In a brief statement released Monday, U.S. 7th Fleet announced that the commanders of Task Force 70 and its attached Destroyer Squadron 15 (DESRON 15) have both been relieved of their duties. The Navy cited "a loss of confidence in their ability to command." The collision-damaged warships USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald both belong to DESRON 15.
Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, commander of Task Force 76, assumed the duties of outgoing Task Force 70 commander Rear Adm. Charles Williams. Capt. Jonathan Duffy, deputy commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, assumed the duties of outgoing commodore Capt. Jeffrey Bennett. Among other previous roles, Capt. Bennett had once served as the commanding officer of USS Fitzgerald.
Including the latest dismissals, the Navy has disciplined six leaders over the collisions: Dalton and Bennett; Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, who was removed command of 7th Fleet just weeks before he was scheduled to retire; Commander Bryce Benson, the commanding officer of the Fitzgerald; Commander Sean Babbitt, executive officer of the Fitzgerald; and Fitzgerald command master chief Brice Baldwin. The officers on watch the night of the Fitzgerald collision were also removed from their posts.
In related news, the head of U.S. Naval Surface Forces, Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, has asked permission to retire two months early. According to USNI, the decision is not related to a disciplinary action, but Rowden is said to have expressed the desire to hand over the reins to new leadership.
Multiple investigations into the causes of the two collisions continue, with early signs pointing to human factors. The Government Accountability Office has documented persistent training deficiencies aboard 7th Fleet's surface vessels, including the Fitzgerald and McCain. While no final conclusions have been announced, the Navy's initial report on the aftermath of the Fitzgerald collision placed part of the blame on the destroyer's bridge crew.