“Substandard” or Whistleblower


US Coast Guard photo

I don’t normally comment on CO reliefs. You can never know the full story looking in from the outside, and this is certainly the case here, but something is going on in the 13th district.

The Navy Times is reporting, Cdr. John Bitterman, commanding officer of the cutter Steadfast since July, “was fired for loss of confidence on Monday in the midst of an ongoing investigation…”

This seems to be a bit different, in that Cdr. Bitterman is claiming he is being fired not because of his performance, but because he reported the unsatisfactory condition of his ship, “… it was in such a state of disrepair — with moldy mattresses, lead contamination, bad decking —— that he asked his leadership for money to fix things up…His requests were denied…and the mix of the ship’s condition, the high operational tempo and the crew’s already rock-bottom morale led to his temporary relief.”

I have to wonder, is this going to be a trend? Steadfast is a 47 year old ship, and actually one of the newer 210s. Currently planned production of the Offshore Patrol Cutter suggest the last 210 will not be replaced until 2028 at which time it will be at least 59 years old.

Perhaps the Coast Guard will have to acknowledge, at some point, that they will have to retire ships without replacement.

13 thoughts on ““Substandard” or Whistleblower

  1. I don’t think politicians understand the extent to which the sea is a hostile environment. That even a ship secured alongside is sitting in a corrosive soup and her structure being gently stressed by even the most benign of seas. There comes a point where the poor thing is not for fit for service, Similarly changing circumstances can render a vessel redundant even if it is in mid-life, yet sea going agencies are forced to continue to use them. Personally I see a lot of merit in the build big and simple then replace at mid-life. Keeps the yards in work. Means that changes to systems can be brought in relatively quickly. Most refits here these days see the ship virtually strip to the frames anyway, might as well be a new hull. Of course with all this talk of drones and unmanned sensor platforms perhaps the day for that method has pasted. Like most jobs when you come to do it the last time you know how you should have been doing it every time.

    • If this is true – good for him. The CG leadership let ICGS decimate the fleet.In doing so they abandon the men and women who serve and the public they serve. This like the failures during the Haitian and Deepwater platform rescues and the horrendous metrics like Cutter Readiness are the tip of the iceberg.(An iceberg you can’t break because the money for an icebreaker was squander as well)

  2. It is turning into a daily embarrassment with talk of no monies to replace old ships. Incidentally, I’ve been listening to this theme since 64 when I was in the guard. Secondly, there are always reports that they (CG) will get this and that by the year 2033 or so. What a joke. Where are the leadership and their voices or are they worried of getting the ax like cmdr. Bitterman? At least he had the nerve to voice serious concerns. Get out if one is worried and go work at Walmart.

    • When I was XO on the Duane, 82-84, she wore the gold numbers of “Queen of the Fleet.” Ships that were over 40 years old were the exception, now they are the norm.

      Coast Guard aviation and small boats are in relatively good shape, but the aging of the large ship fleet is unprecedented.

    • It is a travesty that the fleet is far worse off than before Deepwater. Search for the RAND study post 9/11 to see how many of each ship class should have been replaced by now. Something ICGS was not only paid to do but was under a performance guaranty to provide. Worst of all the cost went fr $17b to over $26b. Much more $ for far less productivity. Lastly please note that the RAND study actually recommended that the baseline plan be accelerated 10 years to meet the countries needs post 9-11. We are now over 10 years behind the baseline plan. 20 years behind what was needed and recommended. Almost double the cost to be over ten years late.

      • Sometimes I think theses studies are just a way of avoiding spending money. Here in the UK take T26 as an example. We spend millions on a study to tell us what we already knew what we wanted. It is all covered up in a thick covering of clever business speak to allude to subtleties that aren’t there; both the potential builders, government, and the more career minded uniformed professionals collude to keep the pretence going. We are all aware of different organisations have different needs and different standards. But it is hard to see for example what specifics the Italian version of FREMM doesn’t have that the RN are so desperate for BAE to start from a clean sheet. I am not sure keeping the national design skills set up date is a valid argument. The worlds best cruise liner was designed by a Brit and we don’t build cruise liners here. It is hard to square how the USCG can up with Bertholf, a design so specific to their needs it will never be bettered, yet can’t come up with a design for lesser vessels. How the US Government can sell the idea of homeland security to the people yet don’t seem to want to solve many of your country’s real security needs is beyond me too.

  3. I believe the CG leadership is complicit in gross negligence. The IDS (ICGS) contract was very clear. The CG wanted to perform certain missions to a certain level. ICGS signed up to that under a performance guaranty. They not only fell far short of that and made the mission performance far worse they paid almost double for that. The CG leadership had a legal and patriotic obligation to affirm the IDS contract and to exercise the guaranty to try to hold ICGS to those requirements.

  4. Sadly I would tend to side more with the relieved CO here. I am still floored that Alert keeps trucking on, picked it up in 1994 post-MMA and it still had problems pop-up (like the 25 ton AC going out just as we left Curtis Bay meaning no AC in berthing areas for the trip around through the canal and back to Astoria). I know they went through a smaller ‘upgrade’ a few years ago but that doesn’t fix ancient Alcos and corroding hulls/tired equipment. Never would have expected this many 210s still chugging along 20 years post MMA.

    • Agree.

      What are the odds a Commander takes this risk and is wrong???? I bet there is a paper work trail from here to the moon regarding his trying to resolve this. And how many more CO’s are behind him? Of course he was removed to send a message to the rest that they better shut up.

      I salute Bitterman for having the courage to do this while on active duty. Unlike the plethora of high ranking officers who waited until after they retired to chastise Bush for the war. Political cowards every one of them.

      • BITTERMAN drew attention to problems and tried to fix them which apparently drew the ire of his superiors. He is a whistleblower, but as we have seen the past few years as well as what was done to you, whistleblowers having any sort of Coast Guard connection don’t seem to fare very well in the end. Easier for everyone to just keep their mouth shut and hope nothing goes bad on their watch.

  5. I’ve known CMD John Bitterman for several years throughout his career. I’m certain of one thing; any problems or conditions that he has been accused of existed long before he ever assumed command. His testimony is sound and I’m certain his defense is even sounder! The old saying that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” doesn’t work with the Coast Guard anymore because they can’t afford to buy the grease. Trying to fix significant problems in the Coast Guard these days aren’t expedient nor in the budget! I don’t hold his superior officer’s as accountable as I do the senior enlisted personnel and the wardroom staff stationed onboard at that time! They are the one’s who should be shouldering full responsibility for this entire situation! I’m certain they had full knowledge of the problems that existed aboard that ship before he ever assumed command! They were either directly responsible for the problems or were certainly aware of them but did nothing to correct the problems! Their behavior, prior to, and through this whole affair was shameful and despicable. While the CO was being hung out to dry they were covering their actions or doing everything they could to preserve their careers! Thank goodness I’ll never have to sail with one of them! It’s been my observation that many, if not most, of the personnel currently serving in the Coast Guard suffer from a serious lack of training, experience, leadership skills, respect and most importantly, integrity! I thought most of these standards were what the Coast Guard was originally founded upon? They seemed to be very important when I served!

  6. I reported aboard right after John took over. The morale was terrible when I arrived. In part it was due to PACAREA’s schedule for the cutter. That could have been mitigated with proper leadership. Unfortunately the entire command outside of the Engineering Officer was absolutely terrible. And John Bitterman was a terrible CO and not only that, he was an unsympathetic and bullheaded commanding officer that didn’t care about the crew at all. The lead issues he brings up, was never an issue. These ships have lead ingots. They always have. They tested everything and there was no hazard to the crew. The moldy beds…yeah we had a few moldy beds because the crew failed to keep proper airflow in the berthing (putting blankets up for privacy and stifling airflow). That was remedied when we received 30K worth of new beds from Pacarea. In fact PACAREA did everything right. John was warned and counseled numerous times by his superiors over an 8 month period. He did not change, he did not try and mitigate the damage he had done. He did not keep his OPS boss in line and he failed to hold his XO accountable for being a spineless sack. He failed to heed the Chief’s mess and ultimately it was his discriminatory treatment of two female Ensigns onboard that sealed his fate. While I commend the support for John, it is misguided in this instance. John Bitterman should never be put in command of anything again. STEADFAST went from the worst command climate in the fleet to the best when Joe Bolanos took over. the schedule still sucked, we still had lead ingots onboard, we still had the same training and LE requirements. The only thing that changed was the CO. I spent the second half of my tour enjoying one of the best commands I ever had the pleasure of serving with.

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