As all the opinions and speculation pile up regarding what factors caused the recent mishaps at sea I feel compelled to once again offer my thoughts. But not of the John S. Mc Cain or Fitzgerald specifically, because I still believe we may find that at least one, if not both, of these accidents were nearly unavoidable, but rather my thoughts on one aspect that needs to be acknowledged.
I hesitate here also because I can imagine the absolute sickness and torment these Captains are feeling, and my skin crawls with virtually each word I type. I was close enough to my own disaster to feel their pain. And let me say that pain they're feeling is for those they had a obligation and a duty to protect. It's not pain for their professional loss; that time is so far off it may never surface. I commend their courage to assume command of a warship, knowing full-well the risk of the job, and the inescapable fact they'll be standing alone in the darkest of times, all-the-while wanting no more than to safeguard their ship and crew.
If not for the skills of my Executive Officer, then LCDR John Dorey, and my helmsman, Seaman David Luckey, our Navy would still be shaking its figurative head over how I could have lost USS Arleigh Burke to a rusty, 285 foot oiler smuggler in the North Arabian Gulf. Even with that close call I felt I had let my crew down, and for a period of time it weighed on me like an anchor.
Sure I have my own opinion of things, but for now I spend my time thinking about the families of the lost sailors, and the families of the Captains. I just ask that everyone for at least a few minutes try to imagine those now suffering.
Like each one of us, I've lost family and friends instantly to tragedy. But I've been able to stand at those services thankful for the time I had with each of them. Memories of our friendships, although still sad, bring no anguish or guilt for what might have been. For them, I am free of those chains.
But for the one night I didn't designate drive for a roommate, I lost both him and his girlfriend. That was forty years ago and I still can picture him asking me to go along with him that night. The Captains of John S. McCain and Fitzgerald will struggle with "only if" for the rest of their lives. If they can never find a way to their own forgiveness it will cheat their families of a husband and father. It's a burden that they may never rise above.
I know that just as change passes through phases, so too does grief and forgiveness. For now I'm going to think about the loss of those involved and their grief, and allow Navy's leadership to figure out what's happening with our readiness.
My roommate, Mike Pohlkamp and me. Mike was lost in a mid-air collision. He was one-of-a-kind!