Surface Fleet Commander to Resign After Reported Firing Recommendation

The commander of Naval Surface Forces is stepping down from his post just weeks ahead of his planned retirement, following a reported recommendation that he be relieved.

"Today, I have informed the chief of naval operations that this Thursday I will step aside earlier than previously planned as the commander, Naval Surface Forces, and commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet," Adm. Tom Rowden wrote in a statement provided to Military.com. "This was a difficult decision to make, but I make it with the best interest of the Surface Warfare community and the Navy in mind."

Rowden continued that the post is in good hands with his designated successor, Rear Adm. Richard Brown.

"In this job, I've spent three-and-a-half years traveling around the world spending time with our Surface Force and the men and women who bring life, energy and purpose to our ships," he said. "I've loved this job and the people I've worked with. It has been the highest honor to serve our Nation and the Navy for more than 40 years."

Rowden had planned an early retirement in the wake of two tragic ship collisions last summer that left 17 sailors dead.

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Investigations into each collision found a variety of watchstanding, control and communication errors were to blame, and a number of flag officers have also been relieved for failing to prevent the disasters.

A consolidated disposition authority, headed by Adm. James Caldwell, head of naval reactors, was appointed in November to oversee and recommend additional prospective disciplinary actions, which could include reliefs, nonjudicial punishment, and court-martial. Caldwell has yet to announce these recommendations.

Citing anonymous sources, Defense News reported that Caldwell had recommended Rowden be relieved in light of the collisions. Rowden had previously announced his intent to retire early and was set to hand off his post to Brown in coming weeks.

A spokesman for Rowden, Cmdr. John Perkins, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Rowden's reported resignation.

"I want to tell you that the Surface Force will be in good hands," Rowden told an audience at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium near Washington, D.C., last week. "Rich is a friend and he is a superb and talented officer ... please give him every bit of the support that you've given me."

Rowden said he believed Navy leadership would "move out smartly" to implement recommendations from a comprehensive review commissioned immediately after the second collision, that of the destroyer USS John S. McCain, in August.

"I am confident that the work will go on, and from these terrible tragedies, we will see a continued renaissance in surface warfare in the future," he said.

The two collisions have taken their toll on the Navy's flag and senior officer community.

The commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Scott Swift, also announced his intent to retire following the disasters.

The first admiral to be relieved was Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet.

His successor, Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, would go on to relieve Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander of the Navy's Task Force 70.

The leadership teams of the McCain and the destroyer USS Fitzgerald, the other ship involved in a collision, were also removed from their posts, as was Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, home to both ships.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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