YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS Gary’s captain, Cmdr. Tito Dua, was relieved of command last week because his ship repeatedly failed to meet standards, officials said Monday.

“The ship’s been struggling to meet basic phase-training and routine certifications for the past several months,” said Cmdr. Mike Brown, public affairs officer for Carrier Group 5, of which the Gary is a part.

“The new commodore came in … and said, ‘Here are these standards you are expected to meet.’ The anticipated improvements just were not met,” Brown said.

The final straw came after a recent inspection, which Brown described as a “snapshot assessment” to determine whether the ship, if so ordered, could deploy safely on short notice. “They were eventually able to prepare the ship to get underway but not within the prescribed timeline,” Brown said.

Capt. Samuel Perez, commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, decided to remove Dua. “He’d been given notice several months ago: ‘You need to get your programs back on line,’” Brown said.

Dua said, “I support the action of my seniors, doing what they believe was right.” He was due to leave the Gary Jan. 12 for duties at the Pentagon. It was unclear if those orders would remain.

Until he leaves, Dua will be assigned to Naval Forces Japan, said 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Scott Gureck.

“This is a good guy, a good man,” Brown said. “It’s not a character issue. It’s a materiel and readiness issue. The captain is responsible for a wide variety of programs, and his programs were not meeting standards. Our ships have to be on a shorter tether. They have to be able to respond much more quickly. Our ships are always deployed.”

Friends and other servicemembers described Dua, 41, a Naval Academy graduate who holds two master’s degrees, as an unusually humane and caring commander. He wrote a weekly e-mail to his sailors’ families, updating them on the ship’s progress, and supported a variety of activities to boost morale. Among them was a day each week when sailors need not shave and a day when they were allowed to wear bandanas and do only the work needed to keep the ship running.

“He cares deeply for those under his command,” said a friend of his who declined to be named. “He was a good guy for the troops. But the Navy is very unforgiving of certain things.”

A ship’s captain bears responsibility for any ship error, omission or misstep, based on long tradition and the power the captain holds. But unlike a loss of command for a character issue, one involving readiness may mean that a captain’s subordinates were not performing their duties, as well. “You could probably draw that conclusion,” Brown said. “But if people aren’t following his direction ... it’s still his responsibility.”

Dua said his crew did not let him down.

Efforts to contact the Gary’s crew for their reactions or comments were unsuccessful. Calls to the ship’s quarterdeck were referred to 7th Fleet Public Affairs.

Cmdr. Henry Derbes, the readiness officer of Destroyer Squadron 15 and a former commander of a minesweeper, took command of the Gary on Friday and will remain captain until Jan. 12, when Cmdr. Robert Marin will take command.

Dua, who commanded the ship since July 15, 2002, is the third 7th Fleet commander to be fired in the past 15 months and the second in that time to be removed because of readiness issues. In February, Rear Adm. Steven Kunkle, the USS Kitty Hawk Battle Group commander, was relieved for engaging in an “inappropriate relationship” with another officer. In September 2002, Capt. Thomas Hejl was dismissed as the Kitty Hawk commander for what superiors said was a breakdown in the ship’s proficiency and crew readiness. Incidents included the ship hitting a buoy and failing an engineering plant inspection.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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