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Navy dings Vice Admiral, 26 others for Bonhomme Richard fire

The Navy announced Friday it has taken action against 27 people responsible for the July 2020 fire onboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, including retired Vice Adm. Richard Brown, who at the time was Naval Surface Force commander.

The announcement came with a stiff reminder from Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro that the fire that sent the Bonhomme Richard to the scrap heap was preventable, and that senior leaders and fire response teams must be held responsible.

“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 said in a message sent to the Department of the Navy 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.”

An initial report from the Navy recommended disciplinary action against 36 Navy leaders, but the Friday announcement listed 27 who were identified by Adm. Samuel Paparo, head of U.S. Pacific Fleet and consolidated disposition authority (CDA).

“As CDA, Paparo made 27 individual disposition decisions, which were primarily focused on the ship’s fire prevention, readiness, and response efforts,” the Navy said. “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.”

Paparo focused on the ship’s leadership and fire response teams. Punitive letters of reprimand and pay forfeitures to former commanding officer Capt. Gregory Thoroman and former executive officer Capt. Michael Ray. Former Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez also received a punitive letter of reprimand.

“Such letters are generally considered career killers,” the Navy Times reported.

Letters of instruction were sent to Rear Adm. Scott Brown, U.S. Pacific Fleet Director of fleet maintenance, and Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage, commander, Navy Regional Maintenance Center.

Del Toro’s letter to Brown is controversial, as Brown has argued he was unfairly singled out for the incident and was never interviewed during the Navy’s investigation.

“This was a political hit,” Brown told Navy Times Friday. “For whatever reason, to appease the Senate, to appease Congress, we’re going to hang a three-star.”

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