Cmdr. Jeffrey “Coach” Franz was relieved of command of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70 on Wednesday, due to what Navy officials characterize as a “loss in confidence in his ability to command” the Florida-based unit.
Cmdr. Dave Hecht, spokesman for Naval Air Force Atlantic, told Navy Times in a prepared statement that Carrier Air Wing 8 commanding officer Capt. Vorrice Burks fired Franz, 47, and replaced him with the squadron’s executive officer, Cmdr. Kenneth Colman, who is slated as the “prospective commanding officer” of the “Spartans” at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
“Command leaders are entrusted to uphold the highest standards of personal and professional conduct at all times,” Hecht wrote. “Meeting these high standards of conduct is as critical as meeting the Navy’s high standards of materiel, personnel and operational readiness.”
Hecht said that no other officers were involved or disciplined and that Franz will be temporarily assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic in Norfolk, “pending administrative action.”
Franz’s firing raised eyebrows across the Navy’s community of helicopter aviators.
He recently disciplined a pilot for allegedly drinking a beer in a cockpit, an action that triggered a probe into the squadron’s culture but sparked no changes to the rest of the command triad or questioned Franz’s decision to sanction the aviator.
In a brief telephone interview on Thursday morning, Hecht declined to detail what toppled Franz from his command post but said Rear Adm. Roy Kelley concurred in the decision to remove him.
Franz declined comment to Navy Times.
Navy doctrinal guidance has long presented two standards to measure officers in command. The first standard is for criminal misconduct, which does not apply to Franz’s relief.
The second standard is both higher and broader. It goes beyond a commander’s competence and character and transcends to the trust and confidence shared by both the American public and the officer’s superiors in his or her chain of command.
Even officers with exemplary military records and proven performance in garrison and on the battlefield will be relieved if a leader loses trust or confidence in his or her ability to command sailors.
Originally from Manteca, California, Franz has served nearly 29 years in the Navy, working his way up both the enlisted and commissioned ladders, starting as a nuclear electrician. A graduate of the University of Arizona in 2000, he completed flight training and was designated as a Naval Aviator two years later.
Assigned to the “Proud Warriors” of what then was called Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (Light) 42 in Mayport, Florida, he deployed aboard the cruisers Thomas S. Gates and Anzio and was recognized as the unit’s Administration Officer of the Year in 2003 and the Pilot of the Year in 2005, according to his official biography.
While serving as an instructor pilot with the “Airwolves” of what was then designated as Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (Light) 40, he became Instructor of the Year in 2007 and was chosen as the 2007 Helicopter Association Fleet Instructor Pilot of the Year, too.
After a stint as the Helicopter Element Coordinator for the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt’s strike group, he reported to HSM-70 and deployed aboard the cruiser Gettysburg on the maiden voyage of the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group.
While serving as the squadron’s maintenance officer, the unit earned the Battle "E" and the Sikorsky Aircraft “Golden Wrench” awards. He was chosen as HSM-70′s Officer of the Year.
After graduating from Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, with a master’s degree in Foreign Policy and Strategic Studies, Franz served ashore at the Joint Operations Directorate.
Franz took command of HSM-70 on Oct. 6, 2017.
Franz has accumulated more than 3,100 flight hours as a helicopter pilot and his decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, four Navy Commendation Medals, Joint Service Achievement Medal and five Navy Achievement Medals, according to his official biography.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.