Raising McCAIN: Challenges and Opportunities in Returning a “Mishap Ship” to Warfighting Readiness

Sandwiches will be served at 12.40.

On 21 August 2017, the U.S. Navy warship USS JOHN S. McCAIN suffered a collision in the Singapore strait that killed ten sailors, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and took the destroyer out of service for three years. This was the second fatal collision involving a U.S. Navy ship that summer, and it sparked a large-scale reevaluation of readiness throughout the Navy, particularly in the surface force. Against this background of institutional introspection and debate, the officers and crew of USS JOHN S. McCAIN laboured to rebuild their ship, mourn their losses, address their trauma, and reassemble a team to take the ship back to sea and “back into the fight.”

Joining the ship’s company in late 2017, Captain Ryan Easterday served as Executive Officer and then Commanding Officer of USS JOHN S. McCAIN until February 2021. In these roles he was deeply involved in restoring “Big Bad John” (as the ship is colloquially known by its crew) from a “mishap ship” back to full warfighting readiness. He will discuss his experiences of the challenges and opportunities involved in repairing and remanning the ship, addressing collective trauma, preparing the crew for the rigors of deployment, and finally taking ship and crew back out on operations throughout the Indo-Pacific.

Biography: As a junior officer, he participated in humanitarian relief operations in Indonesia following the 2004 South Asian tsunami, and counter-terrorism operations in the Philippines, as well as blue water operations throughout the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf.

While commanding USS SIROCCO (PC 6) he conducted the first homeport shift of a Patrol Coastal crew from the United States to the Kingdom of Bahrain. As executive officer and later as commanding officer of USS JOHN S. McCAIN (DDG 56) from 2018 to 2021, he spent three years returning the ship to full warfighting readiness in the aftermath of a tragic collision at sea, culminating in a highly successful deployment that saw the ship operating throughout the Indo-Pacific, from Vishakhapatnam to Vladivostok and (nearly) everywhere in between.

As the Director of the USS RONALD REAGAN Strike Group’s Maritime Operations Center, he deployed in support of the Afghan withdrawal and Kabul evacuation, as well as operations in the Indo-Pacific– including multiple at-sea engagements with the HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH Carrier Strike Group. Ashore, he has been stationed in the UK and in Germany, supporting multinational naval operations in the North Atlantic and special operations forces in North and West Africa.

Ryan holds a BS in History from the United States Naval Academy and an MA in Defence Studies from Kings College London, which he earned while attending the United Kingdom’s Joint Services Command and Staff College. His research interests are varied and include ethics, organizational behavior, deterrence, nuclear strategy, risk assessment and management, the impact of climate change on security, and civilizational resilience.