The commanding officer of the cutter Steadfast was fired for loss of confidence on Monday in the midst of an ongoing investigation, a Pacific Area Command spokesman confirmed to Navy Times.
More details on the investigation into Cmdr. John Bitterman, who has captained the medium endurance cutter Astoria, Oregon-based boat since July 2014, were not available due to the unfinished inquiry, Lt. Donnie Brzuska said.
Bitterman believes he was fired for bringing attention to the ship's poor condition, his lawyer told Navy Times in a Friday phone interview.
Bitterman was relieved for substandard performance, said former Coast Guard judge advocate Darrin Gibbons, a charge that he contests.
"He denies all substandard performance," he said. "He believes he's a whistleblower."
Gibbons said that when Bitterman took command of the 47-year-old ship, it was in such a state of disrepair — with moldy mattresses, lead contamination, bad decking —— that he asked his leadership for money to fix things up.
His requests were denied, Gibbons said, and the mix of the ship's condition, the high operational tempo and the crew's already rock-bottom morale led to his temporary relief.
"He intends to fight it to the maximum possible degree," Gibbons said, including asking the Department of Homeland Security for an inspector general investigation under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act.
Bitterman, 44, a prior-enlisted Coast Guardsman, joined in 1989, earning his commission after graduating from the Coast Guard Academy in 1995, according to his official bio. He did not respond to a request seeking comment Thursday.
He has served aboard the cutters Clover, Rush, Alert, Edisto and the 210-foot medium Endurance Cutter Steadfast, as well as with Law Enforcement Team 8-G in Galveston, Texas.
Maritime law enforcement is his specialty, according to his bio, and he has over 1,000 hours of boarding, 15 metric tons of narcotics seized and over 800 illegal migrant interdictions under his belt.
Cmdr. John Pruitt, previously assigned to the Coast Guard Motion Picture and Television Office in Los Angeles, has assumed command of Steadfast, according to a Wednesday news release.
Bitterman's awards include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, three Coast Guard Commendation Medals, the 9/11 medal, two Coast Guard Achievement Medals and the Commandant's Letter of Commendation.
Bitterman has been temporarily reassigned to Coast Guard Sector Columbia River.