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Navy: ‘Get Real, Get Better’ campaign fixing Bonhomme Richard problems

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

The training, leadership and safety problems exposed by the catastrophic fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in 2020 are being addressed by the Navy’s new “Get Real, Get Better” campaign and other safety programs, two Navy admirals said last week.

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Lescher and Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s naval surface force, told a House subcommittee on March 3 that the Navy is aware that not all personnel are performing up to expectations.

“The loss of the USS Bonhomme Richard was a stark reminder that the gap between our best and our worst performers is too great,” they said in joint written testimony to the subcommittee. “To remain the world’s strongest Navy in an era of strategic competition, we must have consistently strong performance.”

The two admirals said they found “systemic causes” of the fire that was allegedly set by Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays, which forced the Navy to scrap the $1.2 billion vessel.

“These systemic causes include an outdated approach to institutional learning and problem-solving that overemphasizes instructions, checklists and rules, while undervaluing the human element — the development of people, a learning mindset and critical thinking,” they said. “Too often, from an institutional perspective, we have viewed poor performance as one-off failures, made short term adjustments, and focused on administrative solutions, adding burdensome regulations and guidance, over developing our people.”

The ”Get Real, Get Better” campaign is one of several ways the Navy is trying to right the ship.

“Our best units and organizations today consistently ‘Get Real’ with strong self-assessment competencies: they are honest and transparent about actual capabilities and limitations; challenge beliefs using data, analysis, and diverse input; and ‘embrace the red’ by taking pride in illuminating constraints to improvement and fixing them,” they said. “Our best units build on this exceptional self-assessment competency with ‘Get Better’ self-correcting behavior: fixing small problems before they become larger issues; addressing root causes, not symptoms, of problems; applying world-class problem-solving tools and best practices; setting clear accountability; working collaboratively; and quickly elevating barriers to progress that cannot be resolved at their level.”

“We are reorienting organizational elements to teach the foundational cultural attributes and problem-solving skills in a continuum of leadership education. We are taking action to simplify, streamline, and align bureaucratic processes to reduce burdens on our people and better support our warfighters,” they added.

The Navy also launched a “Learning-to-Action Board” to counter “weak institutional learning.”

“The L2AB will test whether recommended actions and corrective measures remain in effect over time – is our force complying with them – and whether they are providing the intended effect – are these measures making a difference in how our Navy performs,” they said.

“The initial L2AB sessions focused on effectively implementing the most consequential recommendations of the Bonhomme Richard investigation and the Major Fires Review. These include: clarifying command and control relationships in the training, readiness, and maintenance of ships; simplifying, streamlining, and aligning Fleet guidance on fire protection standards; reviewing the adequacy of fire protection and suppression systems; and reviewing the effectiveness of current damage control training,” they added.

Other steps the Navy has taken include the creation of a Naval Safety Command, which will assess the effectiveness of safety oversight in the Navy and making improvements to fire safety across the service.

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