GROTON, Conn. (AP) — A former submarine commander who faked his death to end an extramarital affair should be honorably discharged from the Navy, a panel of officers recommended Friday after a daylong hearing in which the officer said he accepted "full and total accountability" for his behavior.
Cmdr. Michael P. Ward II, a married 43-year-old, sent his mistress in Virginia an email in July posing as a fictitious co-worker named Bob and saying Ward had died unexpectedly. Ward was relieved of his duties aboard the USS Pittsburgh in August a week after he'd taken command and has received a letter of reprimand for adultery and other military violations.
After testimony from Ward's former superior officers, colleagues and shipmates, Ward, in his dress blues, acknowledged to the panel that he had had an affair and sent the bogus email to the woman in an effort to end it.
"The reason I did it was to sever the relationship," he said, "but the choice was ridiculous."
He apologized to the Navy and the sailors who served under him.
The three-officer board of inquiry recommended Ward retain his rank upon being discharged. Its decision goes to the secretary of the Navy for approval within 90 days.
During the hearing, at Naval Submarine Base New London, the government countered that Ward discredited the Navy and that his removal put a strain on the fleet because officers had to be shuffled around to cover his removal.
"Commander Ward's actions show a complete lack of honesty, character and integrity," said Navy Lt. Griffin Farris, acting as prosecutor at the hearing.
Ward said he accepted responsibility for his actions and would regret them all his life, adding that he was grateful to his wife for standing by him.
"I want to apologize directly to my wife for the hurt and harm and humiliation I have caused her," he said as she sat in the front row, her eyes red. "I accept full and total accountability for my actions."
Still, the Navy shouldn't throw away Ward's talent and training, said high-ranking officers with whom he has served. They said he made an awful mistake and was a fast-rising, hardworking officer.
Before moving to Connecticut, Ward served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he used his nuclear expertise to provide daily briefings to the chairman as the Fukushima disaster unfolded following the earthquake in Japan. Navy Capt. Lawrence Vincent, who worked with Ward in Washington, said he would serve with again and the handling of the affair struck him as out of character.
"With Mike Ward, it was a true shock," Vincent said.
Ward was honest with his chain of command from the beginning, his lawyer said.
"This man probably would have been an admiral someday, and he's brought shame on himself, and he knows that," said Navy Cmdr. Daniel Cimmino, representing Ward.
But a senior enlisted sailor from the USS Pittsburgh told the panel that Ward at first denied the accusations.
The sailor, Master Chief Chris Beauprez, said he received a call on the submarine from a sister of Ward's girlfriend, who told him what Ward had done.
Beauprez said he told Ward about the call and Ward denied the woman's allegations, then said he'd address the situation himself. Beauprez testified that he had an implicit trust in what his commander said so he didn't take the matter any further.
Days later, he said, he heard Ward was being dismissed.
A fellow Navy officer who had gone through training with Ward, Cmdr. Anthony Moore, testified that he heard about the affair, including the detail that Ward had used the name Tony Moore in an online dating profile that he used to meet the woman, when news of it first surfaced.
"I was very surprised," Moore, who's based on a submarine squadron in Washington state, told the board by telephone. "And frankly, I was a little concerned for my reputation."