Navy Destroyer Hopper's Commanding Officer Fired Over Morale Problems

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Cmdr. Kathryn Dawley
Cmdr. Kathryn Dawley, commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer Hopper, was removed from her position after officials say Dawley's superiors lost confidence in her ability to command. (Screengrab from Navy Facebook Live video)

The Navy fired the guided-missile destroyer Hopper's skipper on Tuesday after her leadership negatively affected the crew's morale.

Cmdr. Kathryn Dawley was relieved by Capt. Kenneth Athans, Destroyer Squadron 31's commodore, over a "loss of confidence in her leadership," Navy officials announced Wednesday. An official familiar with the circumstances said the decision was based on Dawley's overall performance in "this critical leadership billet."

"Morale of the crew played a large factor in the decision to remove her from command," the official said.

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Capt. Don Rauch, Destroyer Squadron 31's deputy commander, has assumed command temporarily until a permanent replacement is identified. Dawley, who could not be reached immediately for comment, has been reassigned to Commander Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Dawley, a prior-enlisted sailor, took command of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, which is based in Pearl Harbor, in April 2020. She was Hopper's first female commanding officer. She's also the first female officer to command a Navy ship named for a woman.

The destroyer's name honors Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, who joined the Naval Reserve in 1943 after earning her doctorate at Yale University and became a pioneer in the field of computer science. Hopper is the second Navy warship to be named for a woman who served in the ranks.

When taking command of the ship, Dawley said that "Hopper has been my dream since I commissioned."

"As a role model, Rear Adm. Grace Hopper ... embodied the qualities of a naval officer that I strive to be -- strong, confident and fearless," Dawley said in a Navy news release.

Dawley enlisted in the Navy in 1997 and earned her commission in 2003 after earning a degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. When taking command of Hopper, she told the crew of roughly 300 to be "the best version of you every day."

"The energy and spirit that each of you bring to this warship are unlike any that I have seen in my career," she said, according to a Navy release about the change-of-command ceremony. "I am honored to work for you and to be a part of this team."

She previously served on the destroyer The Sullivans, the Perry-class frigate Hawes, and the amphibious assault ship Bataan.

Dawley is Hopper's second commanding officer to be relieved in the last three years. In 2018, the ship's commanding officer was removed from his position over allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a junior sailor.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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