WASHINGTON -- Nearly two years have passed since the pre-dawn collision at sea of the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and the cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, but the reverberations are still being felt in the Navy.
Navy Secretary John H. Dalton has reversed the proposal of top Navy officers, including the chief of naval operations, Adm. Jay L. Johnson, to remove a Leyte Gulf officer from the promotion list to commander, officials said. Six months ago, Dalton was embroiled in a larger dispute over the promotion of another officer involved in the 1996 collision.
Cmdr. Jose Vazquez Jr., 37, was the executive officer of the Leyte Gulf on the night that the USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier backed into it during maneuvers off the North Carolina coast. Vazquez -- who received a letter of reprimand for dereliction of duty but was not held responsible for the collision -- received his promotion this week after Dalton's intervention.
Pentagon sources said that both Johnson and the Navy's Bureau of Personnel wanted to remove Vazquez from the list. Rear Adm. Tom Jurkowsky, the Navy's spokesman, would say only that Dalton and Johnson had a "lengthy discussion" about Vazquez. In the end, they "were in full agreement on promoting Lieutenant Commander Vazquez," Jurkowsky said.
Dalton's spokesman, Capt. Craig Quigley, said only, "Secretary Dalton's approval of that list indicates his trust and confidence in every officer."
The disagreement comes six months after Dalton and Johnson engaged in a dispute about revoking the promotion of the officer deemed most liable for the October 1996 collision because he was in command of the Roosevelt, Ronald L. Christenson, now a rear admiral. Johnson won that battle after Defense Secretary William S. Cohen sided with the CNO, declining to recommend to President Clinton that Christenson be returned to a captain's rank.
While Johnson saw the collision as a single incident in an illustrious career, others noted that Johnson, like Christenson, is an aviator and might have been looking out for a fellow flier. For his part, Dalton said Christenson "did not meet the high standards of professional competence."
Then-Captain Christenson was in his bunk when the Roosevelt suddenly reversed without warning and slammed into the Leyte Gulf some 100 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C., causing $10 million in damage to both ships but no injuries.
Some Navy officers and Pentagon officials saw a double standard in the Navy hierarchy's support for Christenson and its treatment of the two more junior surface warfare officers on the Leyte Gulf: Vazquez and the skipper, Capt. Coleman A. Landers.
All three received letters of reprimand. But both Vazquez and Landers were "removed for cause" from the Leyte Gulf after an investigation; Christenson, a 1969 Naval Academy graduate, was allowed to rotate off the Roosevelt before the investigation was complete. He is now stationed at the Pentagon in charge of the Navy's aircraft carrier programs.
After an article in The Sun last month about the dispute among top Navy officials, the Senate Armed Services Committee decided to review the Navy's decision to retain Christenson's promotion. The matter is still under review.
Vazquez, a 1982 academy graduate, was selected early for commander's rank and was groomed for command of a frigate or destroyer. But after the crash, he was suspended from both the promotion and command list when investigators found that both he and Landers could have avoided the collision.
"I'm glad the secretary of the Navy reversed the action and gave it due consideration," said Vazquez, who has a shore job in Norfolk, Va., and hopes to command a ship one day. "I'm glad that this part of the ordeal is over."
Pub Date: 4/25/98