The Associated Press, San Diego Union and New York Times News Service
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Rear Adm. Charles M. Gaouette was reassigned from his job atop the Stennis group in October pending a Navy inspector general investigation.
The Stennis was on deployment in the Arabian Sea at the time.
The reason given then for the investigation was allegations of “inappropriate leadership and judgment.”
The Stennis group deployed from Bremerton in late August and had entered the Navy 5th Fleet's area of operations in the Middle East on Oct. 17 after sailing across the Pacific.
In October, during the presidential election campaign, Internet rumors claimed that Gaouette wanted to send help during the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and disobeyed orders to stand down.
The Navy has flatly denied that claim. The Stennis was still in the Asia-Pacific region at the time, out of aircraft range for Libya.
Cleared of charges, but . . .
Gaouette faced an administrative hearing Monday.
The hearing, presided over by Adm. John M. Richardson, cleared him of any violations of military justice, according to a Navy official with knowledge of the case.
“But being cleared of charges doesn't mean he's exonerated and doesn't mean his conduct and leadership was found in keeping with what we expect of a flag officer in general and a strike group commander specifically,” the official said Wednesday.
The official said the complaints against Gaouette were related to the way he treated people aboard ship.
“The allegations did include use of vulgar and profane language and derisive comments about some leaders in the Navy,” he said.
The New York Times on Wednesday quoted unnamed sources saying Gaouette also made racially insensitive remarks on two occasions.
The Times story quoted unnamed officials who said the commanding officer of the Stennis, Capt. Ronald Reis, was the source of the complaints against Gaouette after the admiral challenged him on his handling of the carrier in crowded waters.
A letter and the inspector general report will be placed in Gaouette's file, which would likely block any future advancement, said the Navy official familiar with the situation.
The report is still not publicly available because the administrative side of Gaouette's case continues.
More senior Navy leaders, including the chief of naval operations and secretary of the Navy, will have an opportunity to review the findings.
Apology from Gaouette
The Times quoted Gaouette on Wednesday as saying, “I fully accept responsibility and accountability for my actions while in command . . . and deeply regret that my missteps have placed the Navy in this position.”
Is profane language and rough handling of subordinates enough to pull a carrier group leader in the middle of a deployment?
The Navy official says yes.
“While some people might laugh off vulgar and profane language as saltiness, we expect a higher standard to be applied to flag officers and particularly to flag officers in command,” the official said.
“It wasn't just about bad language.
“These allegations were about poor judgment and about leadership practices that did not rise to the level that we expect for senior officers.”
Gaouette served as deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces at Central Command before assuming command of Carrier Strike Group Three in April 2012.
In 2003, he was awarded the Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Award for inspirational leadership, according to his official biography.
Gaouette was one of at least 25 Navy commanders removed or replaced in 2012.