On January 8th, 2005 the USS San Francisco had the biggest submarine tragedy since World War II, colliding into an undersea mountain at top speed leading to several serious injuries and one death. After 52 hours out at sea, the sub finally pulled into Guam on January 10th; however, the turmoil was far from over for Commander Kevin Mooney as he dealt with the aftermath of the tragedy.
Commander Mooney knew that how he dealt with the aftermath would have an enormous influence on the rest of his life. It forced him to assess and test his values. He held his integrity and resisted the temptation to make excuses for the incident, even though some retired crew members wanted to rally in his defense saying that it wasn’t his fault since the navy provided faulty charts, and even when the navy made him and his crew look worse than they actually were. They had worked so hard to redeem their reputation, and now the navy made it sound like this incident was a result of the ship having low standards.
Was it Commander Mooney’s fault? Yes. Were others at fault? Yes. However, he knew he held the absolute responsibility of the leader, and that as the commander he was solely responsible for the ship and the crew. When he called Petty Officer Ashley’s father he took full responsibility for the death of his son. He was 100 percent cooperative with the navy. This was all painful, but necessary.
Along with dealing with the fiasco from the media and interrogation from the navy, Commander Mooney had to deal with his internal turmoil of failure. There was embarrassment for himself and his family, having his name out there in newspapers defined by this incident. There was guilt as he wondered how many lives he impact, and that guilt lead to pain. By the time it was all said and done he impacted thousands of lives and cost the country millions of dollars. He was angry with himself and others. There was also residual trauma that not only impacted the individuals involved but highly impacted their family members as well. About 20 percent of the crew experienced PTSD, which only added to his guilt. Then there came depression, and while functioning he was definitely a different person.
While this was a defining moment in his life, this was not THE defining moment. As one door closes another one opens, and eventually he had to allow himself to be happy. To move forward Commander Mooney had to realize that he too was a victim of the tragedy, and despite being the commander, the leader, and the one that was supposed to help everyone else, he had to accept the help from family and friends. Once he was able to accept these things then he was on the road to recovery.
He was then able to nurture friendships and build a strong network around himself. He saw loyalty from shipmates that didn’t blame him and expressed their support. He had to accept the fact that he wasn’t going to be a navy officer for the rest of his life, and was able to set new goals, learn new things, and start a new career. Eventually he realized that in the end leaving the navy may have been one of the best things for him because he was able to live a beautiful life in San Diego with his family. Despite everything he didn’t lose hope and seized new opportunities in front of him. You can’t let a tragedy like this crush your ego so much that it stifles your goals and potential, because even after the job or title is taken away, all of these moments defines your life as a leader. This is the end of the story of Commander Mooney’s command of the USS San Francisco, the story of redemption and humility, but not the end of Commander Mooney’s legacy as a leader.
By Alicia Iwakiri, LAFDLA presentation of Commander Kevin Mooney