Over the past 18 months, the Navy has sacked nine commanding officers for sexual harassment or inappropriate personal relationships. Three others were fired for alcohol-related offenses, and two on unspecified charges of personal misconduct. Combined, they account for roughly half of the 29 commanding officers relieved during that period.
Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, called the increase in firings “bothersome” but said the Navy was duty-bound to uphold strict behavioral standards, even when commanders are off-duty. He attributed the rise in part to the revolution in communications and technology, which has made it easier for sailors and their families to snoop on one another and then instantly spread the word — even from once-isolated ships at sea.
“The divide between our private and professional lives is essentially gone,” Roughead said in an interview. “People can engage in the debate — does it really matter what a commanding officer does in their personal life? We believe it does, because it gets right to the issue of integrity and personal conduct and trust and the ability to enforce standards.”
Capt. Donald Hornbeck, commander of a destroyer squadron attached to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, was fired April 23 while deployed in the Arabian Sea after Navy officials said they found evidence of an “inappropriate personal relationship.” Four days later, the Navy dismissed Cmdr. Jay Wiley, the commanding officer of the USS Momsen, a destroyer, citing “misconduct,” according to a Navy statement. As a general rule, being fired as a naval commanding officer is a career-ending move that leads to retirement.
Military officials did not elaborate on the alleged transgressions. The Navy Times newspaper, citing an anonymous naval source, reported that Hornbeck was found to havehad a relationship with another officer’s wife and that Wiley’s problems involved alcohol and inappropriate behavior with a sailor under his command. Neither Hornbeck nor Wiley responded to requests for comment.
April was a particularly tough month for Navy commanders. On April 11, Cmdr. Timothy Murphy, a squadron commander at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state, was fired after he was cited by police for driving under the influence, according to a Navy statement. Two other commanders were sacked the same month for on-the-job performance woes.
None of the fired Navy commanders named in this article responded to requests for comment submitted through Navy public affairs officials.
The Navy is not the only military service dogged by poor performance in its upper ranks. The Army has relieved or disciplined three brigade commanders this year who were en route to — or returning from — war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.