The cruiser Shiloh in recent years has steamed through west Pacific waters while vital maintenance and readiness issues went neglected, raising crew concerns about their safety and the ships’ readiness in the process.
These are just a few of several recurring complaints revealed in a series of Shiloh command climate surveys obtained by Navy Times.
The surveys are meant to gauge crew morale. Yet in the Shiloh’s case, they also offer a personalized window into Navy issues that have come to light since two destroyer collisions this summer killed 17 sailors in the waters of 7th Fleet.
The three surveys feature hundreds of pages worth of anonymous comments from sailors describing a dismal state of morale aboard the ship during Capt. Adam M. Aycock’s 26-month command.
Navy officials said Aycock was counseled on the low morale starting a few months after he took command, and that higher-ups were aware of the situation. Nevertheless, he left the Shiloh in what appeared to be a standard change-of-command ceremony on Aug. 30.
In one survey, a sailor wrote that an official casualty report sent out was “diluted,” and did not reflect the extent of the equipment problems.
“I’m not sure how sailors have not gotten hurt from lack of rest or sleep and just the (plan of the day) being packed with several things,” a sailor wrote in May 2016. “The lack of trust in the chain of command as a whole is very unhealthy and will sooner or later get someone hurt or killed.”
Navy officials did not respond to specific questions regarding the Shiloh’s readiness issues that sailors wrote of in the surveys.
Aycock commanded the Shiloh from June 2015 to this August, and declined to comment for this story via a spokesperson at the Naval War College, where he is now stationed as a researcher.
Comments also showcase the frenetic realities and unforgiving operational tempo of life in the 7th Fleet, where ships like the Japan-based Shiloh are expected to shoot down North Korean missiles and deter ascendant Chinese and Russian navies.
“To cover otherwise debilitating ship standards while underway, the Captain underreported and downplayed the severity of SHILOH’s ability to effectively operate as a warship,” one sailor wrote. “He inaccurately reports critical casualties to appear as a well-to-do and mission-ready command to his superiors.”
One sailor wrote of how the ship went out while the AEGIS weapons system and radar —vital assets for shooting down any North Korean missile ― were “severely degraded.”
“(SPY radar) was nominal at best and the ship was put in a real world hostile environment where we could need to potentially shoot down a (intercontinental ballistic missile),” the sailor wrote.
Sailors also speak of exhaustion, suicidal thoughts and a domineering, micromanaging CO who effectively neutered enlisted leadership on the Shiloh.
One sailor wrote that, hopefully, the comments would make a difference, and insisted the criticism was “not just the blue jackets trying to take down the man.”
“I understand that we are (Forward Deployed Naval Force) and we are underway more than a state side ship but we are gone too much,” the sailor wrote. “That needs to be slowed down a bit. The ships are really starting to see their age.”
The Navy’s 7th Fleet is one of the service’s busiest commands, and has come under renewed scrutiny after two of its destroyers, the Fitzgerald and the John S. McCain, sustained fatal collisions this summer that killed 17 sailors.
The May 2016 survey includes several sailors lamenting the ship’s uncoordinated training cycles, maintenance planning and scheduling, as well as repairs that required the crew to work until after dark while in port to get the Shiloh ready for her next underway.
Others complained that Shiloh’s command was disregarding subject matter experts.
“(The weapons officer) was very adamant about shooting our (five-inch) gun for a practice gun shot when it could possibly put some of the (five-inch) techs in danger due to the system not working correctly,” one crew member wrote.
There was never enough time to do repairs that could only be done in shipyards or in port, one sailor wrote.
“As a consequence, we are always having stuff fail or break down at sea, where repairs are more difficult and add to everyone’s workload and stress,” the sailor wrote.
One sailor in the same survey wrote that the crew is put out on missions the Shiloh may not have been able to handle, and that Aycock “encourages us to do them without telling the truth to his chain-of-command.”
“We were rushed out to station and kept here for an extended period of time even though there were many issues, safety included,” the sailor wrote. “We had life rails from the (radar) platform fall and almost injure a sailor, yet we remained on station even though we couldn’t safely maintain the RADAR without those rails.”
In port in Singapore
One item that stoked the ire of several Shiloh sailors in the November survey was a port call in Singapore a few months prior.
There, several sailors wrote of how vital maintenance was neglected in favor of a command-created “Captain’s Cup” event, featuring a variety of athletic contests.
“My (work center) had a lot of maintenance we NEEDED to do, and seeing as we don’t always get much port time, a lot of checks were scheduled that could only be done in port,” one sailor wrote. “But we did not get most of it done because Captains [sic] cup took priority over maintenance. So captains cup ironically lowered morale.”
“Having a mandatory participation Captain’s Cup in Singapore I feel was a poor choice since there was large amounts of work to get done that had to either be rushed or put aside to support,” another sailor wrote.
One sailor said there was no information disseminated about the event, no sign-up sheets or other advance notice.
“When one department was unable to provide enough bodies for an event, the CO ordered the department, in its entirety, to attend,” they wrote. “Forget the maintenance that needed doing…forget the repairs…no, priority is watching people lift weights.”
The cup created a lot of cynicism in one department, according to a crew member.
“The sailors care about their equipment and their maintenance, but by forcing mando-fun on them, we are taking away precious hours of maintenance time, forcing them to come in during liberty hours, sacrifice sleep, or receive poor scores on 3M inspections, kicking the can of maintenance checks down the road for another day,” the sailor wrote.
Sailors were getting yelled at and reprimanded near the end of the Captain’s Cup because the ship preservation wasn’t complete, one sailor said.
Despite the complaints echoed throughout the Shiloh surveys, the shipmates expressed pride in each other and their ship’s mission.
“Im [sic] proud of the importance of the ships ballistic missle [sic] defense,” one sailor wrote. “If the morale was higher, I feel this ship would be more of something to be proud of. But, instead it feels like a floating prison.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.