Accountability matters, especially in the military — and the US Navy just delivered some internal accountability for the capture of sailors by Iran. NBC, ABC, and other news agencies report that the Navy has “fired” Commander Eric Rasch, the executive officer of the sailors in the embarrassing January incident. This reverses the promotion Rasch got while the investigation took place, and will end any hopes he has for promotion:
The Navy has fired the commander of the 10 American sailors who entered Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf and were captured and held by Iran for about 15 hours.
In a statement Thursday, the Navy said it had lost confidence in Cmdr. Eric Rasch, who was the executive officer of the squadron that included the 10 sailors at the time of the January incident. He was responsible for the training and readiness of the more than 400 sailors in the unit.
A Navy official said Rasch failed to provide effective leadership, leading to a lack of oversight, complacency and failure to maintain standards in the unit. The official was not authorized to discuss the details publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Fired” in this context doesn’t mean Rasch will sign up for unemployment benefits. The Navy has relieved him of his command and reassigned him to “other tasks,” which basically means a desk job with fewer responsibilities and opportunities. He’ll continue to serve, but Rasch and everyone else knows that he’s now on borrowed time, and will have to start considering his next career sooner rather than later.
CNN reports that the Navy has not ruled out more disciplinary action for others involved in the incident, and the initial report of its origins shows that it’s more likely to involve a number of people. The list of failures CNN cites shows that the responsibility appears to be rather wide-spread:
• The sailors had never made the trip before.
• They had been up most of the night before conducting maintenance on one of the boats that had broken down.
• They had to “cannibalize” parts from a third boat in order to have two working vessels.
• They then experienced problems with their satellite communications gear. …
In addition, they did not conduct a standard operational briefing for themselves prior to setting sail, during which they would have fully reviewed their route and navigation plan.
The approved navigation path would have had them sail in international waters between the Iranian coastline and the eastern side of Farsi Island as they moved south toward Bahrain. Instead, they were significantly off course, sailing on the western side of the island.
In other words, it was a cascading series of blunders and failures that led to the humiliation of the US Navy and the propaganda coup realized by Iran. The sheer number of problems raises questions about the overall readiness of forces in sensitive areas, and few are more sensitive than the Persian Gulf. One would have expected the Navy to operate at peak efficiency that close to hostile territory rather than allow for such slipshod performance.
Clearly, that’s what the Navy expected too, and why the disciplinary action has begun. Rasch may be the first to face the music, but he won’t be the last. Like it or not, Rasch’s public dressing-down will serve the Navy as a reminder to other officers of the consequences of negligence and failure.