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Naval Surfaces Forces commander retires early amid fallout from deadly collisions

In a Nov. 1, 2016 file photo, Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden speaks to sailors assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley during his visit to Naval Station Everett, Wash. JOSEPH MONTEMARANO/U.S. NAVY

The head of the Navy’s Surface Forces retired early from the service last week amid continuing fallout after a pair of ship collisions last year killed 17 sailors.

Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden was replaced Thursday by Vice Adm. Richard Brown during a low-key ceremony at SURFOR’s headquarters in San Diego.

Rowden announced his early retirement last week in a statement to the fleet.

“This was a difficult decision to make, but I make it with the best interest of the Surface Warfare community and the Navy in mind,” he said. “The Surface Warfare community will be in good hands as [Brown] is a superb and talented naval officer.”

Rowden’s retirement came as a result of an independent investigation into the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain collisions by Adm. James Caldwell, according a USNI news report. The probe recommended unspecified disciplinary actions against Rowden that forced him to depart earlier than his planned retirement on Feb. 2.

Brown previously led Navy Personnel Command and served as chief of naval personnel.

“I am honored to assume command of Naval Surface Forces and command of Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet,” he said in a Navy statement. “I am humbled by the opportunity to lead the Surface Force and its brave Sailors.”

Rowden is the latest of a slew of leaders who have been fired or forced into early retirement after the fatal collisions. Last year, the Navy relieved the leaders of both ships as well as the head of 7th Fleet. The leaders of Task Force 70 and Destroyer Squadron 15, which oversee the fleet’s destroyers and cruisers, were also relieved of their duties.

Last September, Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift announced he would retire at an unspecified date after being told he would not be the Navy’s pick to take over Pacific Command after Adm. Harry Harris retires this year.

Commanders of Pacific Fleet, which oversees U.S. naval forces from California to India, are often nominated to head PACOM. Swift took command of the Pacific Fleet in May 2015 after Harris’ promotion.


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