Saturday, June 07, 2003

On Situational Awareness and the Abuse of Power
by The JAG Hunter
Saturday, 7 June 2003

Navy Vice Admiral Richard J. Naughton verbally and physically assaulted a Marine sentry who was on duty and under arms during a time when America faces an internal security threat unmatched in our history.

Naughton’s criminal misconduct and clear abuse of power demands closer examination before Navy officials sweep it under a rug. To his shame, Naughton knew exactly what he was doing, all the more reason why Navy and Department of Defense officialdom must sit up and take a second look.

Consider Naughton would never have acted out his “I’m an admiral” tantrum responding to an airport screener’s boarding request for picture ID at Reagan/National. It’s instructive to speculate upon expected consequences Naughton would face under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security, contrasted to those actually being meted out by DoD.

Had the arrogant admiral verbally “flame thrown” a security screener while laying hands forcefully enough to cause injury, a security alert would sound and an arrest effected by federal police. A public criminal investigation would start instantly with “His Admiralness” facing serious criminal charges.

A career naval flight officer, and former commander of the Navy’s prestigious Top Gun school, Naughton knows about the concept of “situational awareness.” The operational dictate of combat aviators that requires a continuous 360-degree scan in all dimensions -- being completely aware of all things at all times. Examining the “situation” Naughton confronted returning to Academy grounds last New Year’s eve is illuminating.

The presence of a U.S. Marine guard on duty and under arms is one of nature’s danger signs. Consequently, Marines don’t always guard entrances to the Naval Academy. It’s not a casual exercise.

Under normal circumstances the 11 General Orders for Sentries suffice to guide on-duty personnel. Order No. 11, for example, commands watchstanders “To be especially watchful at night and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.” But security was especially tight in Maryland’s state capital on December 31, 2002. Night orders to sentries, augmenting the standing orders, were tailored for individual Naval Academy portals.

Access through Gate 3 was specifically restricted to personnel appearing on a printed list delivered to the guard post earlier in the day. Naughton knew this as he approached the gate later that night with friends. To be expected, the sentry wanted to take a closer look at Naughton’s ID.

Probably embarrassed he wasn’t recognized amid a group of people wearing civilian clothes, Naughton may have felt a need to establish his self-importance and launched into his rant. No matter – what Naughton did was reckless and completely unacceptable.

More seriously, particularly from the standpoint of veterans, assault on a sentry (at any time) is a military crime companion to other serious military crimes Naughton committed that evening (failure to obey a lawful order for example). Yet, the admiral faces no military prosecution. Make careful note of the Navy’s handling of Naughton’s misconduct and their extraordinary control of information.

As chilling is what this signals to outsiders about the practical workings of military base or federal reservation security. One doesn’t have to be a “Mission Impossible” fan to know about the efficacy of disguises and phony ID. Naughton places the population of folks living or working on Academy grounds at greater risk only because “His Admiralness” demands separate and distinct status from everybody else. Naughton has established a bad precedent, real or perceived.

Ironically, Gate 3 was the exact location for the scene where the fictional character of Jack Ryan was attacked by terrorists in the movie “Clear and Present Danger.” Recall the Marine gate guard who came to Ryan’s assistance.

At its core this is about an arrogant and imperious man throwing his weight around in front of an audience. Naughton used an on-duty Marine sentry as the butt of his abuse. Never mind the admiral’s state of mind. From the point of view of the unwary Marine (who executed his duties exactly as trained by the way), it was a very public, wrongful, and humiliating lashing.

But more is at work. The larger and most serious issues must be recognized and addressed.

WELL DONE, and a sharp salute to the Marine on watch that night. The only appropriate physical contact here is a slap on the back. Semper Fi!

Meanwhile, Navy brass and DoD officers must revisit their “wrist-slapping” approach to Admiral Naughton’s criminal escapades. Then they need to award a commendation to the Marine guard.


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