Saturday, March 17, 2001

USS Greeneville

Submarine’s sole
mission was to
‘entertain civilians’

A three-officer panel takes the
Pacific Forces Submarine
Force to task

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Bullet Sub was 'entertainment'
Bullet Fire-control to testify

TWO SENIOR ADMIRALS took strong exception that the USS Greeneville's sole mission last month was to entertain civilians on a daylong cruise -- a violation of Navy regulations.

Vice Adm. John Nathman, presiding officer over a rare Navy court of inquiry, took the Pacific Forces Submarine Force to task yesterday for approving a distinguished-visitor trip, or "embark," on Feb. 9. It was a mission to entertain 16 civilians.

Repeatedly, Nathman, a former aircraft carrier commander and current head of the Pacific Fleet's Naval Air Forces, asked Lt. Cmdr. Dave Werner, Submarine Forces' public affairs officer, if the February trip was within Navy guidelines.

That directive states that these trips must be part of a regularly scheduled operation.

Werner's only answer was that the Greeneville's Feb. 9 trip was "within the framework of normal scheduled operations."

Werner contends that the Greeneville was supposed to go to sea on a training trip Feb. 10-11, and the civilian visit was supposed to be part of that cruise. However, after completing a successful West Coast deployment, the crew was given the weekend off, and the training was postponed to the following Monday. But the civilian part of the visit remained scheduled for Friday, Feb. 9.

That bothered Nathman, who said: "In my view this doesn't fit the criteria. It doesn't come close."

Nathman added: "I would never get a carrier underway to support a DV (distinguished-visitor) embark. We're going to disagree on that."

Rear Adm. Dave Stone, another board member, also disagreed. Stone, who commands the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier battle group, said trips that only support civilians would mean another day at sea for sailors and has "quality-of-life implications."

Stone said his other concern was that such trips did not amount to proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars or offer as much training value as a regularly scheduled mission.

During his cross-examination, Charles Gittins, Waddle's civilian attorney, asked about e-mail in September sent to Werner by Capt. Kevin Wensing, Pacific Fleet spokesman. Wensing said the secretary of the Navy wanted this group of civilians to be treated well. Also included in this group was NBC "Today Show" host Matt Lauer. Wensing yesterday said the whole itinerary fell apart in November.

Other correspondence to Werner said these were going to be "10 to 12 high-rolling CEOs" finishing a golf tournament, Gittins said.

Werner said initially he was told that retired Adm. Richard Macke, former Pacific Command, was going to accompany the 16 civilians, but later Macke dropped out because of another engagement.

Nathman, Stone and Rear Adm. Paul Sullivan have spent the last two weeks examining the circumstances leading to the collision between the Greeneville and the Japanese fishing training ship Ehime Maru which resulted in the death of nine people.

Under scrutiny are the sub's captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle; executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer; and the officer of the deck that day, Lt. j.g. Michael Coen.

Much of yesterday morning's testimony centered on the Greeneville's "watch bill," or work schedule, which listed in the sonar section one trainee working without constant supervision, contrary to Navy regulation.

Stone said "this is an important issue since the sea is such a dangerous environment."

Stone indicated that although Seaman Stuart Rhodes was almost qualified, it was not the same as having a fully qualified person in his seat.

He wondered if this was a "Greeneville standard" and indication of how Waddle actually ran his sub.

Nathman, president of the panel, also expressed concern with a work schedule that contained so many errors. "It didn't seem like an efficient way to run a ship."

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