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Pacific Fleet Commander To Retire in Wake of Deadly Ship Collisions

The four-star commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet has requested retirement after being denied nomination to command all U.S. forces in the Pacific, he announced Monday night.

"I have been informed by the Chief of Naval Operations that I will not be his nominee to replace Adm. [Harry] Harris as the Commander, U.S. Pacific Command," Adm. Scott Swift said in a plainspoken statement. "In keeping with tradition and in loyalty to the Navy, I have submitted my request to retire. I do so with great appreciation and gratitude for the honor of having served so many sailors and their families for what will be 40 years in January.”

In the wake of two destroyer collisions with merchant ships in the Pacific this summer that claimed the lives of 17 sailors, the Navy has been swift to remove leaders in a position to affect command climate and training decisions in the region.

Swift himself traveled to the U.S. 7th Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan just days after the destroyer USS John S. McCain hit a commercial tanker east of the Straits of Malacca near Singapore Aug. 21 on a mission to relieve Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the 7th Fleet Commander.

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Aucoin's replacement, Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, then relieved two subordinate officers Sept. 18: Rear Adm. Charles Williams, the commander of Task Force 70, and Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, commander of Destroyer Squadron 15. Task Force 70 oversees surface warfare in the 7th Fleet, while both destroyers involved in recent collisions, the McCain and the Fitzgerald, belonged to DESRON 15.

 

In his statement, Swift said he submitted his retirement request "with an abundance of respect and admiration for [CNO Adm. John Richardson]" and for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford as they face the challenge of replacing Harris at PACOM.

"I have not requested a retirement date as there is much work to be done here in the Pacific area of responsibility," Swift said. "Whether my timeline of remaining service is six weeks or six months, I will fill that time with the energy of an Ensign and the wisdom drawn from the 140,000 Sailors who report for duty every morning in the Pacific Fleet."

Swift has commander the Pacific Fleet since May 2015. A naval aviator, he has served since 1979, previously holding posts including director of Navy Staff at the Pentagon, commander of Strike Fighter Weapons School, Pacific, and director of operations at PACOM. His awards include the Bronze Star, the Air Medal with Combat V, and the Legion of Merit.

A day after the McCain collision, Swift promised a thorough investigation into the tragic disaster in a press conference held in Singapore.

"I visited with the crew today; they are tough, and they are resilient," Swift said. "It is clear that their damage control efforts saved their ship and saved lives.

Prior to that incident, which claimed the lives of 10 sailors, the Fitzgerald collided with a container ship southwest of Tokyo, Japan June 17. Seven sailors were killed in that disaster. The two incidents mark the greatest loss of life in non-combat accidents at sea in decades.

In hearings before the House and Senate Armed Services Committee this month, Navy leaders acknowledged crucial unaddressed readiness issues for the Navy in the Pacific, including lapsed certifications, lack of time for training, and punishing work schedule for sailors.

"What we do is inherently dangerous," Richardson told the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 19. But "at the core, this issue is about leadership, especially command."

The Navy has spearheaded two wide-ranging investigations into potential causes for the disasters, including one led by the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Adm. Phil Davidson, exploring predeployment training, surface warfare officer training, and deployed conditions; and one led by Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer consulting with outside industry to determine best practices and a way forward for the Navy.

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