Cmdr. Joseph R. Darlak, left, and Cmdr. Ivan Jimenez were relieved of duty on Friday. ()
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SAN DIEGO — The commanding officer of the frigate Vandegrift was fired and three key officers were removed from the ship after an investigation found drunken behavior and inappropriate misconduct during a September port visit in Russia, the Navy announced late Friday.
Cmdr. Joseph R. Darlak, who has commanded the San Diego-based frigate since July 27, was relieved of command Friday by Capt. John L. Schultz "due to a loss of confidence after displaying poor leadership and failure to ensure the conduct of his wardroom officers" while visiting the Russian port of Vladivostok, said Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, a Naval Surface Force-Pacific spokeswoman in Coronado, Calif.
Schultz, who commands Destroyer Squadron 15, also fired the ship's executive officer, Cmdr. Ivan Jimenez, and he also detached the ship's operations officer and chief engineer "for personal conduct and use of alcohol," Reese said.
"The actions were taken after an investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct by these officers," she said. "Inappropriate behavior and judgment in positions of authority are unacceptable."
Under policy, the Navy names only commanders, executive officers or command master chiefs in administrative actions because they hold a public command position, so the names of the operations officer and chief engineer were not released.
The reliefs came after the Vandegrift pulled into Guam for a port visit, Reese said. Darlak, Jimenez and the other two officers were being temporarily reassigned to DESRON 23 in San Diego "pending potential administrative actions," she said.
Capt. H. Thomas Workman, deputy commander of Destroyer Squadron 23 who previously commanded the frigate Curts, assumed command and will bring the ship back to San Diego later this month, Reese said. Meanwhile, Lt. Cmdr. Stephen J. Henz will become the ship's executive officer, she said, and two officers were scheduled to arrive in Guam and assume duties as the operations officer and chief engineer, which are department head positions.
The frigate left San Diego on May 1 for a seven-month deployment to the western Pacific and pulled into Vladivostok on Sept. 20 for a three-day visit. The city is the homeport of Russia's Pacific Fleet.
On arrival, Darlak and the crew were welcomed with an offering of bread and salt, a Russian tradition when welcoming a visitor. A Navy photo captured the moment. "We are pleased to have the opportunity to visit Vladivostok and experience all the city has to offer," Darlak said in a Sept. 20 posting on 7th Fleet's Facebook official page. "Our sailors are especially looking forward to visiting a different land and making new friends."
During the visit, Vandegrift sailors visited a local children's rehabilitation center, where they brought puzzles, toys and balloons, according to a news release by the U.S. consulate in Vladivostok. Sailors hosted children the following day in a tour of the frigate, where they dined on cake and snacks.
But some officers got out of hand while in Vladivostok.
The investigation, which is completed but not yet adjudicated, found misconduct happened during that port visit, "including some officers being drunk, disorderly and not adhering to established liberty policies," Reese said.
Darlak, a 1990 Naval Academy graduate, had commanded the Mine Warfare Training Center in Ingleside, Texas, from April 2009 to June 2011, a period when the center shifted to San Diego, according to his official biography. He served as executive officer of the destroyer Stethem.
Jimenez, commissioned in 1997, was executive officer and commander of transport dock Dubuque and oversaw the ship's decommissioning in San Diego in June 2011.
The mass firing marks a black spot for a crew nearing the end of its cruise. It is the fleet's first mass firing stemming from a liberty port visit since March 2011,when the commander, command master chief and eight other members of the Norfolk, Va.-based destroyer Stout were removed from the ship for unprofessional behavior and misconduct.
Staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Question from NavyTimes.com reader">Sam Fellman contributed to this report.