In case you hadn’t caught it, the nominee for the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) retired early because he maintained a professional relationship to a former Public Affairs Officer (PAO) that had previously been charged (but not found guilty) of sexual harrassment. It’s a mess that eventually resulted in the nomination of a three star admiral as the next CNO. It’s also a good chance to see why the Navy continues to struggle to enforce discipline.
The problems started in 2016, when the PAO for the CNO’s office was CDR Chris Servello. He was at a command Christmas party dressed as Santa Claus, got drunk and smacked a woman on the ass. Enough people saw it that it wasn’t a backroom, he-said-she-said sort of thing. The debate apparently started as to what to do with him, and the answer was to “reassign him to a non-supervisory position.”
OK, full stop.
Navy Commanders have anywhere between 16 to 26 years of service. They are Naval Officers. Their job, by default, involves supervising people. Commander is the rank of the Commanding Officer for a Destroyer. Yes, Commanders occasionally get jobs that don’t involve supervising people, but it’s rare. Point being, if you can’t supervise people, you shouldn’t be a Commander.
Now, if you’re going to damage someone’s career in the Navy, then you do the right thing: you investigate, do lots of interviews, and then either dismiss charges, take administrative actions or go to courts martial. It sounds like the current CNO, ADM Richardson, decided to take administrative actions.
Administrative actions sound lame, but in reality they can be pretty severe. Junior Sailors can be separate from the Navy within about 2 weeks using administrative actions. More senior Sailors like CDR Servello are entitled to a board process though. My guess is the CNO didn’t want to walk through that process, so the administrative actions ended CDR Servello’s career, he got one more tour and then had to leave the Navy.
So we have three problems. One, we don’t like punishing people when it is hard. Taking CDR Servello to a court martial is difficult, and nobody had the desire to do so. Second problem is that the administrative actions taken were not commensurate with his rank. “Reassigning” him simply shoves the problem in someone else’s lap.
The biggest problem from a Sailor perspective is that it shows the sexual harrassment narrative we have had to listen to for the past several years as an utter and complete fraud. For YEARS we have had people travel to our commands and tell us to take sexual harrassment seriously. For YEARS the CNO’s office has made us conduct GMT relating to sexual harrassment. For YEARS we have been told we aren’t doing enough.
And then we find the CNO won’t take an obvious sexual harrassment case to mast.
I feel bad for ADM Moran. He continued talking with someone that was obviously very smart and also hadn’t been charged with a crime. He obviously thought he was OK. CNO Richardson let him down on that front.
I feel worst for the Sailors in our Navy. The CNO’s office made a huge mistake and it will take time to build that trust again in the sexual harassment front.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.