Submarine crews are so tight-knit that they’re considered a family — part of what made the revelations of illicit filming on the ballistic missile sub Wyoming so troubling.
The filming wasn’t a one-off or a prank. It was a sophisticated and repeated invasion of privacy, where male Wyoming sailors acted as lookouts while a friend filmed female shipmates undressing with cellphones or an iPod Touch — both of which are banned aboard the sub.
One sailor admitted that he and a male peer rushed to secretly record each female midshipman while she was in the shower changing room. They filmed every woman each time she took a shower during the three-month patrol, he said — several times a day, according to a new report.
Peer pressure allowed this ring to persist for 10 months on the Wyoming, recording and sharing videos of dozens of women they served alongside every day. The new details into the case, which the top submarine commander called a “breach of trust,” come in a new command investigation, obtained by Navy Times via the Freedom of Information Act.
The scandal has dismayed the sub force and some of the trailblazing officers who made history as the first women submariners. One officer, among the first to earn her dolphins in 2012, told Navy Times she couldn’t believe her peers had been betrayed that way.
“The thing with the Wyoming is, to me that was such a shocking event,” said Lt. Jennifer Carroll, who served aboard the ballistic missile sub Maine and was never recorded by the Wyoming ring. “It was completely 180-degrees out from what my experience was. I couldn’t really even fathom that one of our guys [would] do that to me.”
The report provides new details on how the ring allegedly filmed women with cellphones through a hole and then shared them without detection for months. Investigators with Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Kings Bay, Ga.-based Submarine Squadron 20 interviewed more than 300 people and included statements from the 12 original suspects.
The interviews paint a picture of a few sailors eager to spy on off-limits young women and nearly a dozen who failed to report them for fear of breaching ties to their shipmates.
Of the 12 sailors who had known about the videos — filmed, distributed, watched or heard about them — eight were court-martialed (one was acquitted), three went to captain’s mast, and one was released with no charges.
“The abhorrent behavior of this small number of personnel is not indicative of the superior sailors that comprise these crews and the submarine force,” wrote Capt. William Houston, head of Submarine Squadron 20, in his endorsement letter to the report.
Carroll, among the first women to join the sub force, said that she felt like a sister to her male shipmates on the Maine, and couldn’t picture any of them betraying her trust.
“Most of the men in the submarine force reacted very, very strongly to that,” she said. “I actually think that we got a stronger reaction in the submarine force than we would have in the other communities.”
The filming had gone on for nearly a year, investigators would come to learn, with videos of up to four of the women assigned to the boat as well as midshipmen on cruise during two patrols with Wyoming, from August to November 2013 and March to June 2014. Three sailors filmed the women and distributed the short recordings; two admitted their guilt and one was implicated by another sailor.
The videos and images were recorded on two cellphones and one iPod Touch that were taken into outboard frame bays or unmanned spaces, according to the report, where “these areas provided the perpetrators a limited viewing area of the bathrooms/heads via piping penetrating air gaps in the bulkheads.”
The submarine force allows commanding officers to determine what types of devices are allowed on board, and when or where sailors can use them.
The commander of the Wyoming Gold crew of about 160 sailors banned all devices with screens smaller than 7 inches from secret spaces like control and engineering rooms. That move effectively prohibited all cellphones and iPods.
NCIS recovered seven videos of women assigned to Wyoming. Everything else had been deleted, including videos of female midshipmen on cruise with Wyoming.
Redacted lists of ship riders from the 2014 cruise, included in the investigation, show more than 130 names, but don’t specify genders of the Naval Academy students.
The recording ring continued until November 2014, when rumors about the videos spread to another submarine. An electronics technician 3rd class from the ballistic missile submarine West Virginia in Kings Bay, told his chief of the boat he had heard about the lewd videos on Wyoming, based nearby. That prompted the investigation.
Houston, the squadron boss, recommended seven sailors for Article 32, one for non-judicial punishment, a command transfer for the exonerated MT1 and that two other sailors’ cases be forwarded to their new skippers at Trident Training Facility Kings Bay and the ballistic missile sub Michigan in Bangor, Wash.
In the end, 10 sailors faced punishment, ranging from dishonorable discharge and prison time to reduction in rank and pay forfeiture at captain’s mast.
“This was a deliberate criminal activity taken by a handful of sailors and I find no indication that the leadership environment of either command was culpable in creating an environment that contributed to this insidious incident,” Houston wrote.
Houston, however, ordered both Wyoming crews to carry out a command-climate survey and submarine-culture workshop in early 2015.
Submarine sailors are still grappling with the sense of betrayal as more details emerged during courts-martial in 2015. Some women feel reluctant to continue serving alongside crewmembers who might have seen the videos. But others are hopeful that, with the surveys and prosecutions, the sub force has turned a page.
“I really do think the submarine community is special; members of your crew become like family,” Carroll said. “In my experience relationships with members of my crew were founded on trust and mutual respect. This event contradicted what I thought was a universal sense of camaraderie among submariners.”
Now on shore duty, Carroll is a coordinator at Submarine Force Atlantic’s women submarine’s program. She’s optimistic, she said, that the undersea force is on the right path as it works toward its next goal: when enlisted women report to the guided-missile submarine Michigan in 2016.