Home » Military Personnel » Unauthorized Fireworks, Unlawful Gambling on USS Bainbridge Leads to Relief of Leadership Triad


Unauthorized Fireworks, Unlawful Gambling on USS Bainbridge Leads to Relief of Leadership Triad

Former Bainbridge CO Cmdr. Sean Ronger, XO Cmdr. Brandon Murray and CMC Richard Holmes were releieved from their roles on the ship on April 8, 2016, sources tell USNI News

Former Bainbridge CO Cmdr. Sean Ronger, XO Cmdr. Brandon Murray and CMC Richard Holmes were relieved from their jobs on the ship April 8, 2016, according to the service

The senior leadership of the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) – the ship best known for its role in the 2009 M/V Maersk Alabama piracy incident off Somalia – was relieved on Friday for tolerating gambling and storage of unauthorized fireworks on its last deployment, USNI News has learned.

Ship commander Cmdr. Sean Rongers, former executive officer Cmdr. Brandon Murray and Command Master Chief Richard Holmes were relieved of their duties on the ship by Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 28 commander Capt. Richard Brawley and temporarily reassigned to commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic (SURFLANT) to await the outcome of their case, service officials USNI News.

The relief of the top three leaders on the ship follows an “investigation into the storage of commercial fireworks onboard the ship in violation of Navy instructions, unlawful gambling aboard the ship contrary to Navy regulations, poor program management and a poor command climate” during the ship’s last deployment, according to statement to USNI News provided by the Navy.
“The investigation found that both [former XO] Murray and Holmes were fully aware of the purchase and storage of fireworks.”

The ship and her crew of about 270 sailors left Naval Station Norfolk, Va., in May 2015 for a seven-month independent deployment to Europe and Africa. The DESRON-led investigation began in February, after the ship returned to Norfolk in December, following an anonymous complaint.

According to the initial findings, members of the crew bought commercial-grade fireworks in South Carolina prior to the May deployment, used small boats to take them aboard the ship and stored the fireworks in a weapons locker onboard Bainbridge. Leaders, according to the initial findings, dismissed complaints from members of the crew about the fireworks.

Investigators found Rongers and Murray lead some members of Bainbridge’s wardroom in gambling during a regular poker night that was in violation of Navy instructions. According to the findings, the leaders also dismissed complaints about the gambling from members of the wardroom uncomfortable about the practice.

USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) departs Naval Station Norfolk on an independent deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility on May 3, 2015. US Navy Photo

USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) departs Naval Station Norfolk on an independent deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility on May 3, 2015. US Navy Photo

Rongers, according to his Navy biography that was recently removed from the Navy’s website, is a graduate of The Ohio State University and served primarily on amphibious ships and in land strike and anti-terrorism jobs until becoming the Bainbridge XO in 2013 and CO on Nov. 7, 2014.

Murray is a prior enlisted Operations Specialist who commissioned through OCS in 1998. As an officer, Murray served on destroyers and cruisers and commanded a Mine Countermeasures (MCM) crew serving aboard several Avenger-class MCM ships.

Holmes enlisted out of high school and served at sea on carriers and big-deck amphibious ships. He is a graduate of the Senior Enlisted and the Command Master Chief and Chief of the Boat course in Newport, R.I.

Removal of the entire command triad – the CO, XO and senior enlisted sailor – from a ship is rare in the service. The last instance in which the top three leaders of a ship were replaced all at once was when the triad of USS James E. Williams (DDG-95) was removed at sea during a 2014 deployment.

Following the relief of Rongers, Cmdr. Marty Robertson has been assigned to command Bainbridge and Gas Turbine Systems Technician Master Chief Todd Starks will fill in as the senior enlisted sailor until a replacement is found.

The current XO Cmdr. Patrick Murphy – who reported to the ship in March and was not on the ship’s most recent deployment – will continue in his role onboard the ship.

In 2009 the crew of Bainbridge –commanded by then-Cmdr. Frank Castellano – was instrumental for the release of merchant captain Richard Phillips when M/V Maersk Alabama was seized by Somali pirates in 2009. Bainbridge towed the lifeboat in which Phillips was held and ultimately served as the platform from which a Navy SEAL sniper killed three of the pirates.

  • Curtis Conway

    Why does this look like a “Witch Hunt”? “…storage of commercial fireworks onboard the ship…”, “…unlawful gambling aboard the ship…”, . . ?

    It may come as a shock to some not in the military, but a guided missile destroyers has some REAL LARGE FIRE WORKS on board. These said fireworks were stored in a weapons storage locker which would be a proper place for such things. Americans shooting off fireworks on any number of occasions is HiStorically acceptable, and expected, except someone wrote a rule (instruction) against it? Probably want to look at that again.

    The expression “he had a Poker Face” is instructive, and Poker Skills come in real handy in combat. Evidently one of the rule makers has forgotten that too. As long as money is not exchanged, a good game of poker keeps the tactical skills up, particularly about making your opponent sweat. We used to have Poker Night on the cruiser in my day, usually the night before pulling in after a long cruise. Everybody dressed up and went to the mess decks.

    From knowing nothing about it, and from the outside looking in . . . after reading the write up a couple of times, this looks like someone had a hard time being a member of the team, so they decided to sabotage that team. Look forward to hearing more about this one.

    This no longer sounds like my navy . . . or even my country sometimes. Letter of the lawyers on parade. To err is human . . . to forgive is Divine, neither of which are characteristics of the US Government? Have you been watching the news lately?

    We Are At War ladies and gentlemen . . . and people are worried about ‘fireworks’ and ‘poker games’?

    Just my 2 Ȼ.

    • Turner Hooche

      Congrats Navy.

      While these three did FAIL the crew. They did FAIL to uphold good order and discipline. They did FAIL to maintain the confidence of the crew… You could have gotten them on affording the crew ample opportunity to fornicate with individuals outside their marriage. You could have brought up the fact that they forced their return crew to pay out of pocket for OFFICIAL TRAVEL. You could have taken issue with the fact that Sailors did not receive proper pay, benefits or entitlements for 24 months.. but hey…

      Let’s take some little whiner’s word about fire works and poker right?

      • David Whitfill

        Total BS and over reaction…typical of the PC that has crept into the services…I agree with the above…no longer sounds like my Navy…I served on submarines-we did not have time for that kind of pansy behavior…

      • Curtis Conway

        Thanks for the details not covered in the story. That additional detail would warrant some action.

      • JP

        “affording the crew ample opportunity to fornicate with individuals outside their marriage?” I don’t understand that particular responsibility, the chain of command is not part of anyone’s marriage, that promise belongs between the spouses and I don’t see how a command can be responsible for anyone fornicating outside of their marriage. That’s a personal responsibility. Now, the other things you mentioned, regarding Sailor’s pay…that angers me.

        • donny1020

          Adultery is covered under Article 134 of the UCMJ and many years ago when I was in you had to submit a “special request chit” before you got married. Otherwise you were in front of the old man.

        • Ed L

          Actually if command is aware under UCMJ that members of the crew are in violation and doesn’t do anything about it. Then it is a violation of the UCMJ

    • gunnerv1

      As a former Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate (Guns), I’ll address just the “Unauthorized Fireworks”, (Commercial Grade) I also make my own Fireworks (Mostly 3″ and 4″ Mortars by grinding my own Chemicals, Filling, Fuzing and Pasting the Cardboard and Roman Candles).
      1,) Commercial Grade Fireworks (CGF) (over the Counter) do not “Fit” in the Pyrotechnic Lockers as they are designed for certain “Approved” Smokes, Flares and Rockets.
      2.) Almost all CGF’s have exposed “Black Powder” (BP) Time Fuzes, Incase you didn’t know BP is “Shock Sensitive”, both Mechanical and Electric (I set mine off with Remote Electric Matches) All CGF’s contain BP Propelling Charges (Largest Over The Counter CGF’s contain 500 Grams of BP (over a pound of Unauthorized BP per unit)).
      3.) Some CGF’s are manufactured with Unstable Chemical components (Stars) and High Explosives “Bursting” Charges (Look up “Flash Powder”, The stuff that gives you that “Thump” on your chest when the Shock Wave hits (Very Shock Sensitive).
      4.) The Navy’s Shipboard Manual on Ammunition Storage “Fly Page” states “That all Explosive Safety Rules are Written In Blood” (starting to understand yet?)
      5.) With the Odd Shapes of CGF’s put into a Locker with or without “Proper Dunnage” (Locking/ Blocking/Packing) to prevent shifting (and Friction from Movement), “Murphy’s Law comes into question, “If it can happen, it will happen”, I personally had to “Dispose” of Unauthorized Low Grade Explosives (8 Pound Canisters of Shotgun Reloading Powders) (I also reloaded my own Small Arms Ammunition, Not allowed to Pilfer for my own hobby).
      6.) The “Special Fireworks” (that you mentioned in passing are designed and tested for Shipboard use and storage (In the 5″/54 Magazines (Illumination, Variable Time Fuze (Non Fragmenting) ILL. VTNF , The Small Arms Magazine and the various “Pyro” Lockers located on the Weather Decks (They are located there for a reason.).
      All of these items can work for you (The Gunner’s Mate) or against You, The most likely scenario (Remember “Murphy”). That is the short and the long of it and why non approved Fireworks are not allowed in/on Naval Vessels. I too would Throw it Over the Side and report it up the “Chain of Command” until I got satisfaction. Signed “The Gunner”.
      They (The Triad) could be charged with “Hazarding a Naval Vessel) I remember in one of the many Shipyard Overhauls (I hated them. of the Nine Ships I was on (All DD types but one an AD). I either caught the ship going into, in the middle of or coming out of the ‘Yards) where one Sailor stabbed with his “Buck Knife” all of the “Life Rafts”, he was almost charged with that but it’s almost exclusively reserved for Commanding Officers. Talk to you some more if you so desire (USN ’64-’86)

      • Curtis Conway

        Point well taken.

  • Antonio Bryant Paulette

    I served under this clown in the middle (Brandon Murray) on the Bulwark crew back in ’08 when he was still an EXO (Executive Officer) there and he was a dirtbag back then as well.

  • CharleyA

    Wot? A little fireworks complaint? I hope there is something more to this.

  • Centurion13

    The issue underlying this is easy to read for experienced sailors. One set of rules for the khaki, another set for everyone else – never mind the regs. Probably someone in a lower paygrade wanted to bring their fireworks and stow them too, but was nixed by their leadership. The leadership might have been trying to avoid controversy by limiting the number of personnel allowed to indulge such behavior – but of course, it didn’t extend to their own actions.

    When it became glaringly obvious there was no other reason for being turned down than that the higher paygrades considered themselves exempt from the rules they were (rightfully) enforcing on their subordinates, someone dropped a dime, as they used to say… and probably had another dime ready for the Navy Times if nothing happened.

  • Lorenzo

    The US government absolutely hates the military, at least the fighting part of the military. All the socialism and social experimentation are well supported. But there is pure hatred for the cutting edge. USNA ’85 and I don’t even recognize this pathetic operation any longer.

    • donny1020

      And the right is such a big fan of the military it privatized it and made a profit from it. Don’t know if you realize the ratio is 1:1 now, DoD and civilian contractors

  • politicaljules

    WTF?

  • Western

    We gambled every night on my submarine and we were one of the quietest, best performing boats in the Fleet.
    Something very wrong with the top military leaders and administration. I hope we can survive the next year.

    • gunnerv1

      But NO Fireworks.

  • NavySubNuke

    Good God I hope there is more to this story than a few fireworks and Saturday night poker games.

  • Diogenes

    Oooooh gambling aboard ship? Hang them from the yardarm. The pu**ification of the Navy continues. The Dear Leader and his liberal minions must be proud!

    • gunnerv1

      It was the same when I was in, No Gambling/no “Special” Fireworks (Not in MY Magazines/Pyro Lockers). GMCS (SW) USN, (’64-’86)

  • azafvet

    Gambling among crew members while on deployment? Who would have guessed that could happen? Commercial fireworks? Let’s see when could they have possibly been used? Forth of July, New Years Eve? Let’s see, when I was stationed at an Air Force remote radio transmitter site in Libya in the mid ’60s, a lonely boring place in a sea of desert, there wasn’t much to do except play cards or pool but always for money. At the few times we got to the main base and went to any of the clubs, there were always card games being played for money. Gambling dates back to the revolutionary war in the military, it goes hand in hand with drinking and music. What does the Navy expect these men to do for recreation? As far as fireworks. What kind and how many?

    Again, every July 4 and most times at the new year, it is usual and customary for military bases to have fireworks displays to celebrate this countries freedom and independence or the fact the next year is being ushered in always in hopes for betterment and peace. Again at Site 6, Tripoli Lybia, we would climb onto the top of our building to watch the fireworks on the 4th at the main base some 20K from where we were so we could oow and ahh as the fireworks exploded. We took our booze and portable radios up there to try to capture some familiar customs of home and made it a party.

    It sounds to me that the Evangelical movement that runs rampant at the USAF academy is now on deployment with fighting troops. Come on Navy, are you really ending these three men’s careers for such petty reasons. Is this part of the recruitment effort now that military service is being challenged by better employment numbers because the military is still the employer of last resort. Get real folks.

    • vincedc

      Not appropriate for a ward room. For the snipes, I can see looking the other way, but officers deal with a higher level of expectations.

    • gunnerv1

      Duty Ashore and “Special” Fireworks are completely different, Please see my rather long comment above.

  • Chris

    They need to check their facts. Rare for this to happen? This is pretty much happening multiple times a year around the military, and especially the Navy. People are being kicked out for stupid reasons, and not just the Triads either. A large thing leading to this is the program to “Fleet Up”. Instead of serving a full term on a ship, then get moved on to their next ship, while getting screened or approved for the privilege of command, the Navy has the incumbent XO learn from the current XO of his new ship, who in turn is learning from the CO of the same ship. After about a year and a half on the ship under the CO, the XO takes over the same ship, not even taking what he learned from one ship and going to another, or being screened for capability of doing the job of CO, because they know how that particular ship works. Then a new Prospective XO comes in and starts the circle again. Meanwhile, any bad habits or “traditions”, things that are just, “the way it’s always been done” on this ship, are continually passed down every couple years from CO, to next CO, with no outside influence, or experience, from the XO, or command experience from being XO of another ship of similar size and type. So the incumbent command leadership just assumes, “this is the way it has always been on this type of ship”, and continues the cycle.
    And all of that is without even going into the newly found political correctness of the military, that is allowing people to be removed from command, and fired for things that were once day to day in the military, and as a team that defends the lives and interests of its citizens from the opposing interests of its enemies, should be considered normal. When military personnel have to be shot at, (and you just hope to god missed), before they are allowed to fire on an enemy, you have lost your ability to function as a military.

    • Ed L

      Bet it was some immature JO who had to get out because they were not good enough to get promoted

  • Pat

    Storage of fireworks in a weapons locker is, to use Joe Biden’s words, a big fricking deal. Any CO, XO, Weapons Officer, etc. should understand ordnance stowage compatibility. Stowing fireworks with military ordnance is foolish, plain old wrong, and places the ship and crew at risk. The ship’s weapons officer should have provided forceful backup to his/her CO by advising him of that. Permitting gambling aboard ship is prejedicial to good order and discipline. I don’t believe the military is being too politically correct, senior leadership is simply holding leaders accountable. I served 35 years and saw many changes to rules, regulations and culture…i would argue most changes were for the better. T

  • Ed L

    Stupid political correctness. To many wusses getting their knickers in a wad over an age old practice. Poker nights in the wardroom. Bet they still do it in the goat locker and below decks. A witch hunt for sure. Fireworks stored in a weapons locker? For the Fourth of July while on deployment I bet to finish off a steel beach BBQ. With a little trap shooting and fire works

  • Mark Elsbernd

    Are you kidding me?There is always a card game on a ship!If you think not,you are stupid or a liar.

    • donny1020

      It’s where I took several thousands of dollars in Tonk and Poker lessons.

  • aVet

    and the purge continues….Change courtesy of Comrade Obama….

    • donny1020

      Actually it started with Bush and Cheney, mainly Cheney and Rumsfeld who has always advocated for the privatization of the military. Now civilians have the supply boats and perform vert reps and run galleys and BEQs on land and are seeking to do the same on boats eliminating many of the positions normally held by Sailors. Private military folks are now deployed at a 1:1 ratio with DoD personnel.

      This eliminates and reduces liability associated with the VA as civilians don’t qualify and eliminates manpower shortages due to the fact politicians are to weak to activate the draft. Right wingers see the military as a cash cow. No amount of expansion of the military budget will address the “purge” as that money will go into the pockets of private military contractors.

  • PRONESE

    Gambling??? Pyrotechnics ??? Unheard of behavior in my former U.S. Navy Career. I do remember A-6 Intruders creating a “Wall of Water” with a full 500 lb bomb load and a $1.00 a ticket raffle for a new Ford Mustang while assigned to the U.S.S. Nimitz though… SMH…

  • Lou McKellar

    I retired from the Navy in 1994. It seems a lot has changed since then.

  • donny1020

    Who would have thought guys in the Navy gambled? Someone needs to get to the bottom of this and put a stop to it. We all know the Navy has no room for gambling, coffee, soda, women of questionable morals and alcohol on liberty or fighting with Australians when in Port.

  • Ed L

    I wish they bring back Rocks and Shoals. I mean hanging the nephew of the sec of navy for attempt Mutiny had it effect on Morale.

  • Stop all anchor pools…No more bingo, no more cribbage, no more, no more, no more – what ever. Question what were the fire works for? Pat get a life..did you ever play cards on the mess decks, chief’s mess, or wardroom- of course NOT you were perfect. Harry Truman played poker in the White House. Of course you sound like a bridge player. I’ll raise you twenty … Hang them, to the grattings and give them the cat. Avast heaving and double down. It seem like no more Vegas nights. I bet sailors now bet on x-box and video games. On line poker – block it, no more, let’s be _ssys. Starts with a P. Like I keep on ranting remember puke to the lee side. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

  • OLDNAVYVET

    “….I am shocked, shocked, shocked!

  • Kate Ryan Handley

    My comment is still pending and I can’t get a reply from the reporter.

  • Capt DJ

    I read “poor program management and a poor command climate” the rest is just window dressing.

  • Mark Wesley

    The Rules are The Rules, and The Regs are The Regs.
    The storage of UNAUTHORIZED MATERIAL of ANY type is not only stupid, it’s potentially dangerous.
    As for the Gambling?
    If they were only playing for chips, I see no harm.
    No, it was the Fireworks that sunk em’.
    The Navy just threw in the gambling for good measure.
    There are a lot of Rules and Regs in that organization.
    But then, this we all know…

  • draeger24

    Can someone define “gambling”….we used to play cards, bingo, etc, when underway…never for money, but for “head of Line” privileges or first off the ship, etc, and we were not ship’s company but embarked platoons and staff. If there was money involved, then I understand. …the fireworks are interesting. Something tells me there is much more to this story.