Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District and Capt. Melissa Bert, commander of Coast Guard Sector Juneau, jointly relieved Lt. Matthias Wholley from his duties as commanding officer of the 110-foot cutter Anacapa, home-ported in Petersburg, on Monday.
The reason for relief was “loss of confidence in the ability to command,” a phrase Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr did not elaborate on.
“The Anacapa is operating as usual,” Warr said. “The incident is pending investigation to be determined by the commandant (of the Coast Guard) in weeks, months, we don’t know yet. We can’t elaborate on details because it is under investigation and the executive officer is acting as (commanding officer) right now.”
The Anacapa had been scheduled for a change of command ceremony in about six weeks. Lt. j.g. James Toomey, executive officer of the Anacapa, has assumed temporary command of the cutter until the new incoming officer is chosen.
Wholley will be temporarily reassigned to Coast Guard Sector Juneau in Juneau, though what duties he will have remain unclear.
“We are held to a higher standard and if we don’t fulfill the core values of the Coast Guard, which are honor, respect, and devotion to duty, then we are accountable,” Warr said. “And if a member feels like someone has violated a policy or value, using the chain of command, they can bring it to the command’s attention. That was done in this situation.”
The Coast Guard has investigative officers who report to the commanding officer through the chain of command and that report goes to the Commandant’s Office. The final determination regarding a permanent removal or resumption of command is made by the commandant of the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C., Admiral Robert J. Papp.
Retired Navy Adm. Robert J. Natter said the reasons of firing a commanding officer can break your heart. Natter, a Vietnam veteran, ship captain and former commander of Fleet Forces in Norfolk, Va, is a consultant on civilian and defense-related issues.
“Commanding officers, people in authority, must be held to a higher standard,” Natter stated. “I could make exceptions for young seamen because the ramifications of their actions are different. You expect young kids to get in trouble, but not someone responsible for 300 people.”
Loss of confidence in the ability to command can stem from a multitude of instances, including: An inappropriate relationship with a female or male officer, falsifying records, intoxication, failing a urine or drug test, misconduct for a criminal conviction, assaulting or humiliating a subordinate, undisclosed misconducts, running aground, striking a buoy, injury of a crewman or damage to ship, and poor performance of duties, according to a Coast Guard website.
“The definition is pretty broad,” Warr said. “And it can be a result of something in administration, leadership, or internal policy, and not conforming or following any of those areas.”
The catch-all category of a loss of confidence in the ability to command can also include a series of problems over a period of time, such as failure to conduct ship inspections, or poor morale among the crew. It can also mean, like in any business or in any job, the new boss may not like you or may want to take a new direction.
In 2009 Papp, then commander of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area, relieved the commanding officer of the 270-foot endurance cutter Escanaba, Cmdr. Howard R. Shaw, citing a loss in confidence in the officer’s ability to command. Shaw was reassigned to staff in Boston pending final results of the administrative investigation.
Also in 2009, Rear Adm. Gen Brooks, Commander of the 17th Coast Guard District and Bert, Commander relieved Senior Chief Petty Officer James Madsen from his post as officer in charge of the 65-foot Cutter Elderberry for loss of confidence in the ability to command. Madsen was reassigned to Ketchikan pending investigation. Madsen, at the time, had 19 years of service and was one step in rank from topping out on the enlisted advancement hierarchy.
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.