Not often do the actions of a mere handful of U.S. service members — on or off the field of battle — so profoundly reflect on U.S. national prestige, American diplomacy, and the reputation of the American armed forces, writ large.  When they do, one hopes it is in a positive way, through an extreme act of heroism on the battlefield, or through some noble action in a humanitarian crisis.  One prefers to think of those who adhered to their training, and acted in upholding the honor of their service and country, in thinking about such events — men like John McCain, or Mike Thornton, or Chesty Puller.

What Americans should rightly loath to see is the opposite phenomenon, when service members act foolishly, abandon their training, and ignore the rules and ethics that guide the behavior of all U.S. service members.  Men like Bowe Bergdahl and Edward Snowden come to mind in this case.

Now it appears that more names will be added to the negative side of that ledger: the crew members of the U.S. Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron Three, who navigated into Iranian territorial waters in January of 2016, and allowed themselves to be taken into custody by the Iranian military, in an embarrassing and cowardly fashion.

According to reports in both the Navy Times and USA Today on June 30th, the U.S. Navy has concluded its investigation into the January detention of the two U.S. riverine boats by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).  The reports are damning and frankly, embarrassing.  The boat crews and their chain of command demonstrated poor judgment and miserable operational planning.  The crews of the two boats also demonstrated a complete lack of adherence to the Code of Conduct for members of the U.S. armed forces.

According to the Navy Times report, the poor judgment kicked in from the start of the boats’ seemingly simple planned transit from Kuwait to Bahrain.  The crews “did not brief or even plan their route from Kuwait to Bahrain,” and decided to take a shortcut en route — one that took them directly through Iranian waters, and near an IRGC base.

And then one of their improperly maintained boats broke down.

Furthermore, the tactical operations center which was supposed to track the boats’ locations throughout the transit failed to do so.  In addition, the command within the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet,  which exercised operational control over the boats, should never have tasked them to make the transit in the first place.

The whole episode reeks of incompetence.