Sailors conduct physical training at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in 2011. Four senior enlisted sailors were reprimanded after an investigation into PT that took place during CPO 365 last year. (MC2 Stacy D. Laseter/Navy)
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Four Hawaii-based senior enlisted sailors were formally counseled in the wake of a grueling Aug. 30 physical training session that sent 12 chiefs-select at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, to the hospital for extreme exhaustion, according to a Navy investigation.
The report also concluded that the CPO 365 chief training regimen needed to be a formal instruction to give it more teeth and that the dangers of intense physical training needed more discussion in Navy fitness education programs — a move the Navy’s top sailor says he’s “somewhat reluctant” to make, citing the need for flexibility within the program.
The overboard PT was the result of poor oversight by two command master chiefs and a lack of communication between a chief and senior chief who led the physical training, the report found, characterizing the incident as a mistake and not the result of hazing.
The training — which included pullups and running for extended periods — resulted in 12 of the 20 chiefs-select contracting rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition in which muscles are overworked to the point of breakdown and release dangerous toxins into the bloodstream that can overwhelm the kidneys.
“This was a well-intentioned effort that was believed by those executing it to be in line with MCPON’s CPO 365 guidance,” wrote Capt. Lance Scott, the commander of Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2, in his endorsement of the investigation.
“There was no hazing or intent to injure, but the fact that 12 of our sailors were treated at a hospital for a condition that occurred due to their participation in CPO 365 cannot be ignored,” Scott wrote of the incident, the most harmful known to have occurred during last year’s chief season.
Navy Times obtained the report from Naval Air Forces through the Freedom of Information Act. Officials removed all names from the report, though the command master chiefs were identified as being from Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2 and Patrol Squadron 9.
The CMCs, a senior chief and a chief were issued letters of instruction, forms typically used to document and mandate correction measures for substandard performance that can be entered into a sailor’s permanent record. If the performance doesn’t improve, the LOI can be used later to document more serious repercussions, such as detachment for cause.
According to their commands’ websites, the wing’s top sailor is Command Master Chief (AW/SW) William Reed and VP-9’s top enlisted is CMDCM (AW/SW) Bryon Eichelberger. Both sailors had been in the job since 2013. Navy Times confirmed through officials that Reed and Eichelberger were the CMCs mentioned in the report; neither responded to a request for comment by press time Jan. 24.
The other two, a chief and senior chief, were identified as being from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 51 and Navy Information Operations Command Hawaii. Navy Times was unable to determine their identities.
The two CMCs were responsible for the overall conduct of CPO 365 at Kaneohe Bay, Scott wrote. The senior chief was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the training while the chief was the one who conducted the ill-fated physical training Aug. 30.
'Too much leeway'
Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, head of the Norfolk, Va.-based Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing Group, was tougher in his assessment of where to lay the blame in his Oct. 4 endorsement of the investigation.
The out-of-line PT was “due to a lack of proper oversight from the senior E-9 leadership that afforded junior CPOs too much leeway in developing last minute physical fitness plans,” he wrote.
“This could have been mitigated if there was an approved CPO 365 PT plan put in place by the wing to Command Master Chief where each PT session was built upon the previous days [and] weeks sessions in order to build strength and endurance,” he wrote.
The CPO 365 guidance, issued by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens, places the ultimate responsibility for chiefs’ training at the feet of the command master chief — if something goes wrong, CMCs are accountable.
Both CMCs received letters of instruction for their “lack of proper oversight, inconsistent with MCPON’s guidance” for physical training during the CPO 365 Phase II, which began after the chief selections were announced Aug. 1.
“This oversight in the planning and execution phases of CPO 365 season Phase II, particularly regarding the PT plan, is a critical leadership function,” Scott wrote.
Carter, when singling out the wing CMC as being ultimately responsible, wrote that he recommended “the language of the letter of instruction given to CMDCM [Reed] addressed in the strongest terms his failure to lead and provide oversight to the wing to CPO 365 season.”
The report states that Reed and Eichelberger weren’t present at the PT session and weren’t required to be. Where they failed, the report said, was in not taking a bigger role in the planning of physical training sessions to ensure they were within the Navy’s physical fitness rules and Stevens’ CPO 365 guidance.
“The CMCs absence from the 30 Aug 13 PT session does not negate their responsibility,” according to the report. “The CMCs should have conducted more follow-up and oversight into their delegations to ensure MCPON’s guidance for PT was being implemented.”
It wasn’t only the Aug. 30 PT that contributed to the selectees contracting rhabdomyolysis. Instead, it was a combination of the strenuous exercise and events throughout the week and the selectees’ “self-inflicted” lack of sleep, the report said.
The day before the ill-fated PT session, the group of selectees and their chiefs hosted an “FMF Challenge,” the report said, where approximately 100 selectees from all over Hawaii came to Kaneohe Bay for a competition “designed to test teamwork and test esprit de corps.”
The challenge started with a four-mile run and then consisted of competition among the different groups of selectees the report described as a “corpsman themed confidence course” including carrying a mannequin on a litter, a memory challenge, a Humvee pull, an obstacle course and and a tug of war.
The report states the Kaneohe Bay selectees won the challenge and were “in high spirits” following the event and “felt they had started to come together as a group” as a result.
But the strain would carry over into the next day’s activities.
The 'Murph' workout
When the selectees arrived at 6 a.m. for the physical training, the chief conducting the training informed the selectees they’d be doing a “Lt. Michael Murphy workout,” named for the SEAL officer who died in Afghanistan in 2005 and was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
The chosen workout was Murphy’s favorite, a CrossFit-style exercise of “two miles of running, attempting 100 pullups, 200 pushups [and] 300 squats in a limited time,” the report said.
The chief who led this Murph workout added in “additional runs encompassing four more miles for a total of six miles,” the report said. He told the investigator that “the goal was to strive and conquer a goal they never thought possible as they thought about Operation Red Wings and bearing the burden of leadership as Lt. Murphy did,” the report said.
The senior chief told the investigator that the the “goals in the Murph workout were not meant to be attainable” for them.
A day later, on Sept. 1, the report said, many chief-selects started to feel the exhaustion.
The report said that both the chiefs doing the training and the selectees felt “extremely motivated” during the Murph PT session, mostly as a result of their success at the FMF challenge.
But the decision to lead a high-intensity workout, especially coming after similar PT at the FMF challenge, “lacked good judgment,” the report concluded.
Changing PT rules
The investigation raises questions about the administrative side of CPO 365, which is governed only by annual guidance from MCPON.
“CPO 365 guidelines should be formalized in an OPNAVINST with guidelines related to Phase I and Phase II PT,” the investigation recommended, referring to instructions signed by Navy department leadership.
That guidance should warn leadership to be mindful of “the risks posed by the selectee’s strong desire to meet standards of the mess” when planning physical training, the report said.
Physical training for chiefs-select should fall under the existing physical training instruction, which would prevent grueling PT sessions as happened at Kaneohe Bay, the report said.
Stevens said he read the report and agrees this is a case of miscommunication — not hazing. But he’s reluctant to make CPO 365 a formal instruction.
“I am seriously considering all the findings and recommendations included in the investigation report,” Stevens said. “I am somewhat reluctant to formalize the CPO 365 program in a formal instruction as that would seriously hurt our ability to quickly make changes to the program, which we make annually based on the input from the fleet master chiefs.”
Raising 'rhabdo' awareness
Both Stevens and the investigation point out that there’s been an extreme lack of knowledge and awareness of rhabdomyolysis in the fleet. This is especially concerning, he said, based on the popularity of intense, CrossFit-style workouts.
“As unfortunate as this was, the good news is we’ve learned a great deal from it and are working to put that knowledge to use to educate our shipmates about the dangers of working out too hard,” Stevens said. “That training has started with my leadership mess, which was given training on the subject this week.”
The Pacific Fleet, he said, has already created an educational presentation about what rhabdomyolysis is and how to prevent it. The first to get the training were nearly 100 command master chiefs — all of whom work for flag or general officers.
“I expect that these CMCs will take that message back to their domains and push this out to the deck plates where it’s needed,” he said.
But the report says that a Navy-wide focus is needed. It recommended that the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery take the lead.
Scott, the Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2 commander, wrote that the fleet needed more training on the causes and risks of rhabdo, adding: “Particularly as there are no warning signs of rhabdomyolysis until it is too late.”