Adm. William J. Crowe Jr. was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the Roberts hit the mine in April 1988. He traveled to Dubai to inspect the damage, and personally decorated several members of the frigate’s crew. He wrote this foreword to No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf in 2005, two years before he passed away.
Scores of volumes have been devoted to naval history, the bulk of them concerned with battles that pitted ships or aircraft against an enemy’s opposing units. No Higher Honor, however, is the rather more unusual story of a single vessel: the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58). The book follows this guided missile frigate — the third U.S. warship to bear the name — from its construction in Maine to a single day of terror in the Persian Gulf, where a magnificent effort by captain and crew saved the ship from disaster.
Readers of every stripe who are captivated by maritime legends of heroism and skill will find the Roberts‘ ultimate trial mesmerizing. The frigate was headed to a convoy assignment when it found itself in a field of naval mines laid by Iran. In attempting to work clear, the ship detonated a 253-pound charge and absorbed incredible damage. Saving the ship proved a Herculean task, but the skill and unbending will of all hands eventually prevailed. The story has carved a rightful place in the annals of the U.S. Navy, and stands as an inspiration to future “tin can” sailors.
This account of the struggle is riveting, but the book is a great deal more than just high adventure. It is a thoughtful endorsement of the value of preparation and training. The crew’s remarkable reaction in crisis was forged in earlier months when an intelligent and determined commanding officer vowed to make his charge the best ship in the Navy. There is an extensive description of the training program and priorities and the role they played in building confidence and morale. Interviews with crewmen help paint a picture of the sweat and tears that were shed in the process. This is what it takes to mold a wide array of skills into a coordinated whole. It is not easy to do.
The first ingredient is a captain who knows what he wants and who has the energy and conviction to bring the crew to his thinking. From the outset, Cmdr. Paul Rinn emphasized damage control, an area that is often neglected until a unit enters its theater of operations — when it is far too late for rigorous training. Normally, commanders detail the most experienced people to operations and weaponry billets, leaving damage control to relatively junior officers. Rinn chose a different course, assigning a senior lieutenant to develop a rigorous training regimen that involved the entire crew. Officers and enlisted sailors alike were rotated through a variety of specialty schools dedicated to damage control. These steps paid rich dividends when Roberts was finally tested. Of course, even the best training does not foresee all possibilities, but it can convey the knowledge necessary to meet the unexpected. The damage control preparation should be required reading for those who choose a career in the small-ship navy.
Strong and effective leadership was a hallmark of every step of Roberts‘ history. Rinn’s strong hand and personal interest appear during the frigate’s construction, the crew’s preparatory training, war-zone operations, and the fight to save the ship. From the beginning, he took the prime responsibility for the crew’s morale, its spirit, and the command’s reputation, creating a sense of pride and unity that was crucial when disaster threatened. Every officer’s training stresses leadership, and it is more than worthwhile to absorb a “real life” account that graphically illustrates its vital role. In essence, No Higher Honor is an excellent leadership textbook.
Of further interest, the book describes in some detail the difficult environment in the Persian Gulf. One moment it was placid, and the next violent — a severe test for captain and crew. Naval ships were expected to stand clear of legitimate everyday commerce, yet each skipper had to protect his command from surprise attacks. This burden required constant vigilance and a fine sense of judgement. This is bad enough in short periods of time. Over long weeks, it is exhausting and can wring a crew dry. Today, there is no alternative. Such an atmosphere is part of the new world order in which our military performs.
This story of the Roberts offers something to everyone who mans our warships. There is much to learn in its pages. Despite the trauma the ship faced, the reader can lay down the book with a buoyant spirit. The crew was essentially a crosscut of American society and I suggest that their story should touch professional and laymen alike. It affirms our pride and confidence in the caliber of individuals who man our fleet and in the U.S. Navy as an institution. On a more personal level, it allows one for a few hours to be in the company of brave men.