By lex, on November 6th, 2010
San Antonio‘s former XO gets to breathe easier, and contemplate the remainder of his naval career:
A military jury found a naval officer not guilty Friday night in the death of a sailor aboard the trouble-plagued amphibious transport dock San Antonio – a case that pitted the Navy’s principle of holding commanders at sea accountable against the perception that the crew was being blamed for the vessel’s flaws.
Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns, 42, was charged with negligence for failing to properly train and supervise small-boat operations on Feb. 4, 2009. A rigid-hull inflatable boat being lowered from the ship flipped, throwing three sailors into the Gulf of Aden. Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong was lost at sea.
Kearns, who was the ship’s executive officer, chose to take the case to court-martial rather than accept a potentially career-ending reprimand like the one given to Cmdr. Eric Cash, the ship’s captain.
Kearns said the verdict is more than a personal vindication.
“The true victors here are the sailors who served on, and continue to serve on, LPD-17-class ships,” he said, adding that they face struggles with the new design and are not getting the resources they need from the Navy.
When asked why he refused administrative punishment, Kearns said: “Things needed to be made known…. Someone needed to stand up.”
Good on ya.
As midshipmen we were taught that the guilty should prefer a civil trial, while the innocent would be better off in a court martial. But neither option is particularly savory, and LCDR Kearns’ decision to risk imprisonment on what amounts to a federal felony charge rather than take the easy path of admiral’s mast and a letter of censure is an example of exceptional moral courage. Especially in the knowledge that a promising career was very likely to be ruined either way.
Oh, he’ll get to pin commander on. He’ll get his back pay. But we have so few ships, and so many commanders eligible for command who do not have a court martial in their record. And convening officers can bear lasting grudges.
It’s good to know that Navy is still cranking out officers like Kearns. Less good to know that we sometimes court martial them.