A When leaders in Carrier Strike Group 11 flipped through the data from a routine command climate survey alerted Navy leaders that a bewildering climate had taken hold one of its foremost surface combatants. from the cruiser Lake Erie in March, it was clear something was amiss on board one of the Navy’s foremost surface combatants.
The responses from Capt. John Banigan's crew showed that Lake Erie scored below fleet averages on almost every single data point from trust in leadership (37 percent favorable) and job satisfaction (43 percent favorable) to exhaustion (24 percent favorable).
On the cruiser Lake Erie, investigators found a The resulting command investigation revealed a bewildering number of oddities: gruelingpunishingwork schedule with seemingly arbitrary weekend workdays; a supply officer who was so offensive that and abrasive to sailors he was ordered not to speak to any E-6 or below; a crew that spent hours repeatedly cleaning the same places just to look busy; work done and redone because of miscommunication with the shipyard. bizarre overreaches by the commanding officer into equal opportunity functions designed to be anonymous; and a disorganized work schedule that resulted in crewmembers having to redo work because of lack of coordination with the shipyards.
And the pièce de résistance: a well-known seafaring pygmy goat named Master Chief Charlie.
Under commanding officer Capt. John Banigan, Master Chief Charlie was more than a mascot — he was a shipmate. Charlie sailed on the ship's homeport shift from Hawaii to San Diego in 2014, tied up on the aft missile deck where crewmembers fed him and policed his droppings.
And he was a fixture at command events. He hobnobbed with distinguished visitors, including the Navy's top officer and, allegedly, the strike group boss, and served as the ring bearer at a junior officer's wedding aboard the ship.
But the Navy's most adorable master chief would also end up costing Banigan his command.
Investigators concluded that Charlie was a who investigators found to be both a distraction to the chiefs’ mess and the command violated California state animal entry control procedures when it arrived in San Diego via the homeport switch. The chief's advised against taking Charlie along, but were countermanded by the skipper, according to a new report obtained by Navy Times that sheds new light on the peculiar command.
Charlie, per one officer, was "the CO's goat." that was illegally imported into the continental U.S. country during a homeport shift from Hawaii to San Diego.
Banigan was sacked in April, when word first emerged that the goat was a focus of investigators. The career surface warfare officer disputes the Navy's findings about his command, saying the crew's eroding morale was due to the ship's punishing schedule and that the animal entry violation amounted to a paperwork error. Indeed, In the span of a year, Lake Erie’s schedule was intensive, includeding a four-month surge deployment to 7th Fleet, ballistic missile defense certifications, a homeport shift and an extended dry dock period — notorious in the fleet for bringing down crew morale.
Charlie was the second goat to serve as a mascot for the Lake Erie. The first, Master Chief Jack, died mysteriously of poisoning, though a crewmember thought it was something the four-legged sailor ate. After Jack's untimely demise, Charlie was purchased despite many in the mess not wanting the responsibility. Investigators found that the former command master chief and Banigan pushed to fill Lake Erie's empty goat billet.
Furthermore, the chiefs were averse to taking the goat from Hawaii to San Diego but were countermanded by the CO. The supply officer, in an interview with investigators, said that Charlie was "the CO's goat and the CPOs manage it."
Banigan argues that Master Chief Charlie's epic sea voyage across the Pacific – where crew members say he was tied up on the missile deck or boat deck to brave the wind and waves – amounted to a paperwork error.
In a statement to investigators, Banigan disputed, in detail, each of the charges levied against his command leadership, saying the low morale of his crew was the result of a punishing schedule laid on by fleet leaders.
But in the final assessment, then-Carrier Strike Group 11 boss head Rear Adm. Dee Mewbourne ruled that COs are charged with safeguarding the "morale, physical well-being and general welfare" of their sailors and that Banigan had fallen short.
"Frequently independent, essentially autonomous operations are the hallmarks of command at sea," Mewbourne wrote in a May endorsement letter to the command investigation, which Navy Times obtained via Freedom of Information Act request. "The Lake Erie leadership, especially and inexcusably the CO, violated this trust and in so doing placed Lake Erie and the crew at elevated levels of stress and diminished quality of service well outside the bounds of normalcy that our service requires.
"While the intentions of Capt. Banigan, for the most [part], were likely squarely centered on mission accomplishment, his actions were clearly unchecked by an effective feedback or assessment mechanism. Subsequently, organizational maladies metastasized."
Banigan retired this year. When reached for comment by phone, Banigan declined, refused to comment citing his desire "as a gentleman" not to undermine Mewbourne’s determination.
Master Chief Charlie could not be reached for comment. He is believed to be grazing at an undisclosed San Diego farm.
The new command report of the Lake Erie paints a picture of a ship's culture as bizarre as that aboard the Cowpens in 2015, when the skipper holed up in his stateroom for much of their deployment and allegedly carried on an affair with his acting second-in-command.
A crewmember who spoke to Navy Times also disputed the investigator's findings, undermining main arguments in the report. One major source of dissatisfaction mentioned in the report was an alcohol-related incident recall policy that forced the entire crew to muster on the ship the day following an ARI for safety stand-down, no matter how far from the ship you were, or how much it cost you to get back.
The policy was put in place because the ship was leading the waterfront in ARIs when Banigan took charge in May 2013, the crewmember, who asked his name not be used out of concern for professional backlash.
"Capt. Banigan's motto was one team one fight," the crew member recalled. "He said that if somebody gets in trouble for a DUI, if it's a SITREP-able offense, we are going to be called back in for a stand-down.
"A lot of people didn't like that … But did it cut down on ARIs? It sure did. We went about 100 days without an ARI. And if we went 70 days without an ARI we'd get a 3-day weekend."
The CO's goat
Master Chief Charlie often hung out with visiting dignitaries, like Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and his wife Darleen in 2013.
Photo Credit: MCC Julianne F. Metzger/Navy
The existence of Master Chief Charlie was no secret: The Lake Erie’s mascot had his fur ruffled by everyone from crewmembers’ kids at the command picnic to former then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and his wife Darleen, who met the famous quadruped on a 2013 trip to Hawaii.
Mewbourne also mingled with himself met Charlie at an all-hands call, according to a crew member who spoke to Navy Times. The fleet-footed master chief also was a regular participant in chief selectee training. Master Chief Charlie ran with CPO selectees and the head of Lake Erie Command Master Chief Micheal Killion told investigations that the head of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, according to Command Master Chief Michaeal Killion. joined the ship’s CPO selectees and Master Chief Charlie on a run. (Charlie was a regular feature at CPO selectee PT.
But Investigators digging into the ship's granola-bar loving figurehead were , unofficial face of Lake Erie, they were not amused. First and foremost, investigators say, Banigan ran afoul of California's regulations on transporting domesticated goats into the state.
According to California's Department of Food and Agriculture website, goats entering the state must have to be examined by a veterinarian within 30 days before moving, be tagged or micro-chipped, and the owners issued a permit. The rules laws are similar for cats and dogs.
"The commanding officer is personally responsible for the correct legal treatment of the goat," wrote the investigator, whose name, like others, had been removed by officials for out of privacy concerns. said in the opinions.
Investigators were also disturbed to find the chief's mess, by 2014, objected to the pet goat and Apart from the pet entry laws, however, the investigators were disturbed by revelations that by 2014, the chief’s mess was fairly well done with having a pet goat and felt it was a distraction.
The goat would often spend its days tied up at the end of Lake Erie's brow, according to the crew member, and duty section watchstanders checking bags would be tasked with sweeping up Charlie's feces.
"So if you were on bag check, you would be spending five hours next to that stupid, smelly thing," said the crewmember, who asked for anonymity to discuss the handling treatment of a naval animal.
During Charlie’s epic ocean voyage in summer 2014 across the sea, he spent his days on the boat deck and then on the aft missile deck, being cared for by the CPO selects. At one point during the underway, Weapons Department had to halted a gunnery exercise in progress to remove the goat from the missile deck.
Master Chief Charlie manned the rails when the Lake Erie returned from a 4-month Western Pacific deployment in July 2014.
Photo Credit: MC2 Tiarra Fulgham/Navy
When the ship pulled into San Diego, Charlie manned the rails with the crew.
Killion told investigators that the chief-selectees didn't want to take care of the goat, but that "they didn't want to shine my boot either." Killion said caring for the goat was teaching the selectees "to be humble."
It was also a financial burden. Charlie's care was paid for by the chief's mess — the bylaws called for a cap of $100 per month from the mess fund — until the homeport shift.
When the CMC told Banigan that they Prior to leaving, the CMC told Banigan that the chiefs didn’t want to pay for the pygmy goat anymore, but Banigan insisted that the wardroom would start contributing. saying that the Wardroom would help pay for Charlie’s care.
"The CO told [CMC] the goat is famous and the crew rallies around it," the investigator wrote.
Subsequently The officers paid the mess about $300 in goat care fees. According to records obtained by investigators, Lake Erie spent about $1,000 on Charlie’s care and feeding in between 2014 and 2015.
In his statement, Banigan later defended the goat’s presence, saying that both his immediate superior in Hawaii and Navy Region Hawaii knew about Charlie — and even borrowed the coopted his mascot for events of their own. In his statement, Banigan also said that he consulted with the lawyers on Charlie and was told that Navy regs leave all matters the matter of Charlie and was advised that all matters of goats on boats to the CO. On the matter of the allegedly falsified California entry control paperwork, Banigan pleaded ignorance. are at the CO’s discretion. He also denied knowing about California entry paperwork that which asked about any live animals entering the state that investigators claimed was falsified.
According to Banigan’s statement, Killion turned Master Chief Charlie over to a local San Diego-area farmer, who makes Charlie available for command functions.
Charlie won’t be gracing any cruisesommand picnics any time soon, however. In closing the report, As part of his endorsement, Mewbourne, currently head of Maritime Operations at Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, specifically banned all command pets in CSG-11.
"To avoid any future deleterious consequences experienced with Lake Erie’s goat mascot, I will issue a CSG-wide policy barring subordinate units from adopting live animal mascots of any kind," Mewbourne wrote in his endorsement.
The goat drama was only one of the many baffling problems officials found on the Lake Erie. Apart from goat drama, investigators digging into the ship’s command climate found a hodge-podge of other issues in the command that were difficult to comprehend.
Shipyard blues: After Coming off a relentless hellish 2014 operational schedule, which included the unplanned deployment, Lake Erie found no respite in dry dock.
In the investigation, sailors complained bitterly about erratic work schedules. For about three months, the crew was workeding shifts: the first running from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and and the second from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Duty section turnover on Saturdays wasn’t until 11:35 a.m., which peeved sailors eager to start their weekend.so that folks in the oncoming section could sleep in, but it was a source of much discontent in the off going duty section.
Parking was also an issue. The shipyard was in a sketchy area, and there were virtually no parking on the shipyard. Buses stopped running at n unsafe area of town nearly two miles from base, there was virtually no parking on the shipyard and busses stopped running at 6 p.m., so those working extended hours often had to park their car in the neighborhood or walk two miles from base to the shipyard. The problem was even worse for the galley crew, who arrived were due at work before the busses started at 4:30 a.m. and left after the busses stopped, running which with the extended working hours meant people either had to leave their cars in the neighborhood or walk to the base.
Car break-ins were in the neighborhood were all too regular an occurrence, and more than one crewmember's car was a semi-regular occurrence for Lake Erie’s crew and more than one car was stolen.
The most frustrating part, for many, was finding out on Friday each week whether they would have to work Saturday. On top of the parking and odd working hours, crew told investigators that they would find out on Friday each week whether or not they were working on Saturday, but that the CO made the call on Saturday work days based on "90 percent perception and 10 percent actual metrics."
BaniganThe CO would walk around the ship and if he didn’t see enough work going on, he’d make the crew come in Saturday, the investigation said, regardless of progress on assigned tasks. even though this despite tasks on the work list getting done, the investigation found.
The chief engineer began telling her people to "assume Saturdays are a workday so that the department can mitigate disappointment," the report said. investigation reads.
Another One major source of dissatisfaction mentioned in the report was Banigan's an alcohol-related incident recall policy. It forced the entire to crew to muster for training the day after a booze-fueled incident, no matter how far any sailor was from the ship. that forced the entire crew to muster on the ship the day following an ARI for safety stand-down, no matter how far from the ship you were,
The Saturday work hours and controversial recall rules , as well as the controversial ARI recalls made daycare a challenge for some parents and made sailors and made blowing off steam difficult to impossible for others who weren't able to plan time off-duty. for fear of losing money. all sailors because they didn’t want to make any plans and lose money.
Sailors also felt a little like big brother was always watching because for a time they had to swipe their ID's to leave or enter the ship. Sailors couldn't cut out early even if they were finished for the day because "leaving early creates more questions/work so it's better to just keep up appearances even if [we're] done," said one crewmember, whose name was redacted.
Many sailors told investigators they spent a lot of time trying to look busy to avoid Saturday work. Some shined the same brass and swept the same floors for hours That resulted in sailors standing around cleaning the same spots over and over again just to be seen visibly working. because if the CO walked the passageways and didn’t see it he would get on the 1MC and "Don’t give up the ship, give up the [berthing] barge."
For his part, Banigan denies withholding liberty from his crew and said the liberty was owned by the department heads and that if all work is done, he had no objection to putting out liberty call.
Banigan also faced some issues in trying to fairly administer command programs and oversee personnel.
One of them was the supply officer, of Eastern European descent, who had an abrasive style that some considered condescending, even racist.
Controversial SUPPO: The ship's supply officer, an eastern European man, was considered by his sailors to be a racist and by his junior officers to be condescending. One crewmember told investigators that "SUPPO talks to junior officers as if they are kindergarteners; he bites their heads off instead of training them."
One sailor said the SUPPO told him, that "I am not one of your brothers or your hommies, so don’t move your hands when you are talking to me," adding,and "I’m a [Ukrainian], we have better work habits thant the like[s] of you."
These were one of several times that SUPPO used racially-charged language; women who worked for him also felt he was insulting. at was one of several instances of SUPPO using racially tinged language, but women who worked for him also felt he didn’t respect them and talked down to them.
The command had issued SUPPO two letters of instruction, including one in April 2014 that directed him to "refrain from speaking directly with your junior sailors (E1-E6) [un]less awarding them for a job well done."
In his statement, Banigan said SUPPO responded well to the LOIs and that an assistant handled day-to-do sailor interactions while was responding positively to the LOIs and that he had been replaced by his assistant SUPPO in day-to-day interactions in the work centers, while SUPPO worked from his stateroom.
Sailors also complained about hair trigger captain's masts under Banigan, who held 63 masts in 15 months. Investigators also examined Banigan's mast cases. In addition to the concerns in supply department, investigators focused on several areas where they felt the command came up short.
Non-judicial punishment: Sailors felt that there was a rush to judgment from the command and that NJP was meted out unfairly. Investigators pointed to 63 mast cases over 15 months as evidence that might be true.
Sailors reported told investigators that they were afraid to sign off on for routine maintenance because if anything went wrong during a spot check, they would likely end up at executive officer’s inquiry. Investigators also concluded that the XO and CO likely interfered with a chief's mess disciplinary review board by attending it and influencing its outcome. pointed to a case where the CMC said the XO and CO showed up during a chief’s mess disciplinary review board, listened in, and may have influenced the outcome as evidence of further irregularities on board.
Banigan disagreed that there had been told investigators that his equal opportunity leaders are present at each captain’s mast and that they were working together to "educate" sailors that the rumors about hair-trigger captain’s masts and said he had beenwas working to "educate" sailors on this point. are not true.
Banigan showed up at proceedings where his presence was questionable. On the command climate survey, one officer anonymously said that the walk from the Equal opportunity: Banigan was accused of several overreaches into areas where he was not allowed to be involved, including in the areas of equal opportunity. In one instance a female lieutenant put a comment in her anonymous command climate survey comments that on the walk back from the shipyard to the base felt so dangerous that she carried a knife. Banigan identified the lieutenant and sought her out to address the issue, a move the CMC and XO told him was inappropriate. where her car was parked she felt so unsafe she had to carry a knife.
Banigan identified the lieutenant as the anonymous commenter and sought her out to try and resolve the problem, despite it being a violation of the survey's anonymity. The CMC and XO told Banigan it was inappropriate.
On another occasion, the CO walked into a first class petty officer focus group run by a command assessment team talking to his sailors and left the impression he was poo-pooing their concerns — saying he wanted to make spot corrections but left the impression with the group that he was trying to undermine their concerns and "direct the crew down a path of letting go the other things that were affecting morale" beside the heavy operational demands. In other words, defeating the purpose of a focus group all together.
Both Banigan and the crew member interviewed by Navy Times raised questions about the validity of the data gathered by investigators. The crew member questioned the investigative team saying they picked out people on the crew who were disgruntled.
But Mewbourne, the strike group commander, concurred with the team's findings despite rumors raised by Banigan that his operations office orchestrated the negative command climate by urging sailors to fill out the survey, highlighting the Saturday work days.
Mewbourne recommended a number of actions to turn around the Lake Erie: A type commander review of Supply Department with an eye to getting it back on track; training on proper command equal opportunity procedures; stress management practices and leadership training for first classes, chiefs and officerskhakis and firs classes; and he directed an "Afloat Culture" workshop for Lake Erie to cover best practices for keeping a positive command climate.
He also mandated that new leadership create an unambiguous work schedule that could only be changed under special circumstances with approval from the new CO's immediate superior.
Lake Erie is now under the command of Capt. Scott Sciretta, who managed a year-long turnaround for the cruiser Cowpens, a ship that had struggled mightily with leadership and material condition issues for several years.
In an October interview, Naval Surface Forces Pacific boss Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden said told Navy Times Sciretta was the right man for the job.
"Certainly the ability to motivate as Capt. Sciretta is so capable of doing," Rowden said, when asked why Sciretta was tapped for Lake Erie, "But more importantly the tactical and professional expertise that he will bring to Lake Erie as she exits her maintenance availability and starts working up for that next deployment."
Sciretta, however, will have to make do without a goat.