Cmdr. Diego Hernández, right, former commanding officer of the submarine Wyoming, greets Italian Lt. Cmdr. Alberto Tarabotto in 2009. (Navy)
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The commanding officer of a Kings Bay, Ga.-based ballistic-missile submarine was fired Feb. 4 for mishandling classified materials, just three weeks before his scheduled relief, a Submarine Group 10 spokesman confirmed Friday.
Cmdr. Diego Hernandez was found guilty of dereliction of duty by Rear Adm. Joseph Tofalo, commander of SUBGRU 10 at admiral's mast and relieved of command, SUBGRU 10 spokesman Lt. Brian Wierzbicki said.
His relief "was slightly accelerated due to some issues with the handling of classified information," Wierzbicki said. "The whole case, due to the sensitive nature of the allegations, is all classified."
The investigation, conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, is still open, pending endorsement letters, Wierzbicki added. He was unable to immediately say when the investigation began.
Hernandez's firing came three weeks before his scheduled change-of-command ceremony. His relief was already onboard the ship for turnover, Wierzbicki said.
Hernandez is the third CO relieved this year and the first from the submarine force. The previous two, however, were both relieved for inappropriate conduct. Cmdr. Mike Varney was the last CO relieved for mishandling classified materials; he was fired from command of the Seawolf-class attack sub Connecticut in June 2011.
Wyoming is one of the first four submarines to receive female officers. They also began reporting late last year to the ballistic-missile submarine Maine and guided-missile subs Georgia and Ohio. At the time Hernandez was fired, there were three female officers onboard, including two submariners straight out of the training pipeline. But the firing has no connection with their arrival, Wierzbicki said.
"They've checked onboard the Wyoming gold crew, specifically," Wierzbicki said. "They continue to integrate smoothly. Their presence has no association with this incident or the change of command."
Wierzbicki declined to comment about where or when the mishandling of classified information had occurred, saying that the investigation was classified and still open.
Asked why SUBGRU 10 waited to release information until queried by Navy Times, Wierzbicki replied: "He wasn't relieved for cause, though. There's no DFC involved," he said, referring to the administrative measure known as detachment for cause, which is used to quickly find a relief. "It was just accelerated."
Hernandez graduated from the Naval Academy in 1991 and holds a master's degree from Harvard, according to his LinkedIn profile. Over his 21-year career, Hernandez served as the navigator and operations officer onboard attack sub Trepang, engineer on attack sub Toledo and second-in-command on ballistic sub Rhode Island, Gold crew, according to a 2007 Navy news stand article.
Hernandez is now transferring to the OPNAV staff in Arlington, Va. He could not be immediately reached for comment.
Cmdr. Christopher Nash now commands the Wyoming's gold crew.