Friday, May 25, 2007

Thank You For Your Service, Commander Lippold

Former Cole commander to retire today
The Virginian-Pilot
© May 24, 2007

WASHINGTON - Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, who saved his ship after a devastating attack in a faraway harbor but lost his career in a bureaucratic and political struggle at home, leaves the Navy today.

Lippold, 47, will retire in a ceremony at the Navy Memorial, a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol

He would prefer to stay in the service, he said in an interview this week, but insisted he's leaving with no bitterness toward the Navy leaders and politicians - including Sen. John Warner of Virginia - who precipitated his departure.

"That's not for me to judge," he said.

Lippold was skipper of the Norfolk-based destroyer Cole when suicide bombers in Aden, Yemen, blew a 40-foot hole in the side of his ship and killed 17 sailors in October 2000

In the days that followed, he displayed a coolness in the emergency that was widely credited with keeping the Cole afloat and preventing more deaths

But after an investigator concluded that Lippold failed to take security precautions that might have prevented the attack - a finding ultimately rejected by the Navy's top admiral and then-Defense Secretary William Cohen - Lippold's star dimmed.

In 2001, Warner, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, convened a hearing on lessons learned from the Cole attack and used the forum to complain that "despite many shortfalls in the performance of those aboard... not a single disciplinary action of any kind was taken."

A year later, with Warner serving as the committee's ranking Republican member, senators failed to act on Lippold's nomination for promotion to captain.

And in 2004, amid reports the nomination was about to be revived, Warner penned a letter asserting that Lippold had "exhibited questionable qualities of judgment, forehandedness and attention to detail."

Warner also sought an opinion on Lippold's performance from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's top military officers. They wrote back in April 2004 that Lippold was "fully suited and qualified for promotion."

Despite his questions about the nomination, Warner has insisted he never formed an opinion about Lippold's fitness.

Lippold met privately with Warner last summer to discuss the attack and his future and publicly challenged Navy leaders and the Bush administration to resubmit his nomination.

But in August, the service announced that Navy Secretary Donald Winter had concluded that Lippold's performance in the days leading to the attack "did not meet the high standards he expects of commanding officers."

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, agreed.

Lippold has held a series of desk jobs in the Pentagon since the Cole attack and devoted much of his time to giving speeches on the bombing and leadership in crisis to military audiences.

He has distilled the speech down to about an hour, he said, and intends to try a second career in public speaking, delivering it wherever he can find an audience.

With the war on terrorism far from over, "what happened is still topical," Lippold said. And more than six years after his ship was hit, he believes there are still major gaps in U.S. preparedness to deal with terrorist threats, he said.

Sir, you deserved so much better. You may not be bitter, but I am. Sen. Warner is an asshat. In this matter, I am deeply disappointed in Sec. Winter and Adm. Mullen.

I hope the future holds better things for you. Again, thank you for your service, sir.

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