Small Wars Journal

How Homicide Charges for Two Skippers Will Shake Up the Entire Navy

How Homicide Charges for Two Skippers Will Shake Up the Entire Navy by Geoff Ziezulewicz and Mark D. Faram - Navy Times

The Navy’s decision to level criminal charges against the commanding officers of the destroyers Fitzgerald and John S. McCain is forcing the surface warfare world into a grim reckoning on how it operates, and the consequences of sailors dying on a leader’s watch.

The Navy announced on Jan. 16 that negligent homicide charges will be sought against Fitz CO Cmdr. Bryce Benson, and McCain CO Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez, for their roles in the deaths of 17 sailors in the Pacific last summer.

The unprecedented move sets in motion a military justice proceeding that will begin with a preliminary hearing known as an Article 32, which will evaluate the evidence and determine whether to send the officers to court-martial.

But even the prospect of the homicide charges will have an impact on the broader Navy community. Some in the surface world wonder if the Navy’s decision will freeze skippers into indecisiveness, for fear that something going wrong will send them toward the same fate.

Others think that same fear may spur officers to push back against superiors when a ship or crew is not ready to get underway, altering traditional relationships between commanders and senior leaders.

Still, others contend that such big risks and potential liability have always been part of the job of being a commanding officer, and that the prospect of negligent homicide charges doesn’t change that…

Read on.