Fixing Navy problems that have come to light after the fatal at-sea disasters involving the destroyers Fitzgerald and John S. McCain this summer will involve empowering junior leaders, the service’s top officer said in a message Friday.

“In too many cases, we have stolen leadership opportunities away from our small team leaders,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said. “Weve [sic] used a slide show instead of leadership by personal engagement. We have robbed our junior leaders of the ownership they so crave. We have smothered their initiative. We need to give it back — its [sic] why they joined the Navy.”

While a comprehensive review of basic Navy operations remains ongoing, Richardson said solutions to persistent lack of sleep, long work hours in port, basic watchstanding deficiencies and other issues lie in empowering junior officers and chiefs.

“They can control so much if we give them clear guidance, responsibility, authority, and accountability,” Richardson said. “Allow them to own their situations.”

Issues involving training, crew manning levels and ship readiness have reemerged after the two 7th Fleet destroyer collisions killed 17 sailors this summer.

While circumstances surrounding the Fitz and McCain disasters remain under investigation, Navy leaders have lamented in recent months that several at-sea mishaps have involved failures in basic seamanship.

Top sailors and lawmakers expressed shock at the service’s now-publicized issues, but government watchdogs have been sounding the readiness alarm for years.

In order to address sleep shortages among crews, the Navy announced a new plan that will, for the first time, mandate certain surface fleet work schedules, with the goal of more rested and effective crews.

Richardson said in Friday’s message that the Navy’s biggest area for improvement lies at the junior officer and chief command levels, and that senior commanders need to enable them.

“By virtue of piling on meaningless collateral duties and programs that contribute little to operational and warfighting excellence, we have confused these leaders, making it hard for them to see through the chaff and to prioritize the personal and professional development of their people,” he said.

Also this summer, the Navy announced it was ending several collateral duties that impede on a sailor’s primary responsibilities.

Leaders need to ensure they are giving higher priority to directly nurturing junior leadership, Richardson said.

“They are ready to be accountable for this responsibility,” he said.

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at

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