The guided-missile submarine Florida’s “Gold Crew” was already troubled with a bad command climate when Capt. Gregory R. Kercher took the helm on Sept. 25, 2017.
Eleven months later, Kercher was fired for not only failing to fix the nagging work-related issues on board the Kings Bay, Georgia-based submarine, but also for failing to fully investigate multiple “rape lists” — sexually explicit documents that lewdly rated the enlisted women in his crew.
The news was first reported May 17 by Military.com after obtaining an Inspector General’s report through the Freedom of Information Act.
The lists came to light in June 2018, roughly a year after women first started reporting to the boat, the second submarine to integrate enlisted women into its crews.
Female officers have served on board submarines since 2011. But it wasn’t until 2015 that the Navy first called for enlisted females to volunteer for “silent service” duty. The guided-missile submarine Michigan’s two crews were the first to integrate in fiscal year 2016, followed by the Florida’s crews in 2018.
The guided- and ballistic-missile submarines are larger than fast-attack submarines and are staffed by alternating “Blue” and “Gold” crews that take turns manning their boats in six-month shifts.
Navy officials have dealt with multiple sexual harassment problems during the nine-plus years women have served on board submarines, ranging from secret filming of women in showers to the latest revelations of a “rape list.”
Military.com reported that so far at least two sailors assigned to the Florida have been separated from the military, and an undisclosed number faced administrative punishment in connection to the list, Navy officials said.
Navy Times reached out to the Submarine Force public affairs office on Saturday to confirm details of the incident, but those calls have yet to be returned.
While at Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia on June 3, 2018, a sailor printed the first list and gave it to a female petty officer, Military.com reported.
It ranked the 32 female crewmembers using asterisks next to their names. There were between one and four asterisks next to each name.
Roughly 10 days later, that same sailor printed a second list and gave it to the same female petty officer.
“The sexually explicit list describes various USS Florida females by appearances, characteristics and various sexual acts the creators of the list wish to perform with them,” the investigation states. “The list describes aggressive sexual activity, but does not reference non-consensual acts.”
The sailor providing the lists told the petty officer the lists were on the boat’s computer network and were updated every few weeks. Male sailors were going to vote again soon, the sailor told the petty officer.
The petty officer took photos of the lists before she and a second petty officer took them to a male chief on June 16, 2018, the Military.com report said. The lists quickly made their way up the chain of command to the chief of the boat, who took it straight to Kercher that day.
Kercher, however declined to take swift action, and didn’t initially investigate because “they only had a piece of paper,” Military.com reported, and he wanted to “determine where it was generated and who generated” before kicking off any probe.
At that point, Military.com reported that the chief of the boat told investigators that he was out of the loop and wasn’t even allowed to be present when Kercher discussed the list with sailors and was even told by Kercher to “slow down” because he was getting too involved.
Kercher’s preliminary probe, the report said, didn’t locate the lists anywhere on the ship’s networks. Even the Naval Criminal Investigative Service got involved and it, too, was unable to turn up the lists.
Kercher still didn’t act.
It was this inaction over the next few months that further degraded the already poor command climate on board the boat. Rumors ran rampant, according to Military.com.
Some of the women on board felt that the command “had forgotten about the list a long time ago” and had simply swept it under the rug.
That left female members of the crew "full of fear, anger and disgust and even male sailors felt “horrified, appalled, outraged and less trusting,” investigators are quoted as saying.
Things got so bad that some women expressing concern about the lists were told to “suck it up and not add to the drama” by a division-level leader, according to Military.com.
Then the female petty officer who received and reported the lists decided to share the pictures of them with her boyfriend and family, and even a chief petty officer back at the boat’s Kings Bay homeport.
The petty officer sent the pictures because “she did not trust the upper chain of command to do the right thing” and felt her command was trying to “sweep it under the rug," according to the Military.com report.
Her efforts led to an IG complaint that sparked Kercher’s firing in August 2018 by Rear Adm. Jeff Jablon, then-commander of Submarine Group 10.
“Rumors of a ‘rape list’ were promulgated throughout the crew, significant numbers of females became concerned for their safety, and male members who learned of the list were equally repulsed,” Jablon wrote to his boss just days before firing Kercher, according to Military.com. “Very few [of the crew} knew what limited action was being taken.”
Kercher’s initial attempts to locate the lists on his networks were noted, the investigation said. But his actions fell short of the necessary investigation, as was Kercher’s failure to notify Jablon of the incident, too.
“Although he took some action in response to the list, there is no question that those minimal actions fell far short of expected standards and norms for an event of this magnitude,” Jablon was quoted as writing.
And it wasn’t just Kercher taking the fall for the incident and its handling, Cmdr. Sarah Self Kyler, spokeswoman for Naval Submarine Forces, told Military.com.
Two enlisted sailors were “administratively discharged from the Navy,” and that “additional administrative actions” happened to others in the command who mishandled the reports of the list.
Military.com stated that the incident caused the top submarine operational commander to conduct a review of the force, where he concluded that what happened on the Florida was “not at all reflective of the overall outstanding performance and behavior of our submariners force-wide."
“While I cannot guarantee that an incident such as this will never happen again, I can guarantee that we will continue to enforce our high standards of conduct and character in the Force,” Vice Adm. Chas Richard, commander of U.S. Submarine Forces in Norfolk, told Military.com in a prepared statement.
"I expect every submariner to treat one another with dignity and respect, and will hold our personnel accountable if they fall short of our standard."
The road to the full gender integration of the Navy’s submarines has not been easy for the Navy, but has not deterred the service from pushing forward with a plan that is gradually integrating more submarines.
In 2014, 12 sailors were implicated for taking or viewing videos of female officers and midshipmen undressing and showering over a 10-month period on the ballistic-missile submarine Wyoming.
Navy officials took a deliberate long-term approach when assigning women to submarines, and specifically female enlisted sailors.
In an attempt to learn from the lessons from the very rocky surface force integration that started in the early 1980s, officials commissioned a study by the think-tank Center for Naval Analyses that concluded proper integration needed to start with 20 percent of the crew being female.
Currently, there are female officers serving on the smaller attack boats. In 2015, the service announced some new Virginia-class fast attack boats will be built from the keel up to accommodate enlisted women in their crews.
The 2015 announcement stated the 23rd Virginia-class submarine — since named the New Jersey — would be the first fast-attack to carry enlisted female crew members. That boat was only just laid down, so it’s unsure at this time as to whether women will be assigned as early as the original 2020 target date. The ship is not expected to be delivered to the fleet until 2021.
Designs for the planned new Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarines are being developed from the start to accommodate gender-integrated crews.
Plans to retrofit the older Los Angeles-class submarines to accommodate women were investigated, but the service found that to be impractical, and instead decided to build that capability into future versions of the Virginia-class boats.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.