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Navy fires destroyer leaders after hazing incident

Cmdr. Kenneth Rice, left, and Command Master Chief Petty Officer Stephen Vandergrifft

NORFOLK — Two top leaders aboard the guided missile destroyer Jason Dunham were fired Friday after a Navy investigation revealed they took no action when more than a dozen female sailors were forced to march in formation while carrying buckets of human waste.

Cmdr. Kenneth Rice, the ship's executive officer, and Command Master Chief Petty Officer Stephen Vandergrifft, the ship's top enlisted sailor, were relieved of their duties following the investigation by Destroyer Squadron 28.

Other lower-ranking sailors also have been disciplined in connection with the Oct. 15 hazing incident at Norfolk Naval Station, said Lt. Cmdr. Reann Mommsen, a spokeswoman for U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

The investigation, prompted by an anonymous email tip, found that a chief petty officer ordered 19 women to clean out the toilets near their berthing units aboard the ship. The ship's sewage system had been partially shut down for maintenance that day, but the toilets had been used anyway.

Sailors are responsible for cleaning a ship's bathrooms, or "heads," in Navy parlance. But in this case, Mommsen said, some of the sailors were not given the proper equipment. Protocol dictates any sailor handling raw sewage should wear coveralls, face shields, rubber boots and rubber gloves.

After they removed the sewage from the toilets, 13 of the women were ordered by the chief petty officer to line up and carry the excrement off the ship in two buckets. The chief led them in formation as they marched down the pier to dump the waste into portable toilets. That amounted to hazing, according to the investigation.

The sewage could have been disposed of in one of several functioning toilets aboard the ship, Mommsen said.

Rice and Vandergrifft knew about the incident and did nothing in response, Mommsen said. The ship's commanding officer, Cmdr. Michael Meredith, took appropriate action when he learned of the incident days later, she said.

All 19 women were medically screened after the tip came in several days later.

"Anyone who could have prevented the incident or failed to report it afterward has also been held administratively accountable," Mommsen said.

Rice's replacement has not been named. Master Chief Petty Officer Mario Rivers has replaced Vandergrifft as command master chief.

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