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1-star firing a public rebuke for decorated CO

Nov. 4, 2012 - 11:05AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 4, 2012 - 11:05AM  |  
Rear Adm. Charles Gaouette
Rear Adm. Charles Gaouette (Navy)
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The Navy fired the one-star commander of a carrier strike group patrolling the Arabian Sea on Oct. 27, a highly unusual removal that occurred amid an investigation of his leadership by the naval inspector general.

Rear Adm. Chuck Gaouette, head of the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, was flown back to the U.S. amid this probe, said to be looking into reports that he exhibited "inappropriate leadership judgment," according to a Navy official familiar with the case. A one-star former strike group commander is en route to assume command.

The firing marks a public rebuke for Gaouette, a decorated officer and winner of the Navy's highest leadership award who took command of the strike group in April.

The news marks another sign of a tumultuous year for the Navy's best and brightest, with Gaouette's relief notching the Navy to a tally of 20 commanding officers fired for reasons ranging from lackluster leadership to misconduct and bullying. But Gaouette's transfer is something more: the first time a deployed strike group boss has been sacked in nearly a decade.

Navy spokesmen declined to disclose details about the accusations made against Gaouette while the investigation is underway. Vice Adm. John Miller, the head of Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, requested Gaouette's removal — a "temporary reassignment," according to an Oct. 27 Navy news release.

Gaouette, 53, did not respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment. His fate will be determined by the results of the IG's investigation.

Rear Adm. Troy Shoemaker, a former commander of the Lincoln strike group, has been dispatched to take charge of the Stennis CSG.

Shoemaker, the release said, "will assume command until the matter is resolved."

High honors

The firing marks a swift and career-ending turn for the career ship-driver. As commanding officer of the destroyer Oldendorff, Gaouette received the coveted Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership in 2003, an award presented annually to the fleet's top two skippers.

In addition, Gaouette wears four Legions of Merit, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals and 14 other personal, unit and campaign medals, according to Navy Personnel Command.

As strike group commander, Gaouette oversaw 5,500 sailors at 12 commands, including the aircraft carrier Stennis and cruiser Mobile Bay, Destroyer Squadron 21 and Carrier Air Wing 9. Gaouette sacked a helicopter squadron's executive officer in July for alleged sexual harassment.

In his previous position as the deputy commander of 5th Fleet, he ordered the 2011 investigation that found a Navy captain, who headed the logistics task force, had fraternized with his sailors and officers at drinking parties. This officer, Capt. David Geisler, also was fired.

The Stennis Strike Group was Gaouette's first operational command as an admiral and one he seemed well-prepared for. The University of California-Davis grad is a qualified submariner who transferred to surface warfare as a lieutenant and went on to command two ships, including the cruiser Bunker Hill, according to his official bio.

Early deployment

When the Stennis CSG was ordered back to sea four months earlier than expected by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Gaouette broke the news to his sailors in an all-hands call. They left in late August for what's expected to be an eight-month deployment.

"We have trained for a wide variety of contingencies, from supporting coalition ground troops in Afghanistan to conducting humanitarian assistance operations," Gaouette said in a news release when his ships entered 5th Fleet. "I'm confident this strike group will accomplish any mission that we are asked to execute."

Gauoette was relieved 10 days later. His chief of staff, Capt. William Minter, will run the CSG until Shoemaker's arrival.

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