Reckoning For A Female Captain Bligh

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Earlier this year, the Navy set off fireworks when it released a report detailing Captain Holly Graf’s “cruel and unusual” treatment of her crew aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens.

Navy Capt. Holly Graf

It generated lots of online commentary, but ended with her fate undecided. This week she has been called before a formal board of inquiry, which has to decide whether or not she should remain in the Navy. The independent Navy Times has been covering the proceedings underway about eight blocks south of the U.S. Capitol:

[Graf attorney] Charles Gittins told a panel of three rear admirals at the Washington Navy Yard that Capt. Holly Graf inherited the “worst ship on the waterfront” and a wardroom [the vessel’s officers] that was “largely incompetent.” He said that under her command, the cruiser Cowpens was transformed into one of the best ships in the Pacific Fleet. He argued that Graf’s leadership style was stern, but that it was poorly received by men. “She was direct and harsh towards men, and they weren’t used to it,” he said.

Gittins has made a career out of military justice, or the lack of it. But the detailed Inspector General’s report — and the way it attracted scores of Graf foes, some of whom had served with her years ago, to spill their bile about her command style — makes her case a real challenge for him. So does the fact that none of the three admirals hearing her case attended the U.S. Naval Academy, as Graf did. “She’s not getting U.S. Naval Academy protection from this group,” one retired officer says. “The selection of three — none Academy grads — suggests to me that the Navy did not want that argument [of pro-Academy bias] to be made.”

The panel is expected to make its recommendation on Graf’s future by week’s end, but it won’t become official until Navy Secretary Ray Mabus accepts or rejects it.