Rear Adm. Chuck Gaouette receives honors from side boys as he takes command of Carrier Strike Group 3 in April 2012. Gaouette was fired mid-patrol in October. (MC3 Kenneth Abbate / Navy)
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The Navy reprimanded a former strike group commander March 25, five months after he was fired for swearing and allegedly making racially tinged comments that resulted in his being flown off an aircraft carrier deployed to the Arabian Gulf.
Rear Adm. Chuck Gaouette, the former John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group commander relieved in October, was disciplined by Adm. John Richardson, the director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, a Navy official said.
Richardson cleared Gaouette of Uniform Code of Military Justice charges but issued him a nonpunitive letter of caution and ordered that a copy of the investigation be put in the one-star’s service record — effectively ending his career.
“I accept full responsibility,” Gaouette said in a brief phone interview late last month, amid meetings in Washington that will determine his fate. “I own this. You know, O-W-N.”
Gaouette was the lone admiral of the 25 commanders fired last year and the first deployed strike group CO removed in nine years, a high-profile case that prompted rampant speculation inside the lifelines and out. The relief turned on comments Gaouette made on deployment, including at a skit show, according to The New York Times, which first reported on Gaouette’s mast and depicted a deployed strike group beset by score-settling.
At one point on the cruise, aviators mocked Gaouette in a “Fo’c’sle Follies” skit intended to lighten the mood. The one-star replied by swearing at them.
Despite the case’s high profile and the account in The New York Times, the reasons the Navy fired a deployed strike group commander remain opaque, at best. It is unclear what racially insensitive words Gaouette allegedly used. When asked, Gaouette deferred to the Navy, whose officials declined to disclose them until the IG report is closed.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy’s top spokesman, declined to comment on Gaouette’s censure before the report and reprimand have been reviewed by the chain of command.
The New York Times article portrays a deployed strike group where clashing egos and ship-driving approaches reportedly prompted the aircraft carrier’s skipper, Capt. Ronald Reis, to file the IG complaint. It is unclear whether the mistakes Gaouette admitted to were those Reis reported or were subsequently uncovered by the investigators flown out to assess it.
Reis, who is deployed and commands the Stennis, declined to comment through a spokesman.
Reis reportedly complained after an incident when Gaouette ordered him to slow down while the ship drove through the busy Strait of Malacca at speeds upward of 20 knots. Five current and former officers in the carrier strike group told The New York Times that this driving was typical of Reis, an experienced EA-6B pilot, who had a reputation for eyeballing it. One of these anonymous sources said Reis had a tendency “to fly the ship.”
A source close to Reis, however, said it was Gaouette’s unprofessional demeanor, not this one incident, that led him to report his boss to the IG. The Navy official requested anonymity because the report has not been made public.
The reprimand will almost certainly end Gaouette’s career. Over 31 years of service, he commanded the destroyer Oldendorff and earned the Navy’s most prestigious leadership award, the Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership. But the report determined that Gaouette, as the strike group leader, had fallen short of the exemplary conduct the Navy expects of its flag officers.
The Stennis CSG is set to return home this spring under its new commander.