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Navy commander sent home amid investigation

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SAN DIEGO -- A local Navy commander is returning to his home port in Washington state midway through his deployment following an investigation into undisclosed allegations of inappropriate judgment, Navy officials confirmed.

The commander in question is Rear Adm. Charles Gaouette, commander of the San Diego-based USS Mobile Bay and two North Island-based helicopter squadrons that are deployed with the Stennis Strike Group.


The Stennis Strike Group entered the Middle East area of operations less than 10 days ago, but is now left without commanding officer Gauette.

Navy officials said the admiral is being sent home to Bremerton, Wash., pending an investigation, but officials are not saying exactly what the investigation or allegations entail.

However, the Navy said Gaouette is not being formally relieved of command.

Retired Navy Capt. Neal Zerbe – who served for more than 20 years – told NBC 7 that this type of move by the Navy is highly unusual.

“The particular commander being relieved, and you know translating that to just moving him back to a continental U.S. base while the investigation continues, is unlike anything I've ever seen before,” said Zerbe.

It's unusual for the Navy to replace a Strike Group Commander mid-deployment and Zerbe said it’s important to note how the Navy’s statement about Gaouette is worded.

"If there are improprieties or if there are bad errors in judgment for something that happened in an operational situation -- you usually see wording to that effect," added Zerbe.

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 The Stennis Strike Group deployed in late August and made two port visits on its way to the Middle East. Zerbe said that leadership is important, but he has full confidence the Strike Group will carry out its mission – no matter what.

"This is at a very senior level. The guys that are delivering the bombs on target and supporting the guys in the field in contact, they're ready to go. They've got no issues; it's transparent at their level," he said.

An admiral who commanded the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group will assume command until the matter regarding Gaouette is resolved. Gaouette's chief of staff will be leading the Strike Group until his arrival.