The Navy’s command investigation into the fire that destroyed the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard last summer stresses that failures to fight the fire lay across several commands and leadership levels.
That shared blame can be found in the report’s “accountability” section, which recommends disciplinary action against 36 Navy officials, from the amphib’s enlisted ranks up to the former three-star head of Naval Surface Force Pacific.
All told, five admirals are in Big Navy’s crosshairs for failures that led to the flattop’s loss.
“The total loss of a capital asset demands close examination of all personnel to produce fully-informed recommendations,” the section states. “Our rigorous assessment must not be impacted by rank, paygrade, or level of a responsible person, entity, or organization.”
Any disciplinary decisions will be made by the head of U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Samuel Paparo, though service officials said there is no timeline for when such decisions will be made.
The investigation found that while the crew was not prepared to fight a fire while the ship was undergoing lengthy maintenance in San Diego on July 12, 2020, shore commands were also not ready to coordinate such an effort, and higher echelons failed to make sure such ducks were in a row before a junior sailor allegedly started the fire on purpose in a cargo hold.
“No single failure resulted in the loss of the ship, and thus accountability is not focused on any one individual,” the report states. “In some instances, there are errors of omission while others are marked with acts of commission.”
At the top list is Capt. Gregory Thoroman, the commanding officer of Bonhomme Richard, who is criticized in the investigation for failing to take charge when the ship was burning, but also for failing to ensure his crew and systems were up to snuff for such a nightmare scenario.
“The execution of his duties created an environment of poor training, maintenance and operational standards that directly led to the loss of the ship,” the report states.
Capt. Michael Ray, Bonhomme Richard’s executive officer, is also listed because he was responsible for managing crew readiness, shipboard drills and damage control exercises, among other tasks.
“His failure to execute these responsibilities directly led to the loss of the ship,” the report states.
Command Master Chief Jose M. Hernandez is accused of failing at his job because he “occupies a significant role in every aspect of the ship’s readiness and mission accomplishment,” the report states.
Fifteen other Bonhomme Richard members are also on the accountability list, including the chief engineer and damage control assistant, although their names are redacted.
Some are included because they oversaw watch bills or stowage in the cargo holds where the fire first broke out.
The command duty officer of the day is criticized in the report for his slowness in calling away the fire, but the report notes that it was his first time serving in that role and that “his efforts were hindered by a crew that was not properly trained or prepared to respond to the casualty.”
“Additionally, as the Assistant Damage Control Assistant … he raised concerns about the readiness of the crew and the material condition of the ship in the months prior to the fire, but Bonhomme Richard leadership did not take effective mitigating nor corrective actions,” the report states.
A senior enlisted chief from the engineering department is on the list because he left the ship without permission while his duty section was on and returned just prior to turnover.
The highest-ranking officer to face potential discipline is retired Vice Adm. Richard Brown, who commanded Naval Surface Force Pacific until his retirement in August.
“As Commander, Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet, he is responsible for the satisfactory accomplishment of the mission and duties to the ships assigned under his command,” the investigation states. “His failure in the execution of his duties contributed to the loss of the ship.”
Rear Adm. Scott Brown, Pacific Fleet’s maintenance officer, is also listed as he was responsible for oversight of all the command’s maintenance and modernization efforts.
Brown’s counterpart at U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Rear Adm. William Greene, is also listed, although he is responsible for maintenance and modernization for Fleet Forces’ East Coast ships.
The commander of Navy Region Southwest, Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, is listed as she is in charge of facilities such as Naval Base San Diego, whose officials are criticized in the investigation for botching the shore response to the fire.
Navy Regional Maintenance Center Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage ran the organization overseeing the Bonhomme Richard’s lengthy and pricey upgrades at the time of the blaze.
The report also lists the head of the Navy’s on-base fire and emergency services, as well as Capt. David Hart, who commanded the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center.
“The execution of his duties enabled an environment of substandard execution of fire safety practices, lack of adherence to written standards and ineffective execution of the mission that directly led to the loss of the ship,” the report states.
Six of his subordinates are also listed, but their names are redacted.
Naval Base San Diego’s commanding officer at the time, Capt. Mark Nieswiadomy, is cited for letting a culture of poor training and ineffective fire response flourish on his installation.
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.