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A Navy Board of Inquiry struck the right balance in addressing the transgressions of Cmdr. Michael B. Ward II. It advises that Cmdr. Ward be separated from the service, but with an honorable discharge. It recognized that the commander's credibility is so damaged he cannot lead effectively, while putting that misbehavior in the context of an otherwise stellar career.
There is no dispute Cmdr. Ward's misconduct was egregious. He had an adulterous affair, which alone is a violation of the Code of Military Justice. He lied to colleagues about it, according to testimony. To impress and deceive the woman, Cmdr. Ward claimed he worked in special operations, when in fact he was working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. When the affair became inconvenient and he wanted to end it he fabricated his death through email. This was a cruel and cowardly course of action.
Cmdr. Ward's bad behavior became known last August shortly after he took command of the USS Pittsburgh, based out of the Groton Naval Submarine Base. The Navy relieved him of command and investigated. The commander had asked to remain in the service. Voluntary retirement would have been the better course.
As we noted in a prior editorial, Navy commanders are in charge of some of the most lethal war machines ever created by man. The lives of those under command are entrusted to their good judgment, as is the ability to carry out military missions.
"Command is the foundation upon which our Navy rests," reads the "Charge of Command," the document that spells out the standards demanded of commanders. "Trust is a fundamental building block of our command and control structure and our ability to achieve mission success."
Given Cmdr. Ward's deception and extremely poor judgment, the Navy could no longer count on him for that fundamental building block of trust.
But while his actions had an impact on his professional responsibilities, they were rooted in personal indiscretions. Based on evidence at the hearing, Cmdr. Ward's service was otherwise meritorious and professional. Considering that, the board's recommendation that he be allowed an honorable discharge and retain retirement benefits is reasonable.
Secretary of Navy Ray Maybus should approve the board's recommendations.