NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Secretary of the Navy for seven months, Carlos Del Toro, knows his way around the world’s largest naval base in Norfolk.
The former commanding officer of the Norfolk-based USS Bulkeley returned to Hampton Roads to check on the readiness of the USS Gerald R. Ford, which has been plagued by a series of mechanical problems. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier recently completed so-called shock trials.
In a pier-side briefing with reporters at Naval Station Norfolk, Del Toro was asked if the Ford is ready to fight.
“She is absolutely ready to fight,” Del Toro said.
But just down the pier, an unnamed Navy destroyer is not ready to fight — not because of mechanical problems, but because of its unnamed commanding officer.
The Navy is in uncharted waters as the captain has upended the Navy by refusing direct orders to get the coronavirus vaccine, and even lying to his commanding officers about travel during the pandemic.
According to published reports, top brass says the ship will remain on the sidelines just as other ships are preparing to respond to the crisis in Ukraine. Under a judge’s order, the Navy cannot discipline the officer.
The unnamed captain is one of at least 60 service members who are plaintiffs in two lawsuits that challenge the Defense Department’s vaccine mandate.
Regina Mobley: “Are you prepared to fire the unnamed captain of the unnamed destroyer? “
Carlos Del Toro: “So, as I said, the case right now is with the courts and it needs to be resolved before any other decisions get made.”
The timing of the showdown is unprecedented and could not come at a worse time. Republican Congressman Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the vice ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in an interview at the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the nation is far behind in meeting the National Defense Strategy.
Regina Mobley: “Can we engage in two major operations and maintain a situation in a third location?”
Rob Wittman: “I think it would stretch us very thin. I think we could initially, but I think that to sustain those efforts… if we had to sustain a large-scale operation against a Russia and a China, that would stretch us far past what our capacity is to sustain it … but after those first 30 days, I think we would be in a very, very perilous position.”
Wittman added that assessment is something he never would have said 20 years ago.