Some folks had a very good 2017, but the Seventh Fleet isn’t among them. This force will be on the front lines if the Korean War restarts and it also has to manage relationships in the South China Sea, which have been shaky at best as of late. So, just how bad has their year been?
The collisions involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) that left 17 sailors dead rightly grabbed headlines. They were the catalyst for the relief of Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin and the forced retirement of Admiral Scott Swift.
However, these two bizarre, tragic collisions weren’t the only maritime incidents of 2017. The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) collided with a South Korean fishing boat on May 9. In January, the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54), a sister ship of the Lake Champlain, ran aground in Tokyo Bay.
Unfortunately, the Navy’s woes weren’t exclusive to the sea. Late last month, the crash of a C-2 Greyhound southwest of Okinawa claimed lives. Although, eight sailors were rescued, three died in the crash of the aircraft. Reports indicate that the pilot, Lieutenant Steven Combs, is under consideration for an award for his excellent airmanship during the incident, cited as the reason for any survivors at all.
The Seventh Fleet also faced reverberations from the “Fat Leonard” scandal, which had caught up a number of officers, including Vice Admiral Ted Branch, the Navy’s top intelligence officer. Branch was later cleared of criminal wrongdoing, but had served in his post without a security clearance. A number of other officers were charged and sentenced to prison for their misdeeds during the scandal.
Thankfully, for the Seventh Fleet, 2017 is almost over. Hopefully, 2018 will prove to be very different for this naval force.