WASHINGTON -- The Navy has relieved at least 80 commanding officers for performance problems since 1999, a number that includes a recent spike attributed to inappropriate personal behavior by about two dozen officers, Navy officials said yesterday.
Those behavior problems include adultery, alcohol abuse, and inappropriate relationships with subordinates, according to a survey by the Navy inspector general. The report did not attribute the rise in behavior problems to any particular cause.
Other commanders lost their jobs for poor performance, for actions such as grounding their ship or colliding with another vessel at sea, according to the survey.
Many of the officers were ship and submarine captains, aircraft squadron commanders, or shore post chiefs. Those included in the Navy report held a rank as low as lieutenant or as high as captain.
The Navy has 1,291 command jobs for people in those ranks. Those who lost their jobs account for only a small portion of its total force. An officer will stay in a post, on average, for a little more than two years.
Still, Navy officials pointed to the report as evidence the service will not tolerate poor performance or personal misbehavior. ''The behavior of the commanding officer has to be proper," Admiral John Nathman, the vice chief of naval operations and the service's number two officer, told reporters.
According to Navy officials, early reliefs peaked in 2003, with 26, and dropped off somewhat this year, with 14. Since 1999, about 27 of those removed from command lost their jobs -- in what is termed ''early relief" by the Navy -- over personal behavior issues. ''Many of the early reliefs in this study resulted from poor judgment on the part of [commanding officers] who should have known better," the report says. ''In nearly every case, the officers relieved for personal behavior clearly knew the rules. In some cases, they had been specifically counseled, but ultimately chose to violate the regulation."
A number of those with behavior problems held the rank of captain, which the report called ''particularly troubling" because of their seniority.
''Command is difficult, often lonely, and a [commanding officer] without family, peer COs, or close friends nearby is potentially more vulnerable to abusing alcohol or developing an inappropriate relationship," it says.
''We believe that a few of the personal misconduct cases might have been averted had that CO had a viable support system nearby."
However, the root of the problem is unclear, the report said. ''We could not conclusively determine whether the significant rise in reliefs from adultery and alcohol-related incidents was due to a recent increase in such behavior, or rather, from a growing intolerance for such behavior in COs," it said.
About one-third of the officers who lost their commands were relieved because of a major mishap, such as colliding with another vessel or grounding a ship, the death of a crew member.