2 Months After USS Williams Ran Aground in Africa, Its Commanding Officer Has Been Relieved of Duty

USS Hershel “Woody” Williams on deployment off of Africa
USS Hershel “Woody” Williams on deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Africa area of operations, May 5, 2024. (U.S. Navy photo by Takisha Miller)

The Navy has relieved the commanding officer of the expeditionary mobile base ship USS Hershel "Woody" Williams two months after the vessel briefly ran aground outside of the African country of Gabon, a Navy statement announced Monday.

Capt. Lenard Mitchell, the commander of the Williams' "Gold" crew, was relieved by Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee, the commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command."

The Navy's statement added that "the relief occurred as a result of an investigation into the soft grounding" of the Williams near the port of Libreville, Gabon, on May 9 and, "while the investigation is still open, sufficient findings of fact emerged during the investigation to warrant the relief of the commanding officer."

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Typically, the Navy is quick to remove a ship's commander after a grounding -- usually moving within days or, at most, a week or two.

When the cruiser USS Port Royal ran aground on a shoal off the coast of Honolulu in 2009, the Navy waited around four days -- until the ship was free -- to relieve its commander.

When the USS Howard suffered a soft grounding near the Indonesian island of Bali on Aug. 10, 2023, the Navy relieved its skipper, Cmdr. Kenji Igawa, just nine days later.

In 2014, the Navy took about two weeks to fire the commander of a frigate -- the USS Taylor -- that ran aground in the Black Sea.

When Military.com asked Navy officials in the weeks after the Williams' grounding why Mitchell had not been relieved, no one was able to offer an explanation.

The Navy's statement also did not explain why this relief took almost two months.

The Navy said that Mitchell will be temporarily assigned to Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic, while Capt. Michael Concannon will assume the duties of interim commanding officer aboard the Williams.

The Williams is currently deployed to the waters off Africa and "there is no impact to the command's mission or schedule due to the relief," the statement noted.

Mitchell is now the ninth commander to be fired for a "loss of the trust and confidence" that the Navy has publicly acknowledged. A total of 13 commanders have now been relieved this year, though not all for losses of confidence. Navy officials have said that commanders can also be relieved for medical reasons or ask to be relieved themselves.

Navy officials have previously said the sea service relieved 15 commanding officers in 2023 over a loss in confidence.

There are currently around 1,600 commanding officers in the active-duty Navy across all communities.

Since the start of 2024, the Navy has fired three of its commanders over drunk driving incidents. Two were submarine skippers, and one was a SEAL commodore.

In January, the Navy fired Capt. Geoffry Patterson -- the commander of the USS Georgia's blue crew -- after he was arrested early on Jan. 9 for driving under the influence and improper lane change.

Similarly, Capt. Richard Zaszewski, formerly commodore of Navy Special Warfare Group Eight, was arrested Jan. 19 for driving with a blood alcohol content between 0.15% and 0.2% -- though that incident wasn't made public until March.

Finally, Capt. Kurt Balagna, who was the commander of the USS Ohio sub's gold crew, was also arrested in March by Washington state police for driving with a blood alcohol content of around 0.24%.

Two of the nine fired Navy commanders were chaplains assigned to the Coast Guard: Capt. Daniel Mode, the Coast Guard's top chaplain who had served in that position since 2022, and Cmdr. Cristiano DeSousa, the Seventh District chaplain in Miami.

Related: Navy Relieved 12 Commanders in 6 Months -- Including 3 Firings that Were Never Publicly Announced

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