CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT - Commanding officer Lt. Matthew Hobbie and at least three other of the top-ranking officers at Station Cape Disappointment were removed from their posts by U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. John Currier, June 17. The information came to light July 30 only after an inquiry by the Chinook Observer.
The stated reason for their removal to "general staff" positions at other USCG stations, including Group Astoria, was "loss of confidence in those in charge to provide appropriate and adequate leadership of the motor lifeboat station at Cape Disappointment."
Currier, who has since been replaced as commander of the Thirteenth District in Seattle by Rear Adm. Gary Blore, stated, "The role of commanding officer of every Coast Guard unit is a serious responsibility never to be taken lightly. It is imperative that leadership at our operational units ensure a high-level of readiness. Crews from (Cape D) are routinely tasked with high-risk missions. The ability of each of the crew to be completely focused, supported and led is critical to safe and effective mission accomplishment."
The investigation leading to the removal of all of the highest-ranking officers at Cape D is "ongoing," according to Lt. C.R. Bronson, public affairs officer in Seattle Monday, and was begun about a year and a half ago. "The officers and personnel at Cape Disappointment are held in the highest of standards because of the location at the mouth of the Columbia River."
Performance evaluations by several experienced senior USCG officials, some of whom served at Cape D in the past, led to the recommendation for removal. "In no way was the behavior of any of the officers removed unbecoming to the service and there certainly was nothing criminal-based in the investigation," Bronson explained. "The decision for removal was not made on any one individual's conduct. The material condition of the unit was not up to standard. The mouth of the Columbia is a very dangerous area and (the Cape D leadership) just wasn't cutting it."
Bronson said, "A new (leadership) crew has been put in place at Cape Disappointment to get the station on the right track and to better serve the maritime community in the area." Interim commander is Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Leavitt, formerly of the USCG station in Tillamook. "It is the feeling of the Coast Guard that Mr. Leavitt will help get the unit (at Cape D) back on track."
Bronson related, "The manuals are clear in holding officers accountable and it was a case of those standards not being met. It is possible some or all of those removed may return to their previous positions."
He pointed out that there is no timeline on when permanent leadership at Cape Disappointment will be put in place, but he was quick to point out that the station is in competent hands and that the local maritime community is not in jeopardy.
"The removal of the officers did not occur in a vacuum and it was not a knee-jerk response from one person over one situation. Deliberations on what will happen with leadership at Cape Disappointment are on-going in Washington, D.C." He implied that those involved had opportunities to improve their performances.
Bronson concluded, "There is often no margin for error with search and rescue missions at the mouth of the Columbia River and Cape Disappointment is a multi-mission station with many other enforcement duties as well. The Coast Guard wants to serve the maritime community in the best way possible with the best trained and best qualified personnel. That is our goal."
The National Motor Lifeboat School has not had any personnel removed and Commander Mike Russell is still in charge of the unit that is separate from Station Cape Disappointment, although the school shares many of the facilities and is in close proximity with Station Cape D.
Hobbie was given command of Cape D in June 2007. He joined the Coast Guard in 2000 and served on the cutter Sassafras in Guam, then successfully completed Officer Candidate School, and was deputy group commander at Group Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, home to multiple surf stations. There, he helped lead response efforts after Hurricane Isabel, the deadliest in the 2003 Atlantic season. Lt. Hobbie later volunteered with USCG post-Hurricane Katrina efforts while stationed with the District 14 Command Center in Honolulu, his last assignment before coming to Cape D.