Two Officers Accept Blame in Frigate Attack, Will Leave Service
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The captain and weapons officer of the USS Stark accepted responsibility Monday for the frigate’s failure to defend itself against an Iraqi warplane and as a result, will be allowed to leave the service rather than face a court-martial, the Navy said.
Thirty-seven sailors died and 21 were injured when the Stark was struck by two Exocet missiles from the plane on the night of May 17 while on routine patrol in the Persian Gulf. Iraq called the attack a mistake, an explanation the United States accepted.
Capt. Glenn R. Brindel, the Stark’s skipper, submitted a request to retire, the Navy said in a statement. Since he has served almost 22 years, he is eligible to request retirement with a pension, the Navy added.
Because he held the rank of captain only since January, however - less than the required three years - Brindel will have to retire at the reduced rank of commander. Officials said this will mean a loss of more than $100,000 in potential retirement pay over his lifetime.
Lt. Basil E. Moncrief, 32, of Corpus Christi, Texas, the tactical action officer, has served only about eight years in the Navy. As a result, he submitted a letter of resignation ″and will be separated by the Navy,″ forfeiting his naval career without any opportunity to obtain a pension, the service said.
The decisions of the two men were announced Monday shortly after Adm. Frank B. Kelso, the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Va., issued letters of reprimand censuring them for their performance aboard the Stark two months ago.
The Navy said the Stark’s executive officer, or No. 2 in command, Lt. Cmdr. Raymond J. Gajan, 35, of Rockville, Md., ″has been referred (for) disciplinary action to the commander, Naval Surface Force, Atlantic Fleet.″
That means Kelso determined Gajan was less culpable than the other two officers and thus decided to delegate review of his case to a lower level in the chain of command, officials said.
The letters of reprimand were issued after a disciplinary proceeding, known as an ″admiral’s mast,″ during which Kelso reviewed the circumstances of the May 17 attack on the Stark by an Iraqi warplane.
″Both (officers) accepted responsibility and both volunteered significant personal sacrifice in acknowledgement of accountability,″ the Navy said.
″Adm. Kelso, after a review of the investigation, felt that it was unlikely that any new facts would be uncovered in a (court-martial)″ and thus agreed to hold an admiral’s mast, the Navy added.
Such a proceeding is one step short of a formal court-martial and can result in various disciplinary sanctions, including a suspension from duty, temporary forfeiture of pay, a letter of reprimand or a letter of admonition.
Within the military legal system, a formal letter of reprimand ″is a harsh penalty,″ said one Navy officer who asked not to be identified. ″For an officer, it’s the same thing as saying your career is through, you’ll never have a shot at command.″
Brindel and Moncrief did not appear in person before Kelso, as was their right, but ″each admitted responsibility in writing,″ the Navy said.
″Capt. Brindel and Lt. Moncrief admitted and accepted accountability for the lack of readiness and inadequacy of measures taken to protect Stark on May 17, 1987. The basic charge ... was negligence in the performance of official duties.″
Kelso said he decided to forgo courts-martial for the two because of various ″factors,″ including the fact the Iraqi attack was ″unprovoked and indiscriminate″ and ″originated from a source considered not likely to act in a manner hostile to a U.S. naval vessel ....″
Kelso also cited the leadership of the two men in ″their respective personal efforts in saving Stark and preventing further loss of life″ and a ″concern that the prolonged nature of courts-martial proceedings would cause intensified grief on the part of the families of the victims of the attack and stress to the Stark crew.″
Brindel, 43, of Pittsburgh, Pa., had commanded the Stark since Jan. 23, 1985. At the time of the attack, he was preparing to leave the ship for a routine change in assignment.
Brindel told congressional investigators last month he was in his cabin at the time of the attack, having left Moncrief in the ship’s Combat Information Center with orders to pay close attention to the approaching Iraqi plane.
Under Navy tradition and regulations, however, the captain is responsible for everything that happens aboard his ship, regardless of his personal role.
Based on the U.S. male life expectancy of 72 years, the Navy figures Brindel will receive a total pension of $692,496, or $24,734 annually.
The Stark, after more than a month of temporary repairs in Bahrain, is steaming across the Atlantic toward its base at Mayport, Fla., where it is expected to arrive on Aug. 5.