YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The commanding officer of the USS Cowpens and his senior enlisted adviser have been relieved because of a loss of confidence in their work and leadership, according to a Navy news release.
The guided-missile cruiser’s commander, Capt. Gregory W. Gombert, and command master chief, Master Chief Petty Officer Gabriel J. Keeton, were relieved by Rear Adm. Michael Smith, Commander, Carrier Strike Group 3, on Tuesday, officials said.
The pair were relieved because of a loss of confidence in their “ability to effectively lead and carry out their assigned duties,” the Navy said.
The loss of confidence stems from the results of a series of inspections after the San Diego-based ship's return from a deployment to the Western Pacific. Gombert and Keeton have been temporarily reassigned, and an investigation is underway, the news release said.
Gombert is the third commander of the Cowpens to be relieved since 2010.
In January 2010, Capt. Holly Graf was removed from command of the ship — then home-ported at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan — after an inspector general report substantiated ethical breaches, dereliction of duty, assault of her crew and other misdeeds.
In February 2012, Capt. Robert Marin, a married officer, was relieved of command of the Cowpens after another officer reported that Marin was having an affair with his wife, a base worker at Yokosuka.
Despite the upheaval, the Cowpens, which was the first ship to launch missiles at the start of the Iraq War, has participated in numerous operations in the Pacific, including tsunami relief in Japan in 2011 and typhoon relief in the Philippines last year.
In December, the ship was forced to change course to avoid hitting a Chinese military vessel in the South China Sea. Chinese media reported that the Cowpens had been tailing the newly built aircraft carrier Liaoning, but U.S. officials blamed the incident on aggressive maneuvers by the Chinese.
Capt. Robert B. Chadwick II will assume temporary duties as Cowpens’ commander, and Master Chief Petty Officer Richard J. Putnam will temporarily assume duties as command master chief, officials said.