Bryce Benson, the commander of the USS Fitzgerald, is a Wisconsin native who was injured in the collision between the Navy destroyer and a Philippine merchant vessel.
On July 11, the U.S. Navy announced that Benson was being temporarily relieved of his duties for medical reasons.
“A number of Sailors’ bodies that were missing from the collision between USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and a merchant ship have been found,” the US 7th Fleet said in a news release on June 17, without specifying the number. However, CNN reported that all seven missing sailors’ bodies were found.
The Navy identified the soldiers who died on June 18. They are: Dakota Kyle Rigsby. Shingo Alexander Douglass. Ngoc T Truong Huynh. Noe Hernandez. Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan. Xavier Alec Martin. Gary Leo Rehm Jr. You can read more about each of them here.
The cause of the collision has not yet been released. However, investigators are interviewing the crew of the ACX Crystal, and “Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said the ACX Crystal had made a sharp turn shortly before the collision,” reported The Guardian. However, the company says the collision occurred early than the Navy claims, which would mean the ship turned after the collision, not before it, and may have been operating on autopilot.
As the commander of the ship, and a relatively new one at that, Benson has found himself suddenly thrust into the public eye.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Commander Was Injured on the Ship & Was Described as ‘Lucky to Be Alive’
Benson was among those injured in the collision with the ACX Crystal container ship, which occurred about 56 nautical miles of Yokosuka, Japan. However, it appears he will be OK. Still, it was a close call.
Benson “was asleep when the accident happened and his cabin was destroyed by the impact at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday,” reported UK Daily Mail, quoting Vice Adm Joseph Aucoin as saying Benson is “lucky to be alive.”
Cmdr. Bryce Benson, Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, “was injured in the collision and “transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka and is reportedly in stable condition,” according to a press statement by the U.S. 7th Fleet.
Benson’s living quarters were destroyed, reported Stars and Stripes, which added that the Navy has declined to reveal details about his current medical condition, due to privacy laws.
In addition to the captain and those missing, two sailors suffered injuries. “2 Sailors in addition to Cmdr. Benson have been medevac’d from FITZ to USNH-Yokosuka for lacerations & bruises,” reported the U.S. 7th Fleet.
Most concerning, of course: Those who are missing. However, tragically, their bodies were found in a damaged area of the ship on June 17.
2. Benson Was Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin & Received a Bachelor’s Degree in History From Marquette University
Benson’s Naval career began in Wisconsin through the Navy’s ROTC program.
“A native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, CDR Bryce Benson graduated from Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1999 and earned his commission through the Naval ROTC program,” the US 7th Fleet wrote in a biography of Benson.
On LinkedIn, Benson wrote that he graduated from Marquette, a Jesuit university in Milwaukee, in 1999 with a degree in history. Under activities while in college, he wrote that he participated in Naval ROTC and Les Aspin School for Student Government.
He’s listed under the Marquette University Navy duty station from 1999 through 2007.
3. Seven Sailors Were Killed in the Collision, Which Damaged the Ship
The Navy has confirmed that seven sailors were reported missing after the collision. The missing sailors’ identities had not yet been released. Dive teams helped recover some of the bodies, according to the Navy. They were inside a damaged area of the ship.
“Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the Sailors,” said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, before the bodies were found. “We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance.”
Sadly, the sailors were then discovered deceased by dive teams.
“As search and rescue crews gained access to the spaces that were damaged during the collision this morning, the missing Sailors were located in the flooded berthing compartments. They are currently being transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka where they will be identified,” the US 7th Fleet reported on June 17.
“The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time. The names of the Sailors will be released after all notifications are made.”
The United States was working with the Japanese forces to stabilize the ship and find the missing seamen.
“U.S. and Japanese support from the Navy, Maritime Self Defense Force and Coast Guard are in the area to ensure that the Sailors on USS Fitzgerald have the resources they need to stabilize their ship. As more information is learned, we will be sure to share to it with the Fitzgerald families and when appropriate the public. Thank you for your well wishes and messages of concern. All of our thoughts and prayers are with the Fitzgerald crew and their families,” said Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations.
The ship suffered “damage on starboard side above & below waterline. Some flooding,” reported the Navy, but it was later running on its own power.
4. Benson Took Charge of the USS Fitzgerald Recently & Called His Sailors the ‘Best Crew on the Waterfront’
A US Navy press release says that “Cmdr. Bryce Benson relieved Cmdr. Robert Shu as the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) during a change of command ceremony onboard U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo, May 13.” The photo with the release is dated May 2017, although the press release itself is dated 2016. However, another release by the Navy says that Shu commanded USS Fitzgerald through May 2017.
“It is coincidental that change of command will not be in our homeport of Yokosuka and instead in Sasebo. Both myself and Cmdr. Benson formally had commands in Sasebo on mine sweepers,” said Shu.
“I look forward to being with my Fitzgerald family in support of future missions and exercises. This is the best ship and the best crew on the waterfront, hands down!” said Benson, according to the release. “I am proud to work alongside the Navy’s best and brightest men and women who protect and support the Pacific region and our allies.”
According to his LinkedIn page, Benson’s education didn’t stop with Marquette. He received a master’s degree from George Washington University in organizational management in 2005 and participated in the Navy’s Washington DC internship program.
Benson also attended National Defense University Joint Forces College where he studied warfighting and received a professional military education.
CDR Benson’s initial sea tours were on the pre-commissioned ship USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) and USS Kauffman (FFG 59) “where he deployed to the 5th Fleet in support of Operation Enduring Freedom,” the Navy says.
“In 2006, he was assigned as the Weapons Officer on USS FORREST SHERMAN (DDG 98) and participated in the maiden deployment to the 6th Fleet Area of Operations. In 2007, CDR Benson screened for the early command program and subsequently served as the Executive Officer then as Commanding Officer of USS GUARDIAN (MCM 5), forward deployed from Sasebo Japan, 2008-2010,” according to the Navy.
Ashore, reported the Navy, Benson was selected for the Navy’s Washington D.C. Internship Program “where he earned a Master’s degree in Organizational Management from The George Washington University and served internships on the Navy Staff, Joint Staff, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In 2010, CDR Benson was assigned to the Navy Personnel Command, Surface Warfare Distribution (PERS 41) as the Placement Coordinator for Amphibious and Mine Warfare Forces. In 2013, he reported to the U.S. Pacific Command where he served as the Executive Assistant to the Director for Operations (J3) and as an Integrated Air and Missile Defense Staff Officer (J36).”
In November 2015, Benson “reported as the Executive Officer of USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) forward deployed from Yokosuka, Japan as part of the Surface Navy’s Command Fleet Up program,” the Navy said.
5. The Cause Is Not Clear but the ACX Crystal’s Crew Is Being Questioned by Investigators
The Japanese Coast Guard was searching for the sailors as is the damaged ship, according to the US 7th Fleet. The ACX container ship is a larger vessel than the USS Fitzgerald. The Navy wrote that it would “join Japanese helicopters, ships and aircraft to render assistance.”
No officials have given any indication that the collision could be terrorism related or intentional. However, the reason the collision occurred has not yet been released. However, UK Daily Mail reported that one expert says the ACX Crystal might have been operating on autopilot, and the company says the collision happened earlier than the Navy does, which means a turn seen on marine tracking sites may mean the ship turned around after the collision to see what happened.
“Although Fitzgerald is under her own power, USS Dewey (DDG 105) got underway this morning as well as several U.S. Navy aircraft, and will join Japanese Coast Guard and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopters, ships and aircraft to render whatever assistance may be required,” the US 7th Fleet said in a statement.
However, the Guardian reported that “Japan’s coastguard and the US navy plan to question crew members from the ACX Crystal, and could treat the collision as a possible case of endangerment of traffic caused by professional negligence, Kyodo news said.”
The ACX Crystal was berthed “at Tokyo’s Oi wharf, where its crew was questioned by investigators,” reported The Guardian.