Navy fires unusually high number of officers

Six are relieved of duty in 2010

Holly Graf was relieved of command of a guided-missile cruiser. She was criticized for swearing at her crew. Holly Graf was relieved of command of a guided-missile cruiser. She was criticized for swearing at her crew.
By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post / March 7, 2010

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WASHINGTON - The Navy has fired six commanding officers since the start of the year - triple its usual monthly rate - including a foul-mouthed captain who was dismissed for subjecting her crew to “cruelty and maltreatment’’ aboard a warship in the Pacific.

Captain Holly Graf, commander of the USS Cowpens, a guided-missile cruiser, was relieved of duty Jan. 13 after an investigation found she cursed so much at her 400-member crew that even the sailors - no strangers to four-letter words - were intimidated.

According to the Navy inspector general’s report released last week, officers complained that their captain humiliated them in front of the rest of the crew by calling them “idiots’’ and “stupid’’ as she spat a stream of obscenities.

One noncommissioned officer said Graf treated him like a toddler, forcing him to take a “timeout’’ in an empty watch room.

Although verbal abuse would hardly put Graf among the worst tyrants ever to command a ship at sea, her former crew members have been posting hundreds of anonymous comments on the Internet that describe her as “Horrible Holly,’’ as well as a modern-day Captain Bligh.

One website,, called her “an incompetent and unstable ‘politically correct’ poster girl for all the super feminists at the Pentagon and the U.S. Naval Academy.’’

Graf has also been accused on the website of endangering sailors’ lives by engaging the Cowpens in a “drag race’’ with a destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, near Okinawa, Japan. The inspector general’s report confirmed that the race had taken place last year but concluded that allegations Graf had endangered the Cowpens were “unsubstantiated.’’

The six officers the Navy has fired since Jan. 8 represent an unusually high number for the service. Fifty-five commanding officers were dismissed for cause from 2005 to 2009, an average of 11 a year, according to statistics supplied by the Navy.

Lieutenant Justin Cole, a Navy spokesman, said that fewer than 1 percent of the service’s approximately 1,500 commanding officers are relieved each year, but added that the spate of firings in 2010 was not part of a planned crackdown or policy change.

“We hold them to high standards,’’ he said. “But standards of accountability have remained consistent throughout the years.’’

Many Navy skippers who get the boot have been accused of sexual misbehavior.

One commanding officer was fired in January after he was arrested on charges of soliciting oral sex from an undercover officer for $20. Another commander was dismissed last month for being involved in “an inappropriate relationship’’ with a female officer, according to the Navy.

Navy culture and standards dictate that a captain is held responsible for any major mishap on a ship; a commander will almost certainly be fired, for instance, if a vessel runs aground, even if low-ranking sailors were directly to blame.

A study conducted last year by the Navy Times, however, found that personal misconduct was the leading cause of commanders losing their jobs, with about one-third of firings occurring for that reason between 1999 and 2008.

Graf did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment for this article.