Danny De Gracia: The US Should Fire Navy Red Hill Commanders Until It Finds A Responsible Leader - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Opinion article badgeThe late First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, “Some people are going to leave a mark on this world, while others will leave a stain.”

As the U.S. Navy’s Red Hill fuel facility continues to leak, drain, spill, release chemicals, or whatever way you want to euphemize the latest incident, it is now becoming a stain on both Hawaii’s environment and our country’s national honor.

It’s understood by doves and hawks alike the world over that naval military forces are messy to maintain, and that they can harm the environment. But in America, we have a unique belief among our people that even necessary evils do not necessitate sloppiness, carelessness, lack of attention to detail or indifference toward the greatest good for the greatest number.

When the founder of the nuclear Navy, Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, was tasked with building the very first nuclear-powered submarine, he was frustrated by the challenge of early reactors being very heavy yet still needing to fit inside a ship nimble enough for war.

One of Rickover’s engineers suggested that submarine weight could be saved by reducing the amount of reactor shielding just slightly below the Atomic Energy Commission’s prescribed nuclear safety requirements for civilians. Less shielding, the engineer argued, would still be relatively safe, and would then free up weight that could be occupied by the ship’s weapons and sonar systems.

Outraged, Rickover retorted that the reactor engineer had no business worrying about the weight of the weapons or sensors, and should focus only on making the safest reactor possible. Never one to hold back, Rickover then demanded to know what kind of submarine the engineer would rather have his own son serving aboard – one with civilian safety standards, or one with modified military standards. The answer was clear: Safety would come first for Rickover’s new navy.

By contrast, the competing Soviet navy insisted on deploying nuclear submarines with minimal safety precautions, just to get as many warships out to sea as possible. As a result, the Cold War saw numerous reactor accidents aboard Soviet submarines, and early Russian nuke ships were so radioactive that crews often had to take months off just to recover their health.

The first major success of the Cold War by the U.S. Navy was demonstrating that Americans, unlike Soviets, had a government that cared more about the safety of their sailors than the defeat of their enemies.

An image of fuel leaking from pipes at the Navy’s Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility. Provided to Civil Beat

This story is important because it shows how readiness, deployment tempo, and even national crises are no excuse for skimping on safety. Rickover understood that the Navy had to operate safely to win the most important war of all, the battle for public trust. Without trust, a military does not have the hearts of the people it is sworn to defend.

Rickover insisted that his men be competent and meticulous in their duty. “The sense of responsibility for doing a job right seems to be declining,” Rickover would say in a 1974 lecture. “In fact, the phrase, ‘I am not responsible,’ has become a standard response in our society to complaints on a job poorly done … Generally what a person means is, ‘I cannot be held legally liable.’”

What is critically needed to end the crisis at Red Hill is a no-tolerance policy for any further mishaps. The facility is too old. The officers in charge have the wrong priorities. And worst of all, no one seems to give a damn about the fact that the commander-in-chief, Joe Biden, has long since authorized ample funds to pay for whatever needs to be done to fix this problem.

We as private citizens can hold signs in front of the State Capitol protesting the Navy, but protests do not fix incompetence. Truth be told? The U.S. military has seen that for 70 years in Europe, Asia and the Middle East and doesn’t care.

Our elected officials can also write letters to the Secretary of the Navy, but fancy paper with congressional seals isn’t enough to stop the spilled oil, the leaking extinguisher fluid or our evaporating national honor. What we need is military leadership willing to be a Rickover and do what it takes to stop Red Hill from being an ongoing disaster.

For too long, we have become comfortable with excuses.

When the world sees the ongoing environmental calamity at Red Hill, they begin to see the U.S. as a hypocritical country that says one thing and does another. They mock the fact that we have technology but not morality. And they understand, quietly, that if these kinds of preventable disasters are what the public is allowed to find out about, there must be even worse things happening in the shadows here in America.

To be frank, the president and his secretary of defense need to start firing every commander and every officer in charge of Red Hill until they find one that is aggressive, committed and competent enough to get that installation under control. This will not only spare Hawaii’s citizens, but it will send a message to the rest of the Navy that we expect and demand better from our uniformed services.

For too long, we have become comfortable with excuses. We need a modern-day Admiral Rickover in Hawaii. When Navy leadership is so consumed by doing their job so well that they’re aware of, and responsible for, every security camera, every pipe, every tank, every tunnel and everything in their installation, that’s when things will change for the better.

Because right now, it feels like the Navy is just giving lip service to Hawaii and its commanders are just waiting for their next promotion.

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

Rear Admiral Wade is now Vice Admiral Wade.

susan.yahoo.com · 1 month ago

A couple of interesting quotes: "Our elected officials can write letters to the Secretary of the Navy"..."What is needed is a no-tolerence policy for any further mishaps". CB, please look at your own archives regarding Mazie Hirono's stance on Red Hill. After tons of evidence, and our Chief of Honolulu Board of Water Supply litterally breaking down in interviews, Mazie basically said "I don't see the evidence" and "regardless of what an investigation finds, it should "stay put". She had the red phone to the President but decided to staunchly defend the Navy. Appropriations over safety? Just a guess, put all of my intel is from Civil Beat archives. If we don't want this to happen again, we have to hold our own representatives accountable at a local level too!!

Kalama · 1 month ago

If Senator Dan Inouye were still alive and in office, this entire Red Hill fuel issue would have been properly handled a long, long time ago with just a couple of phone calls. The respect that Senator Inouye had in Washington and amongst the military was something that, I think, many Hawaii residents enjoyed for so many years, and some even took for granted. One didn't realize how much he did for Hawaii, until he was gone.

nkc · 1 month ago

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