility and accountability for the cold water dive operations are placed where they belong; at the top, not at the bottom of the chain of command.
The Report lays out a prima facie case of negligence. There was duty, breach of duty, foreseeable consequences, and resultant harm. The CO, XO, and the Ops Officer are blamed; and they are charged. They are tried at an Admiral’s Mast, a form of non-judicial punishment, and they are given token slaps on the wrist, but they are not really punished. The forfeiture of one months pay is suspended. A Letter of Reprimand is little more than a footnote in their service records. They dodged a bullet. Granted, no homicide was committed, but to some it will appear that they literally got away with murder.
There are several red flags about this Final Report. The first thing that you notice about the Report is that it was released at the close of business on Friday, January 12, 2007 at the start of a three day weekend, a federal holiday. Apparently it was hoped that no one would notice it until it was old. Four days is a long time when you are trying to distance yourself from a bad situation.
In the movie “SCHINDLER’S LIST” there is a scene that typifies what this report is trying to do. Some one has stolen a chicken and the Nazi guards are interrogating a group of prisoners. No one will confess. So, the camp Commandant orders the guard to start shooting the prisoners. After the first prisoner is shot dead, a young prisoner raises his hand and confesses that he knows who stole the chicken. When the Commandant asked who it was, the prisoner pointed to the dead man. Why not blame it on the dead man? He has nothing more to loose.
Why not blame this tragedy on Lt. Jessica Hill? She is dead. She has nothing more to loose, relatively speaking. She does not have a career to protect, or a family to feed, or a professional service record to keep clean, or a reputation to protect. She will no longer compete with her peers for choice of assignment. So, why not blame it on the dead?
This case highlights another problem that male officers will always have working with female officers. It is hard to stop treating the women as their daughters, or mothers, or wives, or girlfriends, or muses, or secret love interests. It is more difficult to give them an order than another man. Men are unable to hold the women to the same standard as they do the other men. When the men have a difference of opinion from the women, they are less forceful in asserting that opinion. Men relent more easily and let the women have their way. That appeared to be the case when the Operations Officer told Lt Hill that her dive plan had been approved by the Captain. He then asked Lt. Hill if all three divers, including the Supervising Diver, could be in the water at the same time under the regulations. Lt Hill replied in the affirmative and indicated that she would brief the Captain. The Ops Officer told her that he was not sure that she was correct, but that he would take her word for it. He never did verify the accuracy of Lt Hill’s statement. Even though he suspected she was not correct, he acquiesced and let her have it her way. Most male officers would rather be liked than respected. They want to impress, or they acquiesce.
Nowhere in the Final Report does it say that Lt. Hill was unqualified. Nowhere does it say that she was derelict in the performance of her duties as Dive Officer. It just hints that if she died, it was her own fault; it was due to her own negligence. Was she unqualified for he role and the duties that were forced upon her?
If the CO, XO, and Ops Officers were truly derelict, and that dereliction led to the loss of two people’s lives, then they deserve more than a gentle slap on the wrist. Someone is reluctant to spell it out. They should be court-martialed. We convene General Court-martials for less. The Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy court-martialed a cadet for making love to his girlfriend, and taking nude pictures of another female cadet. No one was killed. There was no loss of life. No Artic Operational deployment was curtailed. Someone’s value system is seriously malfunctioning. If the Coast Guard wanted to send Webster Smith to jail for 20 years to life by convening a General Court-martial, then how on earth can three people be accused of causing the deaths of two innocent people and walk away with only a gentle slap on the wrist. Who was liable for the death of Lt Jessica Hill and BM2 Steve Duque? Was it the CO, XO, or the Ops Officer? Or was it Lt Hill? But she is dead; then let the dead bury the dead!



Blogger ichbinalj said...

Dive Officer unqualified. Tenders drunk.
Lt. Jessica Hill reported aboard CGC HEALY on 6/23/04 for her first afloat tour. She had qualified as a Basic Diving Officer at NDSTC on 5/11/04. As the Diving Officer she was responsible for the safe conduct of all diving operations, training,and the supervision of all diving operations. Prior the fatal dive on 8/17/06, she had conducted 24 dives; none with SCUBA. THis was her first cold water SCUBA dive. She had limited military dive experience. Her currency dive qualification had lapsed on 5/15/06. Lt. Hill was not qualified for diving duty on 8/17/06. The Dive Plan that she submitted for the dive on 8/17/06 did not name anyone on the surface as Diving Supervisor, or as Standby Diver, or as a Buddy Diver or Diver Tender. Nevertheless, the Dive Plan was approved by the Commanding Officer.
The dive occured while the crew was on ice liberty playing football and drinking beer. The CO drank at least one beer; the XO drank at least two beebs; the Ops Officer drank about two and one half beers; and, the Dive Tenders also drank several beers.

7:04 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Crewmembers assisting a training dive that killed two Coast Guard divers in the Arctic were untrained for the job and had been drinking beer during a partylike leave beforehand, an official investigation said today.
The two divers, from the Seattle-based icebreaker Healy, also were loaded with too much weight before entering the water and plunging to about 200 feet, nearly 10 times further than intended.
Coast Guard Lt. Jessica Hill, 31, of St. Augustine, Fla., and Boatswain's Mate Steven Duque, 22, of Miami, Fla., were killed in the Aug. 17, 2006, accident, about 500 miles north of Alaska.
Their deaths were the result of a chain of mistakes, said Vice Adm. Charles Wurster, the Coast Guard's Pacific area commander.
"Had any link been broken, this accident would not have occurred," Wurster told a news conference.
That included the untrained "tenders," who were monitoring the divers from the ice above. Two of the tenders drank three beers or less during an "ice liberty" before the dive, the Coast Guard's report said.
The Healy was sailing through the Arctic with about 35 scientists to collect data that would help them map the ocean floor. Hill was the ship's dive officer, as well as the liaison between the scientists and the crew.
Shortly after the deaths, the Healy's commander, Capt. Douglas G. Russell, was relieved of duty and reassigned to administrative tasks. His superiors cited "a loss of confidence in Russell's continued ability to command."
Russell and other officers in charge of the ship received official reprimands or admonitions, Wurster said.
The Associated Press
Friday, 12 Jan 2007

7:05 PM  
Blogger energioso said...

So, this is how Coast Guard Justice is metted out? Captain. Douglas G. Russell, gets relieved of duty and reassigned to administrative tasks for inadvertently murdering two dive officers, and CGA cadet Webster Smith get a court martial for essentially being too horny? With female cadet girls on his ass left and right?

Where's the benefit of a doubt here? Oh, its a "loss of confidence".

There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that if Captain Russell were Black or any minority, he would have been in the Brig, and court-martialed by now.

12:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OJ is not the only one walking around with blood on his hands!

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lt. Jessica Hill will never get married. She will never again have Sunday dinner or spend Christmas with her mother and father. She will not give them grandchildren. The family has been deprived of a beautiful talented young lady. How is the Coast Guard going to make this up to her family? Was there a life insurance policy? Does it pay double for death on active duty during the performance of duty?
Or will the family have to get a smart, hungry lawyer to sue for wrongful death?

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This should be a lesson to all female Coast Guard officers. You are expendable. The Coast Guard will not punish anyone whose negligence or poor performance of duty leads to your injury or death. You are just window dressing. You are politically correct trophies. You are on your own out there. You cannot even count on your own superior officers to correct you when they know you are wrong. If you are pretty, what you do not know, can hurt you. It could even kill you. It killed Lt. Jessica Hill.

3:30 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Is Vice Adm. Wurster correct?
The three senior officers assigned to the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy during a fatal training accident last year deserved nonjudicial punishment rather than facing criminal charges, a Coast Guard admiral said Monday.

Pacific Area Commander Vice Adm. Charles Wurster, the flag officer responsible for Healy personnel, said there was no evidence of “criminal intent or deliberate misconduct” by the officers before, during or after the accident.

Wurster held mast for the three officers Jan. 14, the day before the Coast Guard released the results of an investigation into the accident that killed two divers, Lt. Jessica Hill, 31, and Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Steven Duque.

Wurster found the three — the commanding, executive and operations officers — to be derelict of duty. Capt. Doug Russell, the CO, was relieved shortly after the accident. On Jan. 14, he received a punitive letter of reprimand and a fine equal to one month’s pay.

Cmdr. Jeffrey Jackson, the XO, received a punitive letter of admonition. Operations officer Lt. Cmdr. James Dalitsch received a punitive letter of reprimand and a fine.

All fines were suspended.

Wurster said the men’s service records were “without flaw” before the accident. He said the three suffered from leadership failures before and during the accident, but they lacked malice or criminal intent.

“I believe that NJP was adequate,” Wurster said. “They took full responsibility.”

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen voiced his support for Wurster’s decision in an all-hands memo sent to active-duty and reserve Coast Guardsmen on Jan. 12.

“The investigation revealed failures in leadership within the chain of command aboard Healy. ... Had Healy’s commanding officer, executive officer, operations officer and dive team followed policies established in Coast Guard and Navy diving manuals, they would not have permitted diving operations,” Allen wrote.

Russell, Jackson and Dalitsch, the ship’s command cadre, were in charge of the ship Aug. 17 when Hill and Duque embarked on a cold-water scuba dive during a break in operations 490 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.

The divers had planned to conduct two 20-minute exercises at depths of 20 feet, but minutes after they entered the water, Duque plunged to a depth of 220 feet, while Hill unexpectedly descended to 189 feet. The two ran out of air, injured their lungs and suffocated.

The administrative investigation placed blame at all levels of leadership. Hill, the dive officer, failed by moving forward with the dive despite having an inadequate number of trained personnel for the exercise. The command cadre permitted the dive execution without conducting an operational risk assessment, pre-brief or medical evacuation plan.

And the Coast Guard diving program was found to be at fault: The investigation revealed that Healy was understaffed with experienced dive experts, a safety survey had not been conducted on the ship since its commissioning in 1999, and no records of preventive maintenance since 2002 could be found.

The results of the NJP mean, effectively, that the three officers’ careers are over. The letters of reprimand and admonition are entered into the men’s permanent record books, where they can be reviewed by promotion and selection boards.

Wurster said he initially decided to leave the executive officer and operations officer on the ship to provide stability for the crew during the grieving process and ensuing investigation.

On Jan. 15, he defended the decision to leave Jackson on the Healy.

“No single person caused this accident. It was a chain of events. ... As things developed, I found the XO was less culpable in this incident. The fact that I had not removed him immediately following the accident proved to be a correct decision,” Wurster said.

A spokesman for Hill’s family said they support the Coast Guard’s actions, both regarding the reprimands and the efforts to improve the service’s diving program.

“The deaths of Jessica and Steven are attributable to a failure of the Coast Guard, the Command of the CGC Healy and the dive team. No one failure can be blamed, but each contributed to a series of events resulting in a tragic loss to their families and friends, and to the Coast Guard. Their deaths will not be in vain if the actions proposed by the Coast Guard resulting from this investigation are implemented,” relative Bill Eby wrote Monday in an e-mail to Navy Times.
Patricia Kime - Staff writer
Thursday Jan 18, 2007

4:27 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

There is criminal intent, and there is civil liability. Any time anyone dies as a result of someone else's actions, there must be an assessment of criminal intent as well as civil liability. The absence of malice or criminal intent would be irrelevant in a civil suit.
The headlines are full of such actions. OJ Simpson was found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, but he was found civilly liable for causing their deaths. A Santa Monica, California jury unanimously found O J Simpson liable in the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L Goldman, In a civil suit brought by the victims' families, they were awarded $8.5 million in compensatory damages plus an unspecified amount of punitive damages, that may well have exceeded one hundred million dollars.
Robert Blake was found not guilty of murdering Bunny Leigh Bakley, but he was found civilly liable in causing her death. The court ordered him to pay thirty million dollars to the estate of his ex-wife.
The jury in the civil case had to decide only whether it was probable that Blake was responsible; in the criminal case the jury had to decide his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
If Nicole Brown Simpson’s life is worth more than $108,500,000.00; and Bonnie Bakely’s life is worth more than $30,000,000.00, then Lt Jessica Hill’s life is worth more than ZERO. That is what the suspended fines against the three officers amounted to. It all added up to ZERO dollars.
If the Coast Guard still thinks that people are our most valuable resource, then they should be able to offer the families of the deceased divers a small death settlement without forcing them to call ATLA, the Association of Trial Lawyer of America.

5:02 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Calling jscott90, OVER; Are you out there? Come In jscott90.
Did you read the Final Report?
What does that do to your perfect safety record theory?
How stupid is this Blog, now?
Would you care to direct some of your vitriol at Commandant Thad Allen or the Investigating Officers?
Do you know how many of the Investigating Officers were women?
Yes, you are correct, it appears that the safety records of the CO, XO, and OPS Officer were taken into consideration, as you suggested. They were not court-martialed for their dereliction of duty and negligence that contributed to the deaths of the two divers. Is that what you wanted?
The only perfect record that I can see, is the perfect record of senior officers not being held accountable to the same standards as junior officers and cadets. Do you think that a suspended fine of one month's pay is just punishment for causing the death of a female officer and her dive mate?
How many mistakes did you count in the Final Report?
jscott90 writes: Friday, September, 22, 2006 9:13 AM
Healy Tragedy
This blog entry is a perfect case-in-point of the fact that one does NOT have to have to be one of the 'weaker sex' to claim the prize for Most Ignorant Blog.

Does the safety record of the vessel while under the supervision and control of these same females follow the pattern that you describe here, or did you endeavor to discover the safety history of this vessel and its commanding officers? I would argue that this is highly relevant to the accusations that women in places of power are prone to 'mistakes' during their cycles that you are making here.

Secondly, I would also ask if the blogger has actual evidence of any female officers experiencing their cycles during this tragedy. Perhaps he has information that the general public does not have.

Unless and until you have ALL the facts, sir, I would humbly advise that all of this is mere speculation and dishonors yourself and mars what good things I imagine came from your personal time in the Coast Guard.

Luckily for the nation and your fellow Coasties though, you weren't menstruating, or God knows what might have happened on YOUR watch.

Reply to JSCOTT90 re: Healy Tragedy.
Dear JSCOTT90,
Thank you for your comments. Pardon the slow response. I was on vacation.
You are correct. During my personal time in the Coast Guard I was not menstruating. My wife is the only one who menstruates in our home. My daughters are too young. That is one difference between men and women. There are others.
I do not take personal credit for discovering the McClintock Effect, also known as Menstrual Synchrony. Doctor Martha McClintock discovered the social regulation of ovulation in 1971. This is not my opinion. It is a scientific fact. All the perfect safety reports in the world of the vessel while under the control of female officers will not change that.
Many scientific discoveries were at first ridiculed. Galileo was branded a heretic for saying that the earth revolved around the sun. He was tried and imprisoned. Many people today still believe that the earth is flat. There are others who believe that man has never walked on the moon. They think it was all done in a Hollywood studio; much like Cecil B. DeMille’s parting of the Red Sea in the movie The Ten Commandments.
If you do not like the message, please do not ridicule the messenger.
One of the sillier notions that feminists have tried to foist off on the rest of us is that there are no major differences between boys and girls or men and women. It was goofy when Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, and the ladies of NOW, first promoted the big fib back in the 60s and 70s, and it’s no less lame-brained today.
A Concerned Retired Officer

5:26 PM  

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