News Branch Navy

Navy has fired at least 3 commanding officers for DUIs in 2024

“U.S. Navy leaders are held to high standards of personal and professional conduct.”
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File: A U.S. Navy sailor at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cole Schroeder/U.S. Navy)

Three of the five Navy commanding officers who have been fired so far this year, including a Navy SEAL and two submarine captains, were relieved after being arrested off-base for driving under the influence, Task & Purpose has confirmed.

Navy Capt. Richard A. Zaszewski, who was relieved this week as commander of Naval Special Warfare Group Eight, was arrested on Jan. 19 in Virginia, according to online court records. His Blood Alcohol Content was measured at 0.15%, nearly double Virginia’s legal limit of 0.08%.

Navy Times first reported that Zaszewski did not report his arrest to his superiors until March, after which he was relieved of command.

Zaszewski declined through a Naval Special Warfare Command spokesperson to comment for this story.

Two guided missile submarine commanders have also been relieved this year after being arrested for driving while intoxicated. Capt. Geoffry Patterson was relieved on Jan. 12 as captain of the USS Georgia’s Blue Crew and Capt. Kurt D. Balagna was fired as captain of the USS Ohio’s Gold Crew on March 11.

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The reliefs of Paterson, Balagna, and Zaszewski are not a result of any changes to the Navy’s accountability policy, a service spokesperson told Task & Purpose.

“U.S. Navy leaders are held to high standards of personal and professional conduct,” the spokesperson said. “They are expected to uphold the highest standards of responsibility, reliability, and leadership, and the Navy holds them accountable when they fall short of those standards.”

However, the recent firings could indicate that the Navy is becoming less tolerant than it has in the past when commanding officers are arrested by civilian police for drunken driving, said retired Navy Cmdr. Bryan Clark, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, D.C.

“I do know commanders in the past who have gotten DUIs and have been able to move on – at least keep their command,” Clark told Task & Purpose.

Historically, the military has treated DUI arrests that take place on military installations more seriously than incidents off base, Clark said.

That may be changing as the Navy more closely examines how the character of commanding officers can affect the command climate, recruiting, and other issues, he said.

“I think the Navy is trying to clamp down on DUIs out in the civilian world, because in a lot of ways, the Navy used to treat civilian infractions as somewhat independent of your military service,” Clark said. “I think this does reflect a changing focus on looking at the whole person and seeing how they’re behaving in the civilian world, and evaluating if that’s reflective of a character flaw that they need to address in their military performance.”

As is customary for all the military branches, the Navy did not disclose why any of the three commanding officers were fired when their relief from command was announced. Instead, the Navy simply said they had been relieved due a “loss of confidence” in their ability to command.

Military commanders can be relieved for a variety of reasons, including poor performance or leadership, personal problems unrelated to their job, and legal problems. While the Navy has been the most transparent military service in announcing reliefs of command, the “loss of confidence” euphemism does not explain why commanders have been fired.

The absence of specific information often creates a vacuum that is filled by rumors, innuendo, and conspiracy theories.

Task & Purpose tries to learn the underlying reasons why commanders are fired, including whether they had an inappropriate relationship, or they are accused of being a toxic leader, or they tolerated behavior that put service members at risk – all of which can be indicators of deeper problems within the military as a whole.

In addition to the three Navy commanding officers, the Marine Corps recently fired two commanders at the School of Infantry-West and the Air Force fired two commanding officers with the 628th Medical Group.

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