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Friendly fire didn't hurt flag nominee's career

Feb. 20, 2012 - 05:54PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 20, 2012 - 05:54PM  |  
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A Navy Reserve captain who has been nominated for promotion to rear admiral shot down an Air Force reconnaissance jet during a training exercise while serving as an F-14 Tomcat pilot in the late 1980s.

President Obama's nomination of Capt. Timothy Dorsey, the inspector general for Navy Reserve Detachment 106, Norfolk, Va., comes despite the alarming incident, which the Navy's investigative report called a "basic error in judgment" and "an illogical act."

The Washington Times unearthed the incident and broke the story Feb. 16.

The incident took place Sept. 22, 1987. Then-Lt. Dorsey, 25, shot down an RF-4C jet over the Mediterranean while operating off the carrier Saratoga, according to a 1988 Associated Press story on the Navy's report. The two Air Force crewmen ejected safely. Dorsey was on his first deployment and had but 245 flight hours under his belt.

Dorsey had concluded earlier that the RF-4C was a "friendly" plane, according to the AP report. But while he knew he was taking part in an exercise, "he reacted to a radio command from his carrier authorizing a simulated attack by doing the real thing."

Dorsey was transferred off the ship to shore duty and, according to AP, permanently removed from flight duty.

Dorsey declined to address the situation when contacted at his civilian employer in Virginia Beach.

"Ah, no comment," Dorsey said Monday afternoon. "Can you talk to CHINFO for me?" CHINFO refers to the Chief of Naval Information at the Pentagon, which handles press queries on Navy-wide and senior official matters.

Asked how he felt he was able to save his career after the incident, Dorsey again demurred, saying, "I'm going to refer you to CHINFO and say no comment, but thank you."

The Washington Times quoted Dorsey as saying, "I'm going to have to decline to talk right now, based on the kind of job I'm going to be taking."

He indicated that his job would be "heading up some intel factions … I [would] rather not see my name in the paper at all right now because of the job I'm getting ready to take," Dorsey told the Times.

Distant naval history yields examples of young officers who erred badly, yet went on to senior rank. Perhaps the best is that of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who early in his career grounded his ship, the destroyer Decatur, and was court-martialed.

Nowadays, the bar is typically set far lower. For instance, a handful of commanding officers are annually fired for substandard performance that, according to the Naval Inspector General's 2010 Detachment for Cause study, can include command failures during exercises or inspections, or poor procedural compliance command-wide.

The Pentagon announcement of Dorsey's nomination did not include his next assignment. But given his comments and the Oct. 24, 2011, order convening the promotion selection board considering "officers in the line on the Reserve active-status list" for promotion to rear admiral, he would have been promoted in the Special Duty Officer (Intelligence) category.

Dorsey graduated from the University of Richmond (Va.) School of Law in 1995.

The law school's alumni magazine noted in a 2010 article that Dorsey found his legal training useful during a 2003 deployment in Iraq when he conducted "tactical interrogations" of prisoners.

"Certainly some of the skills I learned at the law school, and in my law firm [the Virginia Beach office of Williams Mullen] were used when interrogating Iraqi prisoners — the questioning skills and breaking down their answers into small parts. Essentially, it's an advanced form of deposition," Dorsey told the alumni magazine.

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