How many commanding officers have to lose their careers on Cowpens before its official? Cowpens is a jinxed ship and either breaks her COs or attracts commanders with serious flaws.
- Captain Holly Graf (relieved in January 2010) ran the ship like her own personal fiefdom and was happy meting out cruel and abusive treatment to her crew.
- Captain Robert G. Marin (relieved in February 2012) for inappropriate behavior. He had an affair with another Captain’s wife.
- Captain Gregory Gombert (relieved June 2014) for poor performance following a number of inspections.
As bad as the previous situations were, and we are talking about maltreatment of a crew, this latest skipper stands out as an example of how the weight of command can destroy a person’s perspective, judgment and common sense.
Captain Gombert, failed to give up command after a serious, yet unexplained, illness and allowed the XO to run the ship. That is bad enough, but he and the XO were having some kind of inappropriate relationship as well. When both command level officers are not fit for command, there is a mechanism in place to notify the fleet and their superior officers. This task is the responsibility of the Command Master Chief, who failed to do so.
These three individuals are the most important members of a ship’s chain of command and all three of them were weak links. Whether through personal flaws, or some unknown reason, they all failed, and failed completely.
Vice Admiral Copeman, Commander of Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, stated “the Cowpens triad, especially and inexcusably the commanding officer, violated this trust and in so doing placed their ship and crew at increased risk.”
Gombert and his executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Destiny Savage, were found guilty of disobeying orders and conduct unbecoming of officers at their July 25th hearing. Master Chief Keeton was also found guilty of two counts of disobeying orders for failing to report the problems on board the ship.
Cowpens was scheduled to be decommissioned, but deployed to the Western Pacific last September. After returning from her current cruise, the investigation revealed that maintenance of the ship’s health and welfare was neglected.
No excuses from any of these three sailors can make up for the damage they have done, not only to USS Cowpens’ readiness and ability to fight, but also to the reputation of the Navy.
I don’t actually believe in cursed ships, although there are certain names that can give me pause, and after breaking three skippers in four years, I think I can safely add Cowpens to that list. Although, officially, no fate has been decided for the ship, I really can’t imagine a situation that would pull her away from the pier in San Diego, other than a decommissioning cruise.
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