Adultery, alcohol abuse and inappropriate relationships with subordinates as well as major mishaps were among the reasons the Navy has relieved at least 80 commanding officers since 1999, according to a survey by the Navy inspector general.
The number of officers who lost their commands is only a small portion of the 1,291 command jobs in the service. An officer typically will stay in a command post for a little more than two years.
Navy officials pointed to the report, which was released Wednesday, as evidence the service will not tolerate poor performance or personal misbehavior. Many of the officers were ship and submarine captains, aircraft squadron commanders or shore post chiefs. Those included in the Navy report held a rank as low as lieutenant and as high as captain.
“The behavior of the commanding officer has to be proper,” Adm. John Nathman, the vice chief of naval operations and the service’s No. 2 officer, told reporters.
According to Navy officials, early reliefs peaked in 2003, with 26, and dropped off somewhat this year, with 14. Since 1999, about 27 of those removed from command lost their jobs — in what is termed “early relief” by the Navy — over personal behavior issues.
“Many of the early reliefs in this study resulted from poor judgment on the part of COs who should have known better,” the report says. “In nearly every case, the officers relieved for personal behavior clearly knew the rules. In some cases, they had been specifically counseled, but ultimately chose to violate the regulation.”
A number of those with behavior problems held the rank of captain, which the report called “particularly troubling” because of their seniority. A Navy captain is equivalent to a colonel in the ground services like the Army and Marines.
Root of the problem unclear
“Command is difficult, often lonely, and a CO without family, peer COs, or close friends nearby is potentially more vulnerable to abusing alcohol or developing an inappropriate relationship,” it says. “We believe that a few of the personal misconduct cases might have been averted had that CO had a viable support system nearby.”
However, the root of the problem is unclear, the report said.
“We could not conclusively determine whether the significant rise in reliefs from adultery and alcohol-related incidents was due to a recent increase in such behavior, or rather, from a growing intolerance for such behavior in COs,” the report said.
About one-third of the officers who lost their commands were relieved because of a major mishap — such as colliding with another vessel or grounding a ship, the death of a crew member or an aircraft accident.
A smaller portion lost command because they abused their authority or created a hostile work environment. Still others were punished for simply doing their job poorly.
The captain of the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy was relieved earlier this year for colliding with a wooden boat in the Persian Gulf. Another Kennedy captain had previously lost his job for having his ship in a poor state of readiness.
Navy officials said they found no connection between the high pace of operations since the Sept. 11 attacks and these command issues.
The report recommends some changes to the officer training and review process. Nathman said many of those changes would be implemented.
In a separate incident, the Air Force’s recently dismissed top military lawyer was reprimanded further Wednesday and ordered to forfeit some of his pay for carrying on inappropriate relationships and committing other violations of the military code.
Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Fiscus was cited for conduct unbecoming an officer, fraternization, obstruction of justice and violating a lawful general regulation, the Air Force said in a statement. He was punished outside of the court-martial process.
An Air Force official who would speak only on condition of anonymity said an investigation determined Fiscus conducted this series of relationships, some of which were sexual, with women over several years. Some involved subordinates, leading to the fraternization charge, the official said.