Wednesday, April 25, 2001

USS Greeneville

New limits on
civilian visits in
all services but
the Navy

Despite the crash, the
public has a right to tours,
an admiral says

Why were civilians aboard
the USS Greenville?

By Gregg K. Kakesako

THE POPULAR Navy program which takes civilians to sea aboard warships remains intact and has escaped any type of changes following the investigation of the fatal collision between a U.S. nuclear submarine and a Japanese fishing vessel two months ago.

"The policy is alive and well and untouchable as before," says Jay Fidell, a civilian lawyer and former court of inquiry investigator.

"The Navy maybe will just be more careful in implementing it in the future," said Fidell, who has closely monitored the proceedings since the USS Greeneville and the Ehime Maru collided Feb. 9, resulting in the death of nine people.

Fidell said that Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Fleet commander, and the panel of senior U.S. admirals he convened to look into the program which allowed Greeneville to go sea on Feb. 9 just to entertain 16 civilians never fulfilled their task.

Although Fargo recommended a review of the distinguished visitors program, most of the changes he ordered are cosmetic, Fidell said.

The court of inquiry said Greeneville skipper Cmdr. Scott Waddle violated procedures, especially the one which prohibited Navy commanders from scheduling day trips just to entertain civilians.

But Fargo made no changes to a program which the Navy and its sister organizations consider so vital.

At Pearl Harbor on Monday, Adm. Thomas B. Fargo left the
podium after giving journalists a statement about Cmdr.
Scott Waddle's punishment for the USS Greeneville incident.

"We've been embarking citizens in the Navy for 50 years now," said Fargo, a former submarine captain, in announcing his decision on the Greeneville accident earlier this week.

"I think it's important to our nation. We can do it safely and will do it safely. It would be a mistake to build a wall between American citizens, the mothers and fathers of our sailors, and its Navy."

In calling for a review of the Navy's policies, Fargo said the distinguished visitor embarkation program must continue.

"The public has the right to know and understand how the Navy operates and service it provides to the country.

"The educators, businessmen, legislators, staff personnel, local government officials, family members and media who typically join us at sea are a cross-section of America and contribute much to the nation's understanding of the Navy's mission."

At the Pentagon yesterday, spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said that all the other services were also looking at refining rules for civilian programs.

In late February, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered civilians indefinitely barred from operating military equipment, including ships, aircraft and ground vehicles, "when such operation could cause, or reasonably be perceived as causing, an increased safety risk."

The Army, Air Force and Marines have essentially adopted that Rumsfeld moratorium as policy.

Although the court of inquiry investigating the accident took testimony from 33 people, Fidell said it failed to hear from any of the 16 civilians on the sub that day.

"It was only one hand clapping," Fidell said. "You only heard the Navy's side. That made the court of inquiry's report structurally flawed, since you only heard from the military.

"You really had to have more dispassionate witnesses."

In defending his actions, Fargo said he read all of the statements the 16 civilian submitted to the National Transportation Safety Board and concluded as the court of inquiry did that "there was nothing there that added to the body of facts with respect to this conclusion."

The USS Greeneville was a popular submarine on the Pearl Harbor waterfront and was called on frequently for dockside tours and daylong voyages to put into effect its boss's theme of "engagement."

For the past three years it was part of Rear. Adm. Albert Konetzni's desire "to engage" or talk to anyone -- the public, Congress, other branches of government, and even allies -- to make his case that the United States has an insufficient number of attack submarines.

When Konetzni was piped aboard as commander of the Pacific Fleet's Submarine Force in May 1998, the Navy was well along in decommissioning a quarter of its attack subs.

Today, Konetzni, nicknamed "Big Al the sailor's pal," will relinquish his command of more than 11,000 people, including more than 40 submarine crews, to Rear Adm. John Padgett. Konetzni, who will receive his third star as a vice admiral, will move cross-country to become the deputy commander and chief of staff for the Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Va.

In testimony before the court of inquiry, Konetzni said embarkation of civilian guests was part of his ambitious public affairs program.

In 1999, submarines in his Pearl Harbor command conducted 54 voyages, hosting 1,152 guests. Last year, there were 50 trips, with 1,287 civilians riding on nuclear missile and attack subs.

It was common for these submarines during these trips to demonstrate an emergency surfacing maneuver for the visiting civilians.

Since the Greeneville incident, civilians no longer are allowed at control stations whenever these operations are performed.

Over the past two years, the Greeneville opened its hatches for visitor tours on 20 different occasions while it was in port. Of the 300 civilians hosted, some of the notables included race car driver Andy Granatelli and Robert Kennedy Jr.

From 1999 to 2000, the Greeneville conducted four day cruises, including a Feb. 26, 1999, trip attended by Tipper Gore, the wife of then-Vice President Al Gore, and six members of the U.S. House later that year.

On June 30, 2000, the Greeneville made a special stop to pick up 25 civilians, including James Cameron, director of the movie "Titanic."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Why were civilians aboard
the USS Greenville?

>> March 2000: Navy League and private companies in Texas try to organize golf tournament to benefit the USS Missouri Foundation. Civilians express interest in the Navy's embarkation program. They turn to Adm. Richard Macke, former Pacific Forces commander.

>> Sept. 25, 2000: Macke calls the Pacific Fleet deputy commander to request submarine trip and says the secretary of the Navy is interested in helping this group. Request forwarded to Submarine Forces at Pearl Harbor. Dates requested: Mid-January 2001.

>> November 2000: Golf tournament postponed indefinitely. Macke withdraws request.

>> Jan. 23, 2001: Rear Adm. Al Konetzni, Submarine Forces commander, receives call from Macke requesting submarine trip for 10 civilians on Feb. 8 or 9. Request forwarded to Submarine Forces public affairs officer Lt. Cmdr. Dave Werner.

>> Jan. 26: Werner informs Macke trip approved for Feb. 9.

>> Jan. 30: Macke faxes guest list of 13.

>> Feb. 7: USS Greeneville given approval by message to take guests.

>> Feb. 8: Cmdr. Scott Waddle escorts two civilians during a port visit to Greeneville at Pearl Harbor and invites a couple to join him at sea the next day. Werner learns that Greeneville's scheduled training mission to sea postponed until Feb. 12, and that sub will leave Feb. 9 just to entertain 16 civilians. Waddle learns Konetzni also will not be on trip since he is in Japan. Macke also says he cannot make the trip.

>> Feb. 9: Greeneville leaves Pearl Harbor at 7:57 a.m. with 16 civilians.

Gregg K. Kakesako, Star-Bulletin

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