The dock landing ship Gunston Hall's skipper was fired, while the ship's former XO and former top sailor were punished. Command Master Chief (SS) Wayne Owings, left, was charged with dereliction of duty, sexual harassment and simple assault. Cmdr. Fred Wilhelm was charged with sexual harassment, maltreatment of a subordinate, simple assault, conduct unbecoming an officer amd drunk and disorderly conduct. Former executive officer Cmdr. Kevin Rafferty, not pictured, was charged with dereliction of duty. (Navy)
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NORFOLK, Va. — The skipper of the dock landing ship Gunston Hall was fired Thursday, and the executive officer and command master chief were punished following an investigation into charges that ranged from sexual harassment and simple assault to drunk and disorderly conduct. All of the charges stemmed from conduct during the ship's deployment that ended in early July.
Rear Adm. Dave Thomas, commander of Naval Surface Force Atlantic, removed Cmdr. Fred Wilhelm from command of the Norfolk-based ship and reprimanded former second-in-command Cmdr. Kevin Rafferty and Command Master Chief (SS) Wayne Owings, the ship's former top sailor, during a 90-minute admiral's mast at Norfolk Naval Station, said spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Bill Urban.
Wilhelm was charged with sexual harassment, maltreatment of a subordinate, simple assault, conduct unbecoming an officer, drunk and disorderly conduct and use of indecent language, Urban said. Rafferty was charged with dereliction of duty, while Owings was charged with dereliction of duty, sexual harassment and simple assault. Rafferty and Owens had been relieved on schedule while the investigation was taking place.
All of the incidents took place during the first half of 2010, which the ship spent on deployment to Haiti and Africa, Urban said. He said there were "multiple victims."
Thomas meted out severe administrative punishments. All three men received punitive letters of reprimand — near-certain career-killers for personnel of such rank and stature — while Wilhelm will forfeit one month's pay for two months, Owings a total of a half-month's pay, Urban said.
Taking Wilhelm's place is Capt. Mark Scovill, recently the deputy commander of Amphibious Squadron 8. Urban said Scovill was hand-picked for the top job aboard Gunston Hall for what Urban called his "experience, reputation and documented leadership talent." Scovill has reported on board, Urban said, and will serve until a scheduled relief arrives in December.
Wilhelm is the 11th skipper fired so far in 2010; six of those 11 were ship commanders. Fifteen were fired in all of 2009, according to Navy and Navy Times records. Since 2000, 143 Navy skippers have been relieved for cause — or, from 2000 through last year, an average of 13.2 firings per year. The highest annual total over that time span, 26 firings, was recorded in 2003.
Wilhelm commanded Gunston Hall during its unexpected deployment last winter to Haiti, where it supported multinational relief operations that followed the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. The ship had been scheduled to set sail Jan. 15 from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story for the west coast of Africa to take part in Africa Partnership Station training with local navies aimed at improving maritime safety and security.
After spending three weeks off Haiti, the ship sailed east to take on its original mission, a 5½-month solo deployment that took its crew to Ghana, Togo and Nigeria.
"I'm really fortunate to have this crew, because my crew rocks," the Navy quoted Wilhelm as saying after returning to Norfolk. "If you look at the dedication and initiative they have, to work sometimes 20 hour days without complaints, I couldn't be more proud."
Wilhelm is a 1991 graduate of Virginia Military Institute.