Thursday, April 26, 2001

Rear Adm. Albert Konetzni, left, shakes hands with Rear
Adm. John Padgett after Padgett assumed command of
the Pacific Fleet's Submarine Force.

Konetzni departs
sub fleet; Padgett
takes over

Attrition declined and
retention increased
during his watch

Bush stands behind Waddle

By Gregg K. Kakesako

He is known as "Big Al the Sailors' Pal," and after a tour of three years, Rear Adm. Albert Konetzni left yesterday with probably only one regret: Not enough people got his message that the country still does not have enough nuclear attack submarines.

But it was not because Konetzni did not try. It was his mantra to anyone who would listen.

In bringing to light the plight of the "silent service," Konetzni always said: "As a force, we have been way too closed off -- by our own doing. I truly believe we are doing ourselves a disservice when we don't reach out to those that could benefit from understanding our contributions."

He talked about the need to improve the quality of life of his sailors or his tribe, the mission of the Pacific Fleet's Submarine Force and always the need for more subs.

Yesterday, he relinquished his command to Rear Adm. John Padgett. His promotion for a third star as vice admiral has been approved by the U.S. Senate, and he leaves to become the deputy commander and chief of staff of the Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Va.

Konetzni's change of command had to be postponed because of the accident involving the nuclear sub USS Greeneville, skippered by Cmdr. Scott Waddle, whom Konetzni considered as close as a son.

The Greeneville was supposed to have been the platform for Konetzni's final actions as head of the sub force in the Pacific. However, yesterday, it was out at sea trying to be recertified for an upcoming six-month deployment with a new commanding officer.

Konetzni did not mention in his 30-minute emotional farewell the collision between the Greeneville and the Japanese fishing training vessel Ehime Maru, which resulted in the death of nine people Feb. 9.

But Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Fleet commander, talked about Konetzni's toughness and his "willingness to hold his people accountable.

"Off-course accountability is something I thought about a great deal lately," said Fargo, who on Monday supported the recommendation of a three-admiral court of inquiry in not pursuing courts-martial against Waddle or any other Greeneville crewmen.

"The Greeneville accident has been difficult for all of us. Surely for the families of those lost, their grief is rightfully beyond what most of us can imagine. But it also has been difficult for the Hawaiian ohana with which we have partnered for the last century, for the Greeneville, her crew, her families and, I am sure, the waterfront here as well. "We don't expect these kinds of mistakes to be made. We have a hard time believing they could, but clearly, mistakes were made."

Fargo said the Navy now has to take a critical look at itself and "make sure the lessons are well understood" and press on.

Padgett graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1969. He earned a master of science degree in engineering science and mechanics from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1970.

He commanded the attack submarine USS Omaha (SSN 692) in Pearl Harbor and served as commander of Submarine Squadron 11 in San Diego.

Padgett assumes command of the Pacific Submarine Force of more than 11,000 people, including more than 40 submarine crews.

Following a decade of defense drawdowns, Konetzni inherited a submarine force in May 1998 that was well along in decommissioning a quarter of its attack submarines. He faced the task of "doing more with less."

Sub crews were spending many months at sea, and the time left for them to be at home with families was shrinking. There was not enough time to provide proper maintenance. Important missions went unsatisfied because there were not enough submarines.

The retention rate was low while attrition was way too high. So Konetzni initiated changes so his subs would conduct their missions, port visits and other support operations in the same area.

Some of the eight Trident ballistic missile subs under his command were called upon to take on missions normally assigned to smaller attack subs. He also successfully lobbied to get three attack subs relocated from the West Coast to Guam.

While in port, Konetzni encouraged eight-hour workdays as well as half-days off during the workweek for crewmen. He consolidated inspections, deleted others and instigated other changes to reduce demands on the crews.

Konetzni pushed to prevent what he said was the premature scrapping of Los Angeles-class attack submarines. In the area of sailor issues, he pushed to reverse first-term retention rates, which were well below 30 percent when he assumed command in 1998.

Additionally, the rate of sailors who never made it to the end of their original contract before leaving approached 25 percent.

Under Konetzni the retention rate has more than doubled to nearly 60 percent, while the attrition rate has dropped to roughly 10 percent.

Ehime Maru

Bush stands behind
Waddle, Fargo’s
judgment on punishment

Associated Press

WASHINGTON >> President Bush, in his first public remarks on the punishment handed out to Cmdr. Scott Waddle, said yesterday he was not inclined to "second-guess the Pentagon" on the particulars of the case, and expressed respect for Navy officer.

"I know this fine American patriot feels terrible about what took place," Bush said on NBC's "Today" show. "It was a terrible accident, and, like any good commander, he's taking the heat, he's taking the hit. I'll just leave it at that."

Bush said it would be an "act of great compassion" for Waddle to go to Japan to meet the families of people lost in the accident, as Waddle has said he intends to do.

"This is an officer who bears all of the responsibility, and to me that says something about the man's character," said Bush.

Waddle's letter of reprimand finished his military career. The 41-year-old skipper also faced fines, house arrest, a demotion in rank, a prison sentence and other potential penalties during his nonjudicial, administrative hearing Monday before Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

"There's no doubt that people will second-guess the verdict," said retired Vice Adm. Bernard Kauderer of the Naval Submarine League.

While Japanese families and civilians in general may not like the punishment, "sending him to prison or confining him is probably not appropriate," he said.

Fargo found Waddle guilty of two violations of military law: dereliction of duty and negligent hazarding of a vessel. However, he found no evidence of criminal intent or deliberate misconduct, and that may have made the difference in deciding whether to seek a court-martial.

"Cases like Captain Waddle's are cases where very good people trying to do a good job -- who are very competent, extremely well trained and very moral -- simply made a mistake," said Kevin Barry, a retired military judge now in private practice.

Criminal prosecution is somewhat unusual in naval accidents because few involve a clear-cut case of gross negligence, attorneys said.

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