Yes, I am talking about Navy Captain Holly Graf. A couple days ago Capt. Graf lost command of her ship, the USS COWPENS. The Navy officially says only that she was fired because of "cruelty," "conduct unbecoming an officer," and “temperament and demeanor vis-a-vis her subordinates."
Hmmmm. Apparently this is the same Captain Graf who reportedly mowed down a whale on the high seas, and who seriously offended an Australian official during a port call. Captain Graf also was known for her skills at coffee-cup-hurtling but not seamanship. A boat-load of people who say they served under or knew the Naval Academy graduate have posted an eye popping stream of comments over at The Real Navy blog, and a rash of real zingers on this post (see below). One commenter says the Captain got the heave-ho after physically throttling a junior officer (i.e., wrapping her hands around his neck and squeezing - which, I am told, is an unpleasant experience for the throttlee).
Obviously, Graf had to go. The larger question, though, stems from assertions that Graf did not become an incompetent jerk overnight. She was like that all along. How, then, did she rise through the ranks? How did she merit command of a ship? If I had to guess, I'd say it was for the same reasons Maj. Nidal Hassan remained on duty as an Army psychiatrist when all indications were that he needed a psychiatrist. Apparently, the services are conditioned to "play fair," even when that means putting the mission, the force, and ultimately the nation at risk.
And now for the answer to the pop quiz. Sorry, folks, but this was a trick question. The absolute answer is, YES: In order to command a military unit, you must be a good leader. The trick part, though, is that the realities of leadership are not often based on absolute truth. They sometimes are based on contrived truth. For example, an incompetent officer can receive good fitness reports from superior officers who are either too cowed or too self-serving to give an honest report. So the functional answer is, NO: In order to command a military unit, you do not have to be a good leader.
I hate to be the bearer of such bad news. But there you have it. At least Holly Graf was fired before anyone was injured under her command. Go, Navy!
** UPDATE **
Many thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments and insights. Keep 'em coming! A new post has been put up on 8 July 2010 with an update on the Holly situation.