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Monday, December 31, 2007

Wisniewski Surfaces in Popular Mechanics. The Wiz has Nine Lives.

Racist Coast Guard Captain Douglas Wisniewski explains why another program that he oversees has caused great embarassment for the Coast Guard. From the court-martial of Webster Smith to the death of Lt Jessica Hill, Wisniewski has casted a giant shadow. His body count is stacking up. His career has left a trial of dead bodies and ruined careers from Atlantic shores to Arctic Zones, to Europe and the Far East.

Coast Guard regulations are not the only things that are written in blood. The fitness reports and the epitaths of of some cadets and officers are also written in blood. Wisniewski has left a bloody trail, but none of it has been his. Webster Smith was blamed for Kristen Nicholson's abortion, and Jessica Hill was blamed for her own death, and the death of BM2 Steve Duque. Shame. Shame. Where will he surface next?
'Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.'
- Oscar Wilde

This article was excerpted from the 28 December 2007 issue of Popular Mechanics.



On a brisk, sunny afternoon last August, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy came to a crunching halt in 4-ft.-thick pack ice, 490 miles north of Barrow, Alaska. The polar icebreaker had just completed the western leg of its summer mission to study the Earth's crust for the National Science Foundation. Since the ship had been at sea for more than 40 days, the commanding officer, Capt. Douglas Russell, offered the crew a little rest and relaxation: He let most of the 84 sailors and 35 scientists on board disembark for several hours of ice liberty. A few crew members armed with rifles kept watch for polar bears; others played football, drank beer or just milled around.

Lt. Jessica Hill, 31, of St. Augustine, Fla., and Boatswain's Mate Second Class Steven Duque, 22, of Miami, decided to make an impromptu training dive near the bow of the 420-ft. ship. Both were Navy trained, and considered seasoned divers. However, this would be their first cold-water descent using scuba gear. As the ship's diving officer, Hill was charged with supervising the dive plan and all per­sonnel involved. This included a third diver, who briefly floated in the 29 F water before climbing out, shivering inside a leaky suit.

Unlike a porous wet suit, a dry suit acts as a barrier between the body and the water, helping the diver withstand freezing-cold temperatures. Air inside the suit affects the diver's buoyancy. It compresses as pressure increases with depth, reducing buoyancy, and expands as the pressure decreases again near the surface. In order to avoid ascending too quickly, divers often carry extra weight. Hill and Duque each loaded up with an additional 62 pounds.

At 5:45 pm, Hill asked three of her shipmates to serve as diver tenders for the operation. She briefed them on safety protocols and informed them that the maximum depth of each of the two 20-minute dives would be 20 ft.

Three minutes into the training session, Duque's safety line began to play out quickly. "I had the impression he was swimming away from me sideways under the ice," Duque's linesman later told investigators. Within seconds, Hill's line began to do the same. The third diver returned to the scene 20 minutes later and noticed that too much line had been spent. He ordered the dive support team to "haul 'em up." Though other bystanders joined the effort, it took three more minutes to bring Duque and Hill to the surface. EMTs worked for more than an hour to revive them, but it was too late.



Capt. Douglas Wisniewski, who oversees Coast Guard diving operations, spent months analyzing what happened that day. Mistakes had been made at every level of command. The Coast Guard hadn't checked the scuba equipment in the Healy's dive locker in five years, nor had it posted a more experienced dive master on board to oversee operations and properly train the dive personnel. (Hill had only 24 dives in her career.) Capt. Russell should never have authorized a dive during a party and without a standby diver. He also should have checked Hill's dive plan with the Coast Guard Diving Manual, as procedure required. Finally, Hill's dive plan did not include adequate safety procedures, or sufficient training for the support team.

Wisniewski was unable to determine conclusively why the divers carried such an unusually heavy load (more than twice the recommended amount), and why they failed to drop that weight when they began to descend uncontrollably. Against Coast Guard rules, some of the lead weight had been stashed in zippered compartments, which would have made it difficult to release. The divers also likely succumbed to nitrogen narcosis, a sense of drunkenness resulting from the body's increased absorption of nitrogen, under pressure.

The real culprit, however, was inexperience. "Hill and Duque simply didn't have enough dives under their belt," Wisniewski says. As a result, the Coast Guard is expanding its diver training program: creating new predive checklists, increasing the frequency of dive inspections and examining how to rotate its most experienced divers throughout the fleet. New policies for equipment maintenance and command oversight are also under review.

Wisniewski believes the most important lesson to be gleaned from this tragedy is to follow the rules: "Those procedures were written in somebody's blood." And sadly, so are the new ones.

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6 Comments:

Blogger ichbinalj said...

The U.S. Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals has scheduled oral arguments in the Case of The Appeal of the Court-martial Conviction of Cadet Webster Smith for January 16, 2008 in Arlington, Virginia.

A legal brief filed by his lawyers claims the convictions should be thrown out because the defense team was not allowed to fully cross-examine one of his accusers during Smith's court martial. They say that meant the jury didn't hear testimony that the accuser, a female cadet, Shelly Raudenbush, had once had consensual sex with a Coast Guard enlisted man and then called it sexual assault.
Lt. Cmdr. Patrick M. Flynn, the government's lawyer for the appeal, said 27 November that the jury "heard enough" and the trial judge was within his rights to impose reasonable limits on the cross-examination.
"They didn't need to hear the additional details the defense is arguing they should have been allowed to hear."

Lawyers from the WilmerHale law firm for former Coast Guard cadet Webster Smith also contend in their legal brief "The excluded cross-examination would have devastated Shelly Raudenbush's(the accuser's) credibility, on which the government's case depended completely, making it all but certain that the outcome in this pure credibility contest would have been different."
The convictions on the three charges were based on the testimony of the female cadet, who said Smith coerced her by threatening to reveal a secret she had confided in him. That secret was about the past relationship.
Besides the question of whether the military judge abused his discretion, oral arguments will focus on whether Smith's conviction for sodomy was constitutional and whether the government proved the extortion charge.
Smith's lawyers argue that Smith engaged in private, consensual sexual activity with another adult and should not be punished.

Smith's lawyers said the evidence does not prove the extortion charge because prosecutors did not demonstrate a direct link between the female cadet's presumption of a threat and a sexual encounter, which occurred a few hours apart. She said Smith told her he needed more "motivation" to keep her secret, according to the records.

"Criminal sanctions cannot be based on the subjective perceptions of the recipient of a communication, perceptions that the communicator plainly cannot control," Smith's lawyers argued in the records.
The court may hear arguments about the failing to obey an order and abandoning watch charges or issue a ruling based on the briefs filed by both sides.

The defense also is asking the court to set aside Smith's convictions on two lesser charges of failing to obey an order and abandoning watch.

1:38 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Webster Smith writes:
I am hoping that 2008 will bring me a break from these constant reminders but I am not too
optimistic.

On January 16th, 2008 the lawyers best suited to fight injustice at the epicenter of military and civilian politics, will walk into a room with me and argue a case
that shouldn't have to be argued. What can I hope for? A chance to
move forward. With recently appointed director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund-- Mr. John Payton having his hand in my appeal, I feel that my vindication is likely.
The pain that it caused my family will never dissipate.
The injustice that I experienced will always be a factor in my life.

If you feel that my Civil Rights have been violated, you are correct.
I was reading Thomas F. Jackson's book entitled, From Civil Rights to Human Rights and it had me thinking about Dr. King's perspective on progress. How can I
expect civil rights when I have yet to recieve my basic human rights under the Universal Code of Military Justice and the Coast Guard Regulations?

The constitutional right to the "innocent until proven guilty" premise.
Going to class, defending myself, and having the ability to call witnesses in my defense would have been fair.

The legal right to defend myself against someone whose reputation and commission Admiral Van Sice was protecting was denied me.

The humane right to possess a military I.D. and health care while on appelate status finds new ways of being denied on a monthly basis.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I was kicked out of the Academy because of this man (who called ME a racist) and who also assisted in unjustly booting (or setting up for booting) 30 or more members of my class (2008) or others... he cost that place some fantastic leaders and our nation some valuable assets in its Coast Guard."

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Caitlin Stopper said...

The Wiz strikes again. Google his name and find his old papers from graduate school. They're a good laugh.

9:41 AM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Captain Douglas J. Wisniewski is a native of Toledo, Ohio. He was commissioned in May 1979 following graduation from the United States Coast Guard Academy. He became the Coast Guard Pacific Area Chief of Staff in December, 2007.
Captain Wisniewski was previously assigned as Deputy Director for Response at Coast Guard Headquarters. He was the 39th Commandant of Cadets at the Coast Guard Academy from 2003 until 2006. He was Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard’s only enlisted accession training command, Recruit Training Center Cape May, New Jersey from 2001-2003. He commanded USCGC SASSAFRAS in Honolulu, Hawaii from 1993-1996. He was designated as a Coast Guard Cutterman in 1994. His other assignments include Coast Guard Leadership and Management School, Yorktown, Virginia from 1983-1985, Company Officer, Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut from 1989-1991, and Director, Cadet Leadership Program, Coast Guard Academy from 1991-1993.

Captain Wisniewski was staff civil engineer at Training Center Yorktown, Virginia from 1981-1983 and at Base Honolulu, Hawaii from 1985-1987. He also served the Coast Guard’s Chief of Staff as a Program Reviewer, and later as Chief of Personnel Allowance Division, at Coast Guard Headquarters from 1996-2000.

Captain Wisniewski holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering with High Honors from the United States Coast Guard Academy, a Master of Science Degree in Engineering Administration from The George Washington University, and Master of Science Degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College. His personal awards include the Legion of Merit (three awards), Meritorious Service Medal, Coast Guard Commendation Medal (three awards), Coast Guard Achievement Medal, and the Commandant’s Letter of Commendation.

1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like the wiz had some bad
luck, but he was my CO on the SASS
and was a decent honorable man.
interestingly enough, when
i reported aboard a new ensign
died in a pier diving accident
2 days prior.............

6:28 PM  

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