Groton - Cmdr. Michael P. Ward II is the latest in a string of officers to be relieved of duty while in command of a Navy ship.
Ward, who led the USS Pittsburgh for one week, was reassigned to administrative duties on Friday, the Navy said Sunday, due to a lack of confidence in his ability to command the submarine after allegations of personal misconduct. He has been accused of having an affair with a 23-year-old Chesapeake, Va., woman and faking reports of his death as a means of ending it.
Ward is the 12th commanding officer relieved so far this year in the Navy, a figure that includes four officers from shore commands, two from aviation units, four from surface ships and two from submarines, Lt. Matthew Allen, a Navy spokesman, said Monday.
Twenty-two commanding officers were relieved in 2011, an uptick from 2010, when there were 17, he said.
The Navy's high standards for command leadership are spelled out in a document known as the "Charge of Command." It states, in part, that "command is the foundation upon which our Navy rests" and commanding officers must "meet the highest standards of personal and professional conduct at all times."
"Trust is a fundamental building block of our command and control structure and our ability to achieve mission success," it states.
Capt. Vernon Parks, commander of Submarine Development Squadron 12 in Groton, said he reviewed the Charge with Ward before he assumed command.
"He understood the Navy's high standards for command leadership and he failed to uphold them," Parks said in a statement. It was Parks who ordered Ward relieved.
The Chesapeake woman said she met Ward, 43, on a dating website in October. She said Ward, who is married with children, told her he was separated and that he worked in "special ops." She said he got her pregnant and then, in an effort to end the relationship, faked a report of his death in an e-mail communication in July. The woman talked to The Day under the condition that her name would not be used.
She said Monday that Ward sent her a text message Friday after he met with his boss about the allegations, telling her to watch what she said.
She said she has not reported the conversation to authorities because she continues to worry her identity will be revealed, and that would jeopardize her career in the banking industry. She said she hasn't heard from Ward since the news broke Sunday.
"I don't want any issues. It's just a big mess. I knew it was coming, though, and I feel better, in a way, because everyone knows what Michael is about," she said.
Ward declined to speak to The Day on Sunday.
Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, spokeswoman for Submarine Group Two, said Monday that the commander of Submarine Development Squadron 12 continues to investigate allegations an individual brought to the attention of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The squadron includes the Pittsburgh (SSN 720).
Cragg said she could not provide any details relating to the allegations because the matter is still under investigation That includes whether the allegations, if true, would violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice, how the case could be handled procedurally or how long the investigation is expected to take.
The UCMJ is the military's criminal code. It includes many crimes punished under civilian law, but also punishes offenses that affect good order and discipline in the military, such as conduct unbecoming an officer.
Cmdr. Michael Savageaux, who led the submarine before Ward assumed command Aug. 3, has resumed command of the Pittsburgh. Cragg said she could not speculate on how long Savageaux will serve in that role.
The Chesapeake woman said Ward sent her emails using the name Tony Moore, explaining that he had to use the name because of his position in the special forces. She said Ward told her his real name after they met. She provided The Day with copies of text messages and emails.
On July 6, she received an e-mail from his address purporting to be from a man named Bob who worked with Ward.
"He asked me to contact you if this ever happened," the email says. "I am extremely sorry to tell you that he is gone. We tried everything we could to save him. I cannot say more. I am sorry it has to be this way."
The email goes on to say, "He loved you very much."
In a reply she said, "I can't help but wonder how true this is... That maybe he just can't talk to me until he is done and he had to make (it) appear permanent.... This is just crazy! This can't have happened. I love him... We were supposed to be together. He promised me. How could this happen... Is it possible he was captured?"
"Bob" replied, "This is by far the most difficult part of what we do. I wish I had a better answer. Take care of yourself - I know he would have wanted that."
The woman said that on July 9 she drove with family members to Ward's house in Burke, Va., to pay her respects, and learned from the new owner that Ward was alive and had moved to Connecticut to take command of a submarine.
She said she became ill, was hospitalized and learned she was pregnant. She said she has since lost the baby. A relative emailed Ward.
On July 25 an email from "Tony Moore" said, "I will call you in the morning. I'm sorry about lying to you about me and my career. I meant everything I said to you. I never meant to hurt you."
The last commanding officer of a Groton-based submarine to be relieved of duty due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command was Cmdr. Charles Maher, who served on the USS Memphis (SSN 691) in 2010. Crew members had tampered with the answer keys used in the ship's training examinations. Maher was not accused of any involvement in the tampering.
In a blog post this summer, Vice Adm. John M. Richardson, commander of the submarine force, emphasized that character - "our moral and ethical quality" - should be "something we talk about directly every day." Within the submarine force, there have been "some high-visibility lapses in character," Richardson wrote, including the cheating incident on the Memphis.
"We get much of our strength from being invisible for long periods of time," he wrote in the June post. "To do this successfully, we must recognize the challenge that this poses and take every opportunity to make each other morally and ethically stronger, to strengthen the bond of trust and confidence we have within our force and with our nation."
Ward, who was born in Germany and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., joined the Navy in 1987. He earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida in 1994 and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Maryland in 2002.
At sea, he served on the USS Maryland (SSBN 738)(Gold) in Kings Bay, Ga., Submarine NR-1 and SSV Carolyn Chouest in Groton, USS Hampton (SSN 767) in Norfolk, Va. and as executive officer on the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) in Bangor, Wash.
Before returning to Groton to take command of the Pittsburgh, Ward worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.