U.S. Navy Removes CO of Grounded Sea Base Ship From Command

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The U.S. Navy has relieved the commanding officer of the expeditionary sea base USS Herschel “Woody” Williams of command of the vessel’s Gold Crew following an investigation into the ship’s grounding earlier this year.

On May 9, the Williams ran aground just off the port of Libreville, Gabon, where the vessel was making a call as part of the Obangame Express antipiracy exercise. The ship refloated and freed herself when the tide turned without further incident, a Navy spokesperson told defense news media. 

In all, the ship was aground for about four hours. No injuries or major damage were reported, but it was a career-changing event for the commanding officer: groundings – even soft groundings with an immediate refloat – are almost always followed by the removal of the CO. 

In a statement, the Navy said that while the investigation into the grounding is still under way, it has enough evidence to warrant the removal of CO Capt. Lenard Mitchell. The service added that “naval leaders are entrusted with significant responsibilities” and that it “takes action to hold them accountable when . . . standards are not met.” 

Mitchell has 34 years of experience in the service, including commanding officer of the LCS USS Little Rock (decommissioned six years after delivery), weapons officer aboard cruiser USS Gettysburg (the first successfully modernized Ticonderoga-class) and combat systems officer aboard the Spruance-class USS Deyo. As is standard in Navy HR proceedings for commanders, he has been temporarily reassigned to a shore post. 

USS Herschel “Woody” Williams is one of a series of sea base vessels derived from the design of a commercial tanker hull, augmented with a landing deck, extra accommodations spaces, and a lower working deck for small boat launch and recovery. The ships serve as launchpads for special operations and low-intensity missions in permissive environments, like training exchanges or humanitarian relief; they have been successful in service and the Navy has repeatedly increased the size of the series, which currently stands at four hulls in commission and two in construction. The vessels were designed for use by civilian-crewed Military Sealift Command, but were commissioned into Navy service several years ago because of the combat-related nature of the mission set. The Williams is forward-deployed to Souda Bay; sister ship USS Lewis B. Puller is active in the Mideast, and USNS Miguel Keith has operated in the Western Pacific. 

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