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6th Fleet command ship firing remains a mystery

Oct. 26, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Capt. Ted Williams was relieved of command of the amphibious command ship Mount Whitney in November 2012.
Capt. Ted Williams was relieved of command of the amphibious command ship Mount Whitney in November 2012. (Navy)
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A heavily redacted investigative report on the Nov. 19, 2012, firing of Capt. Ted Williams from the amphibious command ship Mount Whitney sheds little light on what sank the officer’s career.

Navy Times has filed an appeal with the Navy’s Judge Advocate General to get more details about the conduct that led Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe, the 6th Fleet commander, to fire the CO of his fleet’s flagship.

The skipper, a highly regarded Prowler pilot who took command of Mount Whitney in 2011, was removed from command due to an investigation into alleged mis­conduct.

The Naples, Italy-based headquarters disclosed this in a news release last Nov. 12.

Still, 6th Fleet has refused todisclose the circumstances surrounding the firing a year later. While 6th Fleet provided the command inves­tigation to Navy Times on Oct. 7 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the 21-page report was heavily scrubbed. The redactions strip the report of many details about Williams’ doling out of nonjudicial punishment — one of the complaints made by an anonymous whistle-blower — and mask four pages of details about fraternization and the report’s recommendations.

In the report’s current form, the only seeming strike against Williams were some discrepancies with the command’s liberty risk program — which 6th Fleet did not cite as a reason for removing Williams in its news release; it only mentioned “allegations of misconduct by Capt. Williams.”

The report faulted the command master chief for improperly running the liberty risk program, including not telling those on it why their liberty was restricted. Some sailors griped about being left in the dark at the command or that NJP results had been uneven. But the report cleared Williams of these assertions, finding he had followed command climate guidelines and adhered to NJP rules.

The redactions effectively conceal the reasons a three-star fired Williams — who, as a ship CO, is considered a public official and who has a diminished expectation of privacy in cases of misconduct. It is standard procedure for Navy Times to file Freedom of Information Act requests for investigations into leadership reliefs.

The released documents typically have the names and ranks of junior personnel removed out of privacy concerns. But those of the CO, executive officer and CMC remain, as they are considered senior officials. Officials are only supposed to black out details about classified information or ongoing law enforcement cases — both unlikely for an entire fraternization section in an 11-month-old report.

The release of these details and how officials disciplined a senior leader serve the Navy’s larger purpose of instilling “public confidence in the institution and is consistent with principles of open governance,” as the manual of the Judge Advocate General states.

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