Coast Guard commander replaced after breath test

By John Christoffersen
Associated Press / December 1, 2010

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NEW HAVEN — The commanding officer of the US Coast Guard’s New London station said yesterday that he was relieved of his post after he was pulled over for speeding and a breath test found he was slightly over the limit for alcohol.

Lieutenant Thomas Stokes said he was pulled over by Coast Guard security personnel on a base in Staten Island, N.Y., while he was off duty in October.

Stokes said yesterday that he was not intoxicated but accepts the decision and looks forward to his new Coast Guard assignment in Washington, D.C. Stokes said he did not know what the new assignment would entail.

Coast Guard officials said in a statement that Stokes was being replaced because supervisors have lost confidence in his ability to command. They called it a nonpunitive, personnel management decision.

“I’m devastated,’’ Stokes said, calling it the worst experience of his professional life.

Stokes, 41, said he was not criminally charged and was not demoted. He said he had a spotless 23-year record with the Coast Guard and his station won an award for readiness.

“Nothing gave me greater pleasure with the exception of my family than serving with the crew of station New London,’’ Stokes said.

Chief Warrant Officer Brandon Brewer, a Coast Guard spokesman in New York, said he would not discuss what led to the dismissal because it was nonpunitive. He said only that the reason was loss of confidence.

“The command of any Coast Guard unit is one of the most important jobs in the service and something that our operational commanders take very seriously,’’ he said. “There is continuous monitoring of the performance of commanding officers to make sure they are suitable for command.’’

He said Stokes was temporarily relieved in October, when he was reassigned to a station in New Haven.

Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale University, said the military takes such matters seriously and has discretion in how to handle them.

“One hopes that this officer won’t be permanently tarnished as a result,’’ Fidell said.

The New London station performs search and rescues, security, boat safety, and other missions and saved 65 people over the past three years, according to the Coast Guard.