Thursday, 23 April 2015

"Exceptionally meritorious conduct" by USS Vincennes officers

[What follows is the text of a report published in The Washington Post twenty-five years ago today:]
The Navy has awarded special commendation medals for "meritorious service" to two of the top officers who were serving on the USS Vincennes at the time the cruiser shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf with 290 people aboard.
The citations for the special commendations to former Vincennes skipper Capt Will Rogers III and Lt Cmdr Scott E Lustig, who was the ship's weapons and combat systems officer, do not mention the downing of the aircraft on July 3, 1988, an error that took the lives of the plane's passengers and crew.
The medals were awarded to the two men early last year.
Instead, the Navy citation to Rogers states, "The president of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Legion of Merit" -- the armed forces' second highest peacetime award -- "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989."
After describing the Vincennes' skirmish with seven Iranian boats minutes before it shot down the civilian aircraft, the medal citation states, "Captain Rogers's dynamic leadership, logical judgment and unexcelled devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the US Naval Service."
Lustig, the Vincennes's weapons officer on that day, was given two Navy commendation medals -- one for his four years of service on the Aegis cruiser, the other for his role in the surface skirmish.
The Navy praised Lustig for "heroic achievement" in connection with firing on the seven Iranian boats and lauded his "meritorious service" as weapons and combat systems officer from 1984-88.
Navy officials said this week that while Rogers and some of his officers made mistakes in connection with the shooting, the commendations were awarded for their "contributions to the USS Vincennes over their entire tour on board."
The Navy, in its official report on the jet's downing, did not discipline any of the officers involved but blamed the shooting on a series of human errors that snowballed in the chaos of the ship's Combat Information Center, where Rogers and Lustig were positioned.
"Mistakes were made on board Vincennes," retired admiral William J Crowe Jr, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in his review of the incident, adding, "This regrettable accident, a byproduct of the Iran-Iraq war, was not the result of culpable conduct aboard Vincennes."
But the skipper of another ship that was on the scene of the July 3 incident wrote in the September 1989 issue of the US Naval Institute Proceedings that the Vincennes had gained a reputation for being an overly aggressive "robo-cruiser" and "likely provoked the sea battle with the Iranian gunboats that preceded the shootdown."
"Having watched the performance of the Vincennes for a month before the incident, my impression was clearly that an atmosphere of restraint was not her long suit," wrote Cmdr David R Carlson, skipper of the frigate USS Sides, which monitored the jet's downing. Carlson added, "My guess was that the crew of the Vincennes felt a need to prove the viability of Aegis (the highly sophisticated anti-aircraft system on the cruiser) in the Persian Gulf, and that they hankered for an opportunity to show their stuff."
Both decorated men remain in the Navy: Rogers is commanding officer of a Navy unit that trains senior officers in military tactics; Lustig is executive officer of another Navy cruiser, the Navy said.
[RB: Less than six months after the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 with the loss of 290 lives, Pan Am flight 103 was destroyed over Lockerbie with the loss of 270.]

1 comment:

  1. "Saluting A Hero For Being Ethical, Despite Career Risks"

    "... has done a rare and noble thing. He has uttered a cry of the soul for a little less self- serving whitewash, please, and some more professional integrity. He has probably sacrificed his own promising career to denounce careerism. It is a moving gesture ... I stand in respectful salute to this man`s extraordinary act of conscience."

    These words could have been said by me (had my English sufficed), dedicated to a man we can be certain will read this - but they were said by Mr. David Evans, for Cmdr. David Carlson