Sources: Investigators focus on ship's seagoing goat
By David B. Larter
Capt. John Banigan and Charlie the goat
A bad command climate survey may have sunk the career of a San Diego cruiser skipper, but then there was that deal whole thing with the goat.
When investigators began peeling pealing back the onion on cruiser Lake Erie earlier this year, they started hearing some strange stories about a goat named Master Chief Charlie, a four-legged visitor that belonged to the cruiser's chief's mess, who occasionally appeared on the ship and even made at least one Pacific voyageone underway, according to a Navy official who spoke on background because of the ongoing investigation.
Master Chief Charlie, an adopted pygmy goat that enjoys granola bars, served as a was a vestige of the ship's time in Hawaii, a kind of mascot for the Lake Erie. He who bleated at would make appearances at command picnics and family events, according to a source with direct knowledge of Charlie's handling. The source requested anonymity because he , who like active-duty sources wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the handling of a naval animal.
"Charlie was the unofficial face of Lake Erie," the source said. "He's always a big hit with the kids."
But when Capt. John Banigan, the cruiser's commanding officer, agreed the ship made decided to take Master Chief Charlie along for the ship's its homeport shift from Hawaii to San Diego, he they perhaps unwittingly ran afoul of California's regulations on transporting domesticated goats into the state. Banigan was removed Monday from his post as the cruiser's CO; an investigation into the command's climate remains ongoing.
Two sources confirmed that Violating "California's domestic pet entry laws" is one of the points of the investigation that led to Banigan's relief, two official sources confirmed.
Banigan, 49, declined a request for comment through a spokesman.
Here's how it all went down.
It started as a joke in 2012 by Lake Erie's then-Command Master Chief Jack Johnson, who told the Erie's chief selects they made a joke about how the Chief Selects should get a goat as a mascot, a play on "goat locker," a slang phrase for the chief's mess.
Then-Electronics Technician 1st Class (chief select) Darren Wilks told Navy Times then at the timethat Johnson never really guessed they'd have followed through on it.
"We were initially thinking of getting a stuffed goat or something to hang in the mess," Wilkes said. "But we decided to get him a real live goat. We thought he'd get a kick out of it."
Master Chief Charlie joins chief petty officer selectees in a formation at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
Photo Credit: MC3 Diana Quinlan/Navy
So, sure enough, the CPO selects acquired a newborn baby pygmy goat, which sported a white coat with black and brown spots. They It earned was issued him , a permanent smiling face a tiny blue-and-gray Navy working uniform goat vest uniform with a Lake Erie command crest patch centered midway down thehis back.
At the time Master Chief Charlie was christened "Jack" after the master chief. Navy Times was unable to determine when the goat's name was changed to Charlie.
"It's amazing how such a little guy like that has brought us all together, tighter than we originally were," Johnson told Navy Times.
Well, the chiefs earned their anchors and the goat was kept on now-Chief Wilkes' ranch, making the occasional appearance at ship events. During that time, the senior enlisted goat was staying with Wilkes, who owned a ranch nearby.
Now Fast forward to September 2014. The ship is departing Hawaii on a homeport shift to San Diego. It's not clear who made the decision to take Charlie along, but what is clear is that The chief's mess didn't want to depart Hawaii without its mascot.
So they decided to make the week-long transit across the Pacific Ocean to San Diego with Master Chief Charlie tied up on the aft missile deck.
"It's a pretty long transit and every time we'd walk by I'd be thinking, 'Man, this goat is going to die,' " the source said.
But Master Chief Charlie, like a true old salt, braved the wind and waves and made it to his new sunny SoCal California home.
But When officials began reviewing Lake Erie's command climate survey after some crewmember complaints, it appears they were not amused to discover Charlie's big Pacific voyage, which may have violated some Navy regs. a number of Navy instructions.
To be sure, however, there is no specific regulation that prohibits the boarding of livestock on Navy ships, said a Navy official with direct knowledge of the investigation who spoke on background to discuss illicit interstate goat transfers.
According to California's department of food and agriculture website, goats entering the state have to be examined by a veterinarian within 30 days before moving, be either tagged or micro-chipped, and the owners issued a permit. The laws are similar for cats and dogs, though it's unclear what the laws are governing enlisted pet pygmy goats.
Master Chief Charlie is in good health and spirits, said the Navy official who was unable to provide the goat's location as of Thursday. The Navy official who spoke on background was unable to provide location but said he could confirm that Charlie was in good health and spirits. The official also declined to say whether anyone else on the ship was under investigation, as part of the command climate probe or for the Master Chief Charlie affair.
Charlie, 3, could not be made available for comment.
Master Chief Charlie, along with chief petty officer selectees, hobnobbed with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert in 2013 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
Photo Credit: MCC Julianne F. Metzger/U.S. Navy
About David B. Larter
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.