The blue crew
In its first 2½ years, USS MOMSEN has seen its share of sullied sailors
William H. McMichael
Times staff writer
January 30, 2006 Issue
Another relatively new Navy ship has been struck by widespread
fraternization and drug abuse problems, prompting surface warfare officials
to intensify shipboard leadership and more strictly enforce discipline on
the ships as they are built and introduced to the fleet. Pre-commissioning
crews typically are split between the building shipyard and a remote
training site until construction is nearly complete.
Since construction began on the destroyer Momsen - from July 2003 through
its August 2004 commissioning to December 2005 - the Everett, Wash.-based
ship has seen at least 32 sailors punished at captain's mast for
non-drug-related misconduct, according to data supplied by the ship in
response to a Freedom of Information Act request. They included at least
three chief petty officers punished for fraternization or sexual harassment,
including the ship's former command master chief, sources say.
All three are out of the Navy. Another chief petty officer was convicted at
summary court-martial on charges of fraternization and adultery, demoted to
petty officer first class and has opted to retire at the end of January.
Charges against other sailors ranged from unauthorized absence, underage
drinking, assault, disorderly conduct and drunkenness to contempt toward a
petty officer and disobeying a commissioned officer. One sailor went to
captain's mast for writing 29 bad checks. The problems continue.
On Dec. 15, a petty officer third class assigned to the ship was arrested by
Snohomish County, Wash., sheriffs after firing a pistol into the door and
wall of a bachelor quarters room at the Smokey Point Naval Support Complex
in North Marysville, about seven miles north of Everett Naval Station,
according to Navy Region Northwest. The sailor fled the scene but was caught
in the same general area.
Military officials declined to name the sailor, and civilian officials
refused to do so over the phone. It's not known whether the sailor remains
in custody. Illegal drug use also is an issue. Ten times in the 16 months
from June 30, 2004, to Oct. 17, 2005, Momsen crew members tested positive
for illegal drug use. Seven of those were in 2005, according to Navy drug
test results also obtained via the FOIA.
Three of the positive drug tests - and another four sailors who admitted
buying Ecstasy - were reported in the Oct. 24 Navy Times. The ship held a
drug-and-alcohol standdown Sept. 29 to "reinforce the Navy's drug policy and
counsel the crew on a healthy lifestyle," said Naval Surface Forces
spokesman Lt. Joshua Frey.Finally, Naval Surface Forces also reported an
ongoing Judge Advocate General Manual investigation "into the processing and
acceptance of gifts to the ship offered by a nonfederal entity in
conjunction with Momsen's commissioning."
The command declined to provide more details, saying the investigation is
not yet complete. But according to sources connected with the ship, the
gifts were custom leather jackets for selected crew members and a large cash
gift to the crew. The ship reportedly was forced to return everything,
although one jacket remains missing, the sources said. "It's the craziest
soap opera you've ever seen in your life," said one sailor's wife, who asked
that her name not be used for fear that the command would take retribution
against her husband.
"It was socially dysfunctional," added a chief petty officer formerly
assigned to the Momsen who asked that his name not be used for fear of
official repercussions. "Morale was extremely low." He and others maintained
that the commissioned ship functioned well tactically. "Every time we had a
milestone to meet, an inspection to pass, we blew it away," the chief said.
"Who cared if there were chiefs going out with young enlisteds at night, if
they came in to work the next day and got the job done?"
The ship's problems echo those of the Pearl Harbor, Hawaii-based destroyer
Chung-Hoon, commissioned in September 2004. Over a period of a
year-and-a-half through November 2005, at least 13 Chung-Hoon crew members
were charged with fraternization, adultery or both. In each case, sources
say, the problems began during construction - Momsen in Bath, Maine, and
Chung-Hoon in Pascagoula, Miss. Pre-commissioning crew members, who are
screened and rescreened for prior behavioral problems and for suitability to
help bring the new ship to life, initially report to fleet training centers
in Norfolk, Va., and San Diego before arriving at the shipyard.
The initial problems on the two West Coast ships seemed driven in large part
by a lack of strong command presence, at least at the off-site training
centers. The former chief petty officer convicted of fraternization and
adultery, who has defiantly maintained his innocence, agreed that the split
crew was the source of many problems on the Momsen.
But equally problematic, he and others said, is the manner in which sailors
are housed during training and construction - typically, in barracks or
hotels in which sailors and officers are not segregated by rank or gender,
practically inviting fraternization problems."There's not room to house all
of these people," said Information Systems Technician 1st Class (SW) Jeff
McSweeney, currently on terminal leave.
"They put everyone, regardless of rank, in one hotel. And it's nothin' but a
spring break party. "The families are not with the sailors for as many as 18
months," added the sailor's wife who asked to remain anonymous. "They put
them all in hotels. What do you think is going to happen?" "The CMC should
be in Bath, forming up the crew," said the chief petty officer formerly
assigned to Momsen. "Instead, he was in San Diego." Meanwhile, he said, the
commanding and executive officers remained in Bath.
As a result of the problems, Naval Surface Forces reviewed pre-commissioning
processes and procedures on the two ships. While it found "no systemic
problems," the command decided to beef up the leadership presence for
pre-commissioning crews, command spokesman Cmdr. Joe Navratil said."We have
taken steps to increase the awareness of the pre-commissioning unit
leadership team to this unique situation," Navratil said.
Those will include "focused" leadership mentoring by a new ship's commanding
officer, executive officer and command master chief, and ensuring that the
pre-commissioning CMC is always a more experienced second-tour command
master chief, he said. "We take these cases very seriously," Navratil said.
"Personnel in pre-commissioning units are held to the same high standards as
sailors throughout the Navy."
The command declined to elaborate on specifics, such as whether it was
implementing changes to living arrangements or perhaps rethinking where the
three top shipboard leaders would be assigned during construction. It
remains to be seen how the new initiative to bolster leadership on
pre-commissioning ships will improve discipline in the temporarily split
crews. According to Naval Sea Systems Command, 10 ships are currently in
Units include the destroyer Kidd, being built in Pascagoula, which began
assembling its crew in February 2005, and the aircraft carrier George H.W.
Bush, which is under construction in Newport News, Va., but will not begin
standing up a crew until July. Two of the 10 PCU ships are about to be
commissioned: the Forrest Sherman on Jan. 28 in Pensacola, Fla., and the
Farragut on June 10 in Mayport, Fla.
Current Momsen commanding officer Cmdr. Patrick Kelly declined to comment on
the ship's problems, according to Navratil. Navratil said the officer who
commanded Momsen until August, Ed Kenyon, could not be reached for comment.
According to Navy Personnel Command, Kenyon retired in December. The
Momsen's executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. William A. Bullard III, reported
aboard in August 2003.
Command Master Chief Norman Allen has served on the Momsen since April 2005,
two months after the ship's former top sailor, Mark Baker, was found guilty
of fraternization, two counts of making a false official statement, false
swearing and wrongful use of a government cell phone. Baker retired in July.
William H. McMichael is the Hampton Roads bureau chief for Navy Times.
Reach him at (757) 223-0096 or by e-mail at email@example.com
YNCS Don Harribine, USN(ret)
Wow. Looks like a fun time had by all.