Morale aboard a US warship operating in the Pacific reached such a low ebb that one sailor described serving aboard the ship as being akin to being on “a floating prison,” according to surveys obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
The Navy Times obtained three command climate surveys featuring hundreds of pages of anonymous comments from sailors revealing widespread morale issues aboard the USS Shiloh, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser based in Yokosuka, Japan.
Two Navy officials told CNN that the information reported from the surveys was accurate.
According to the obtained surveys only 31% of the sailors who responded to the survey said yes to the prompt: “I trust that my organization’s leadership will treat me fairly,” compared to 63% under the previous commanding officer. The commanding officer at the time of the survey, Capt. Adam Aycock, no longer works on the Shiloh.
Additionally, only 37% agreed with the statement “I feel motivated to give my best efforts to the mission of the organization,” compared to 69% agreeing to the statement under the previous leadership.
The Shiloh is one of 84 US ships equipped with the Aegis Missile Defense system, which is capable of shooting down hostile missiles from adversarial states like North Korea.
One sailor hinted that morale could affect the Shiloh’s role in the US’ entire missile defense architecture.
“I just pray we never have to shoot down a missile from North Korea,” one said, “because then our ineffectiveness will really show.”
US President Donald Trump touted the effectiveness of missile defense systems in a recent interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
“We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97% of the time,” he said.
It’s important to note not all military and weapons analysts share that level of confidence in US ballistic missile defense systems, as they have never been used in wartime.
The Navy officials added that the poor results of one climate survey caused Navy leadership to increase the frequency of which such surveys were conducted to help prompt the commander, Capt. Aycock, to improve his performance.
One of the officials said they could not explain how Aycock managed to retain command in the face of the poor survey results.
Aycock served as the Shiloh’s commanding officer from June 2015 to August 2017 and is now at the US Naval War College.
One official said that Aycock remains on active duty and was not prematurely reassigned from his command of the Shiloh.
The survey responses also showed that junior sailors were concerned about receiving harsh punishments from Aycock, including being placed in the brig and fed only “bread and water,” an arcane form of punishment that is still available to commanding officers.
“Even the taxi drivers on base know us for being the ‘USS Bread and Water,'” one survey respondent said.
Language prohibiting that form of punishment was placed into the current version of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act.
The Shiloh is part of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet which has been beset by a series of problems including two deadly collisions involving the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John McCain, both of which are also equipped with the Aegis system.
Officers in the 7th Fleet have faced a range of disciplinary actions and the Navy took the rare step of relieving the fleet’s commander, Vice. Adm. Joseph Aucoin.
The ship made headlines in June when a US sailor who was thought to have gone overboard for seven days and was presumed dead was found alive aboard the ship after prompting a major search operation. The sailor was later subjected to a non-judicial punishment.
The string of incidents has fueled concerns about perceptions of the 7th Fleet’s readiness and abilities.
“The Navy definitely has a perception problem, and the 7th Fleet in particular,” Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, told CNN.
“Those issues could worry US allies who rely on Aegis-equipped ships for missile defense — What if states like Japan and South Korea start doubting the 7th Fleet’s ability to shield them from a North Korean attack?
“There’s an old saying that effectiveness not only has to be done, it has to be shown done. Perception is reality in these things,” Schuster said. “They’re going to have to address that perception.”