Morale: Zipper Control Shakes Up SSBN Community


November26, 2006: One of the things commanding officers are not supposed to do is commit adultery with the wives of subordinates. But a U.S. Navy captain was relieved of his command of Submarine Squadron 17, in Bangor, Washington, for that reason. Actually, no official reason was given other than that the navy had "lost confidence" in the officer. But all over the base, sailors were talking about the sexual escapades that apparently led to the relief. The dismissed officer was a former enlisted marine, who worked his way up to a job that would have led to admiral rank. But no more. What is called, "zipper control," has been a common cause of wrecked careers in the navy of late. Submarine Squadron 17, which was formed in 1981, controls most of the American SSBNs in the Pacific.

In the last few years, there has been a sharp increase in navy commanders being relieved. It's been running at over ten a year, up from 6-8 in the late 1990s, and a bit less than that in the 1980s. Only a small percentage of reliefs have to do with professional failings (a collision or serious accident, failing a major inspection or just continued poor performance.) Most reliefs were, and still are, for adultery, drunkenness or theft. With more women aboard warships, there have been more reliefs for, as sailors like to put it, "zipper failure." There may have been more than are indicated, as sexual misconduct is often difficult to prove, and a commander who is having zipper control problems often has other shortcomings as well. Senior commanders traditionally act prudently and relieve a commander who demonstrates a pattern of minor problems and who they now "lack confidence in."


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