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Fmr. US 5th Fleet Commander’s death confirmed a suicide, Navy probe finds

Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, is rendered honors on the quarterdeck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109). Jason Dunham is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Matt Bodenner/Released)
June 14, 2019

Former U.S. 5th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Scott Stearney’s death in December 2018 has been ruled a suicide, according to a U.S. Navy investigation.

The Navy launched an investigation after Stearney, 58, was found dead on Dec. 1, 2018, in Bahrain. The probe concluded this week that a “timeline of events and witness statements” exposed “his intent to commit suicide,” the Navy Times reported exclusively Tuesday, citing a heavily redacted three-page preliminary inquiry.

“No information uncovered during the subsequent NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] investigation, including multiple interviews and forensic analysis of VADM Stearney’s electronic devices, contradicted this finding,” the document said.

The report also declared that Stearney’s death “occurred in the line of duty and was not due to his own misconduct,” the Navy Times reported.

“Suicide creates a strong inference of a lack of mental responsibility which has not been overcome by any of the facts uncovered from this investigation,” the inquiry said. “Therefore, no adverse line of duty determination is recommended.”

The investigation reportedly concluded in February but was only recently revealed as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Stearney’s death was originally suspected to be a suicide, as Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said at the time that “No foul play is suspected.”

The 5th Fleet’s deputy commander, Rear Adm. Paul Schlise, temporarily assumed command of the 5th Fleet after Stearney’s death. However, Vice Adm. James Malloy officially took command on Dec. 7, 2018.

“I mourn the loss of an incredible Navy leader, and I miss the camaraderie and wise counsel of my friend,” Malloy said in a statement to the Navy Times.

“VADM Stearney was a superb Officer, respected by so many and revered by me. His leadership as the 5th Fleet Commander, and the initiatives that he put in motion enhanced our readiness, expanded partnerships across the region, and set a course for this command that remains our way ahead — we continue to reap the benefits of that leadership and vision,” Malloy added.

Stearney had served as a Naval Officer since October 1982 and a became a Naval Aviator in April 1984, according to his Navy profile. He flew the FA-18 Hornet in strike fighter operations and had amassed more than 4,500 hours of flight time and 1,000 carrier landings.

Stearney also instructed at the Navy Fighter Weapons School, and he had earned the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Air Medal and various other accolades.

In 2018, the military saw a six-year high in active duty suicides.

Adm. Richardson said in March that suicide was “the most extreme challenge in the mental health business” and added that the military is “hunting it like crazy,” had reported.