The Bonhomme Richard Fire Will Be Felt for Years to Come
Note: This article first appeared at In Military.
By Dr. Wanda Curlee
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Military University
On July 12, 2020, a Sunday morning, the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard suffered a series of explosions and caught fire at Naval Base San Diego. The ship burned for several days at over 1,000 degrees aided by strong winds, according to Defense News.
Even though there were few sailors on board, and probably no shipyard workers, the fire could not have been more devastating to its officers and crew, and to all who have served in the Navy.
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Sailors had tears in their eyes as they watched their beloved ship burn. Many sailors, senior enlisted and some officers lost all their possessions. The Salvation Army sent a truck to help.
The Bonhomme Richard Was Often Sent on Humanitarian Missions
The Bonhomme Richard supported the U.S. Marine Corps. This type of ship has the ability to do ship-to-shore movements by helicopter and landing craft. Because of its design, it is often sent on humanitarian missions. The complement normally is 21 helicopters, including the Super Cobra, six Harrier attack aircraft, and 22 Osprey.
The Bonhomme Richard was being overhauled to carry the new F-35 fighter jets. Having one less ship with this capability hampers the Navy’s air power and the predictability of the fleet across the Pacific.
Steven Paul, a Navy counselor and career recruiter, posted the below on Facebook to describes the essence of sailors and their ships.
To those saying “Why are you upset? It’s just a ship.”
You’ll never understand what it’s like being part of a ship. You’ll never know what it’s like to give YEARS of your life to something day in and day out. You’ll never understand the bonds you create, the lessons and experiences learned and gained.
You’ll never understand the blood, sweat and literal tears we Sailors put into “just a ship.”
A lot of us spent upwards for 5 years on the ship, imagine how much you’ve done in the last 5 years at work, well multiply that by 100 and you might come close to us.
Yeah you may see Sailors complain daily about their ship, but the ship becomes part of us. So for those that are watching the BHR fade away on pier 2 saying it’s tragic, imagine wearing the “6” on your cover [military term for hat] and not being able to save it.
I feel guilty not being out there helping my brothers and sisters, it’s what they train daily for.
It isn’t “just a ship” and we don’t expect you to understand.
A ship should never catch fire. Sailors and officers go through repeated drills to put out fires. The drills are practiced and practiced until the sailors and officers work as a cohesive team and the process becomes engrained in everyone’s memory. This so important because lives are at stake and replacing a ship takes years. The Navy has now lost a ship that plays a critical function in the overall mission.
The Navy is investigating the fire. The hatches that could have contained the fire had to remain open so that the various water, electrical and other lines brought in from the dry dock could go through the hatchways.
For the uninformed to immediately say the fire was caused by lax fire safety is irresponsible. The investigation may find it was the contractors’ or the ship personnel’s fault or both. Or the investigation may not be able to definitively determine either the cause or who was at fault.
The Loss of the Bonhomme Richard Affects Navy Readiness in the Asia-Pacific Theater
The loss of the ship not only affects the sailors who have lost their home, but also the readiness of the Navy in the Asia-Pacific theater. Some ships have been repaired after extensive damage (the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain are examples) while others have not been returned to duty, the USS Miami for example.
This year $650 million was diverted from the construction of the USS America, which is similar in design to the Bonhomme Richard. This has considerably slowed construction of all naval ships. Replacing the Bonhomme Richard, in the event that it is decommissioned, will take years.
Sailors and officers will eventually be assigned to a new ship or a new base. And, with time, their grief will ease. But it goes without saying that the loss will be felt by all individuals and will certainly hamper the mission of the U.S. Navy.
Note: The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.
About the Author
Dr. Wanda Curlee is a Program Director in Business Administration at American Military University. She has over 30 years of consulting and project management experience and has worked at several Fortune 500 companies. She has a Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership, an MBA in technology management, and an M.A. and a B.A. in Spanish Studies. Dr. Curlee has published numerous articles and several books on project management. She is a Navy Veteran.
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