Navy Announces Punishments for Bonhomme Richard Fire, SECNAV Censures Former SWO Boss

July 15, 2022 2:11 PM - Updated: July 17, 2022 10:17 AM
An MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from the “Merlins” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3, provides aerial firefighting support alongside sailors and civilian fire crews on the ground to fight the fire aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on July 13, 2020. US Navy Photo

This post has been updated with an additional statement from U.S. Pacific Fleet.

More than 20 sailors were punished for the four-day fire that led to the loss of the warship Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) in 2020, the Navy announced Friday.

The actions ordered by U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Samuel Paparo include letters of reprimand and forfeitures of pay for former commander Bonhomme Richard Capt. Gregory Thoroman and executive officer Capt. Michael Ray, as well as a punitive letter of reprimand for the ship’s Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez, according to a statement from the service provided to USNI News.

Paparo served as the consolidated decision authority to oversee accountability actions following the completion of former 3rd Fleet commander Vice Adm. Scott Conn’s command investigation into the fire, which was released in October. He determined the punishments in a series of admiral’s masts December through January, a Navy official told USNI News.

“The disposition decisions included six Nonjudicial Punishments (NJP) with guilty findings, two NJPs with Matter of Interest Filings (MIF) and a Letter of Instruction (LOI), two NJP dismissals with a warning, one additional MIF, five other LOIs, three Non-Punitive Letters of Caution (NPLOC), two letters to former sailors documenting substandard performance, and six no-action determinations,” according to a statement from the service.
“Paparo’s CDA accountability actions were primarily focused on USS Bonhomme Richard’s leadership and the fire response team.”

Paparo also issued letters of instruction to Rear Adm. Scott Brown, U.S. Pacific Fleet director of fleet maintenance and Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage, commander, Navy Regional Maintenance Center.

The former commander of Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, Capt. David Hart and former commander of Naval Base San Diego Capt. Mark Nieswiadomy both received letters of instruction, a Navy official told USNI News on Friday.

Paparo, “issued a letter of instruction to Capt. Hart for his substandard performance. CDA also submitted a Matter of Interest Filing to Navy Personnel Command for inclusion in Hart’s military record to document his involvement in the loss of Bonhomme Richard,” Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. William Clinton told USNI News in a Friday statement. Hart went on to lead the Navy’s DDG(X) next-generation destroyer effort and is the current Supervisor of Shipbuilding Conversion and Repair at Bath, Maine.

Former Amphibious Squadron 5 commander Capt. Tony Rodriguez, who had been in the position less than 30 days, was not punished.

In addition to Paparo’s actions, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro censured former Naval Surface Forces commander retired Vice Adm. Rich Brown for failing to “oversee ships’ fire safety readiness in maintenance availabilities,” according to a copy of the July 15 letter obtained by USNI News.

Brown was initially not held at fault by Paparo before Del Toro made the decision to censure the retired admiral, according to a defense official. Neither Conn nor Paparo interviewed Brown for the investigation, he told USNI News in an interview last week.

For his part, Brown is contesting the censure, and cited his work in buttressing the surface navy following the fatal collisions in the Western Pacific in 2017, he told USNI News.

“I am extremely disappointed that the Navy, to which I dedicated and devoted 35 years of service, has abandoned me for political expediency,” Brown told USNI News Friday.
“Every officer, commander and leader should now be on notice.”

The announcement of the accountability actions comes nine months after the release of the investigation into the blaze and just over two years after the fire started while the ship was on the pier at Naval Base San Diego, Calif.

“When leaders’ actions or inactions result in the loss of life or capital resources, the senior leadership of the Department of the Navy has a responsibility to determine the root cause and hold those accountable,” Del Toro wrote in a memo to the service on June 2.
“This fire could have been prevented with adequate oversight into the ship’s material condition and the crew’s readiness to combat a fire.”

Prior to Friday’s announcement, Seaman Recruit Ryan Mays, who is accused of starting the fire, was the only person to publicly face consequences for the fire. Mays was held in pre-trial confinement for three months in 2020 before Vice Scott Conn – then commander of 3rd Fleet – decided to not press charges. His successor, Vice Adm. Stephen Koehler reversed Conn’s decision and pressed forward with the court martial.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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