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Report: Fling in Italy sank flagship CO's career

Jan. 13, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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The 6th Fleet commander fired the skipper of his flagship in late 2012 for carrying on a monthlong extramarital affair in Gaeta, Italy, that was an open secret among his crew, according to details in a newly released Navy investigation.

Rumors churned that Capt. Ted Williams, the commanding officer of the amphibious command ship Mount Whitney, had an “Italian girlfriend” whom he took to movies, restaurants — even the sandwich shop on the pier, the investigation found.

But no one intervened with Williams until a crew member anonymously reported his behavior, triggering an investigation that would cost Williams his job — and likely the chance of ever making admiral.

Williams, a highly regarded Prowler pilot, was only weeks away from successfully finishing his command tour when he was fired Nov. 19, 2012, by Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe, a removal that the Navy at the time characterized as an “accelerated change of command.”

The newly disclosed report, obtained by Navy Times via a Freedom of Information Act appeal, reveals that Williams admitted to the extramarital affair — a violation under military law — when he was confronted by investigators. But the investigations determined there was no basis for the whistleblower’s other allegations of “rampant fraternization” or unfair handling of sailors’ liberty. An earlier, heavily redacted version of the report sent to Navy Times by 6th Fleet on Oct. 7 made no mention of the affair.

Williams, 48, who’s now assigned to Naval Air Force Atlantic, did not respond to emails seeking comment by press time Jan. 10.

'A date with Ted'

Williams took his mistress to Rendez Vous, a neon-lit pub across the street from the pier frequented by sailors, some of whom spotted them clasping their hands once, according to the report. He seemed not to be concerned about appearances, as he also sat next to her at one of the ship’s movie-night outings in Gaeta, where the Mount Whitney is homeported.

Sailors saw the two together on the pier in late 2011 and mid-2012, having lunch or at command-hosted picnics, the report said, and rumors circulated.

The woman — whose name officials removed from the report, citing privacy reasons — was friends with sailors’ wives and girlfriends, even reportedly telling some of them that she had “a date with Ted,” the report said. The rumors roiled the Family Readiness Group, a spouse group whose ties with Williams began to fray.

A chief reported the rumors to Mount Whitney’s command master chief, but the CMC did not tell the executive officer or confront Williams, according to the report.

“The Command Master Chief did not inquire into how widespread the rumors were, nor did he report the rumors to the Executive Officer,” the report notes, concluding that his failure to do so prevented the command from quickly addressing the scuttlebutt.

One of the few who said they were totally unaware of the rumors was the XO, who reported aboard Mount Whitney in August 2012, about three months before the investigation began.

The lieutenant commander told investigators that he would have asked Williams about the rumors if he had heard them.

CO's confession

The first to confront Williams was the investigator, an unnamed officer examining the allegations for the 6th Fleet commander because they centered on the CO of his fleet command ship. After three days of interviewing crew members, the investigator sat down with Williams and advised him of his rights.

Other than circumstantial evidence like the sightings and rumors, the investigation lacked any conclusive proof of an extramarital affair. Without it, the allegations would remain unproved. Williams consulted a judge advocate and then decided to speak to the investigator.

Williams admitted to having an affair for “approximately three weeks in November-December 2011” and said he’d broken it off after she had pushed for a deeper relationship, the report said.

The investigator seemed surprised that Williams would admit to the affair, saying that “no credible evidence existed” beforehand and characterized his decision as one that “displayed utmost integrity,” according to the report.

“He had the opportunity to remain silent, but chose to tell the truth even though he was not confronted with any specific credible evidence,” the report said. “He fully recognized the gravity of the circumstances and stated that he was ready to accept whatever circumstances for his actions that were deemed necessary.”

The firing was a high-profile setback for a top-notch officer. Williams graduated from the Naval Academy in 1987 and has spent his career flying EA-6B Prowlers. He served seven tours in electronic attack squadrons, including command of the Whidbey Island, Wash.-based VAQ-131, which received the Battle “E” during his tenure. Williams became the No. 2 aboard the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and took command of the Mount Whitney in September 2011.

During his 27-year career, Williams has received many decorations, including two Legions of Merit, three Air Medals, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal with combat “V” device and the Combat Action Ribbon, according to Navy Personnel Command.

Williams received nonjudicial punishment from Pandolfe for violating Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which covers conduct unbecoming, said 6th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Phil Rosi.

Rosi said he he was unable to release the specific actions taken for privacy reasons.

Navy Times had sought the details surrounding Williams’ relief for months. In response to a FOIA request, 6th Fleet released a largely scrubbed version of the 21-page report. Navy Times appealed this, arguing the redactions effectively masked the reasons the Navy decided to fire Williams, and succeeded in lifting some black-outs.

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