The former captain of the guided missile submarine USS Ohio was arrested for driving while intoxicated roughly a week before he was relieved of command earlier this month, according to an arrest report from the Washington State Patrol.

Navy Capt. Kurt D. Balagna’s blood alcohol content was measured at more than three times the Washington state limit of 0.08% when he was pulled over on March 5, according to the arrest report, which Task & Purpose obtained through an official records request.

Balagna was relieved as the commanding officer of the Ohio’s Gold Crew on March 11. When the Navy issued a news release about his firing two days later, it only said that Balagna had been relieved “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command.” 

‘Loss of confidence’

The Navy and other services regularly relieve commanders for a wide range of reasons — from poor performance or leadership to personal issues unrelated to their post — and publicly disclose them to varying extents as a measure of accountability among senior leaders charged with command. 

However, all military services nearly always publicly ascribe those firings to a general “loss of confidence” with no explanatory details. As a result, speculation and rumors around the removals often run wild, ranging from political conspiracies to unsubstantiated criminal accusations.

Subscribe to Task & Purpose today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.

Task & Purpose tries to learn the underlying reasons for a relief to determine if personal mistakes or failings led to the move or if more serious issues were uncovered, such as toxic leadershipmisconduct, or even putting the troops they command in danger, any of which could indicate deeper issues within a unit beyond the relieved commander.

Four hours of drinking

In Balagna’s case, Navy Times was first to report that Patterson had been arrested on Jan. 8 on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence and other offenses.

A trooper with the Washington State Patrol pulled the captain  over around 12:30 on March 5, the police report says. The trooper observed Balagna’s car weaving from side to side on Interstate 5.

After Balagna rolled down his passenger side window, the trooper could “immediately smell a strong odor of intoxicants” from inside Balagna’s car, according to the arrest report.

Balagna’s eyes were flushed and his speech slurred as he told the trooper that he was headed to Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, but he was having difficulty finding it, the report says. At the time, Balagna was well north of the airport.

Balagna told the trooper that he had been drinking Vodka since 8 a.m. that morning. He then failed a sobriety test, after which the trooper asked him if he thought he should be driving.

“He looked down and shook his head and said no,” the arrest report says. “Based on my training and experience it was obvious that he was extremely intoxicated and not safe to be driving. I placed him under arrest for DUI [driving under the influence].”

Another trooper took Balagna to the King County Correctional Facility, where he was booked for driving under the influence.

Task & Purpose was unable to reach Balagna by phone or email on Thursday. A spokesman for Submarine Group 9 – the commander of which relieved Balagna – was not immediately available for comment.

At least one other Navy commander fired this year was also arrested for drunken driving. Navy Capt. Geoffry Patterson was relieved of command of the guided missile submarine USS Georgia’s Blue Crew on Jan. 12. 

The latest on Task & Purpose