The admiral in charge of the Navy’s nuclear reactors program will oversee any additional punishments related to the fatal collisions of guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56), USNI News has learned.
Adm. James Caldwell was appointed by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran on Monday as the “Consolidated Disposition Authority (CDA) for administrative and disciplinary actions related to the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions,” Navy spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks told USNI News.
“As CDA, Adm. Caldwell will review the evidence regarding causes of these collisions, and he will make a determination regarding what administrative or disciplinary actions are warranted, if any.”
The military uses CDAs in cases centered on an incident or a set of related incidents that involve several service members.
A CDA “ensures one set of eyes on a set of related cases – one legal advisor, one convening authority – which should lead to consistency in decisions among multiple accused,” Rob “Butch” Bracknell, a former Marine and military lawyer, told USNI News on Wednesday.
News of Caldwell’s appointment comes as the Navy has released a summary of the investigations into both collisions that indicate multiple failures in basic seamanship, leadership and navigation that resulted in the death of 17 sailors.
“I would expect to see more than a handful of formal disciplinary measures from each ship’s commander down to junior watchstanders, at various levels,” Bracknell said.
“Seventeen cumulative deaths of the sailors’ shipmates probably means at least a few people are going to stand trial by court-martial, and this situation is tailor-made for a CDA to exercise his solitary judgment as to the outcomes.”
To date, the Navy has removed commanders and executive officers of both ships; Capt. Jeffery Bennett, commodore of the Japan-based Destroyer Squadron 15 to which both ships belonged; the Japan-based task force commander Rear Adm. Charles Williams; and the commander of U.S. 7th Fleet Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin.
Additionally, an unspecified number of sailors related to the collisions have received non-judicial punishment, USNI News understands.
The Navy has a CDA assigned to the Fat Leonard Glenn Defense Marine Asia corruption case – Fleet Forces commander Adm. Phil Davidson – to handle wrongdoing that didn’t rise to the level of criminal prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Marines appointed a CDA to oversee punishments from the Taliban urination case in 2012. The Navy also had a CDA for the fallout from the Tailhook ’91 incident.
The career submariner Caldwell will “provide a fresh, independent perspective. The complexity, scope, and the tragic consequences of these collisions warrant that the Navy exercise due diligence to ensure that the Navy acts fairly and appropriately,” Speaks said.
“Appointing a CDA ensures that the process will be thorough, fair, impartial, and efficient.”