The Navy Fires Fourth Commander in Seven Days

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Replenishment-at-sea aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Preble.
Sailors handle line during a replenishment-at-sea aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Preble. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Morgan K. Nall)

The Navy has announced yet another firing of a commanding officer -- Cmdr. Peter Lesaca of the destroyer USS Preble -- in a press release Tuesday evening. Lesaca is the fourth commander to be relieved by the Navy in the last seven days.

In addition to Lesaca, the Navy announced on Saturday that it relieved the commander and top enlisted representative of the destroyer USS Bulkeley. The same day, the service also relieved the commanding officer of its boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois. Finally, the commander of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 137 was relieved on June 8.

The recent firings are a notable spike in the steady drumbeat of reliefs that the Navy uses to hold its leaders accountable for issues from personal misconduct to failings at their commands. Since May, the Navy has fired eight leaders, including the commander and executive officer of its Naval Justice School and the commander of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28. Since the start of the year, the sea service has relieved or reassigned at least 15 commanders, executive officers or command enlisted representatives.

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In all of the cases the Navy's official reason for the firing has been due to a loss of confidence to command -- a general term that obscures the actual reason for a firing. However, in some cases, the service has been willing to provide more detail.

In Lesaca's case, Navy spokesman Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson told Military.com the commander's removal came after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Another firing, that of Cmdr. Chris Brown in February, the commanding officer of Navy Talent Acquisition Group New Orleans, cited a similar reason.

USNI reported that the first relief of the year, the Jan. 6 firing of Cmdr. Jeffery Servello, commander of USS Paul Ignatius, was the result of an investigation into the ship's performance during a 2021 exercise.

However, the details are usually more scarce. In the case of the Bulkeley's leaders, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jason Fischer told Military.com that the firings came after "a formal investigation." Conversely, the Navy simply said the commander of the Navy's boot camp -- Capt. Jeffry Sandin -- was relieved without an investigation and faces no other disciplinary action.

Unlike firings last year, none of the announced reliefs in 2022 appears to stem from a violation of the Navy's COVID-19 policies. But there has been at least one commander who is absent from the service's public announcements. According to court filings, the Navy reassigned the commander of an unnamed destroyer in April after he refused the vaccine and defied Navy mitigation policies. He is currently suing the Navy over its vaccine mandate.

In most of the firings, the Navy has taken care to note that the action was not taken lightly and with care not to disrupt ongoing operations of the unit in question.

In the case of the ship commanders, they are often replaced with their executive officers or an officer from the unit that they report to until a permanent replacement is named. The Preble's commander was replaced by Capt. Larry Repass, the deputy commodore of Destroyer Squadron 23, while the Bulkeley's skipper was replaced with Capt. William "Mac" Harkin, the deputy commodore of Destroyer Squadron Two.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: The Navy Has Fired the Leadership Team at Its Lawyer School

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