The Seawolf-class attack submarine Connecticut returns to port at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton in Bremerton, Wash., in April. Cmdr. Michael Varney, the Connecticut's CO, has been fired. (MC3 Timothy Aguirre / Navy)
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The commanding officer of a Seawolf-class attack submarine was fired Monday following an investigation into mishandling classified material and for lying to and obstructing the inquiry, according to a Submarine Force Pacific spokeswoman. He is the 12th CO fired this year.
Cmdr. Mike Varney, who took command of the sub in February 2009, was fired by Capt. Brian Howes, the commander of Submarine Development Squadron 5, according to SUBPAC spokeswoman Cmdr. Christy Hagen.
On Monday, Varney was relieved after receiving nonjudicial punishment at captain's mast for making a false official statement, interfering in an adverse administrative proceeding and violating a lawful general order, Hagen said.
The SUBPAC-led investigation began March 8 after a suspicion arose during a routine screening process that classified material had been mishandled, Hagen said.
Hagen said the investigation had concluded, but declined to go into any more detail.
"At this time, it'd be inappropriate for me to talk about or to disclose the details on the classified information that wasn't handled properly," Hagen said. "I will say, it's based on the investigation to date. No malicious intent was indicated. He just failed to live up to the meticulous standards we have for control of classified material."
The ship is based at Naval Base Kitsap, Wash. Varney is the first submarine commander sacked this year. Three were fired in 2010, two of them for personal misconduct.
Varney, 45, a native of Kittery Point, Maine, is a 1990 Naval Academy graduate. Varney served aboard attack subs Augusta, Key West and Topeka. Subsequently, Varney led a provincial reconstruction team in Sharnra, Afghanistan, beginning in 2006.
There, Varney earned a reputation as a capable leader. In 2006, the Navy's top officer paid tribute to him as a submarine leader in the mold of Nimitz and Rickover in a speech at a submarine birthday ball.
"It's submarine officers like Cmdr. Mike Varney, who is right now in Afghanistan commanding one of six Navy-led provisional reconstruction teams, a joint unit that is fixing roads, repairing schools and clinics, and drilling wells — and making every imaginable effort to improve the lives of the Afghan people," noted Adm. Mike Mullen, then-chief of naval operations.
During the course of his 21-year career, Varney has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, three Meritorious Service Medals and two Navy-Marine Corps Commendation medals as well as various campaign and achievement medals.
Connecticut returned April 27 from its two-month deployment as part of Ice Exercise 2011, a high-profile event visited by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and congressmen. During this exercise, the sub broke through the polar ice cap, operated below the ice and tested new equipment, including high-frequency sonar and the Deep Siren acoustic communications system.
"Science played a large part in our operations in the Arctic, especially how best to measure the environment we were in," Varney said in a Navy news story afterward.
Varney has been reassigned to the staff of Navy Region Northwest, Hagen said. Capt. Benjamin Pearson, the deputy commander of Submarine Development Squadron 5, has assumed command until a permanent replacement is named.
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