A military investigative hearing is under way for a senior Coast Guard commander facing numerous charges, including indecent acts and conduct unbecoming of an officer.
Capt. Herbert M. Hamilton III is charged with 31 violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He will have the right to question witnesses at the hearing that began Tuesday at Fort Richardson in Anchorage.
Among the alleged offenses filed in November, the 48-year-old Hamilton is accused of sexual improprieties that allegedly took place in Alaska and other states and involved multiple women, including enlisted Coast Guard personnel.
Several women are expected to testify at the hearing, which is expected to last three days.
First to testify was a petty officer who said Tuesday that her short-lived relationship with the married Hamilton began weeks after he took command of the Coast Guard's Anchorage sector in summer 2008.
The woman said that the first encounter occurred when the two attended a three-day oil spill response exercise on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. She said they shared two pitchers of beer and Hamilton began holding her hand. She said they each went to their rooms after Hamilton hugged her and said he didn't want to let her go.
Asked if she found the hug unusual, the woman said yes, then added, "I was surprised but also excited that this bright individual would be interested in me."
The woman said she sent Hamilton a text message, thanking him for the evening and reminding him about the next day's schedule. She said they continued exchanging text messages until early morning, when the woman went up to the commander's room, where she performed oral sex on him. The two then began a relationship.
When asked by a defense attorney, the petty officer denied trying to advance her career by having sex with a senior commander. Likewise, she denied feeling pressure to have sex with him because of his higher rank.
The woman ended an existing relationship to be with Hamilton, but her former boyfriend found e-mails between the two, prompting Hamilton and the woman to end their affair in early November 2008.
In an October e-mail leading to that decision, and read at the hearing, Hamilton told her he valued the relationship, "but neither of us can afford the ramifications of this getting out."
The Coast Guard has said the investigation continues, and has not ruled out charges being brought against others.
Military charging documents state that Hamilton, who also is known as Mark, used a government cell phone to send and receive sexual and amorous text messages, committed sodomy with some of the women, downloaded and stored sexually explicit material on his government-issued laptop, and photographed sexual acts.
Hamilton also is accused of fraud, adultery, indecent language and soliciting another to commit an offense. The alleged offenses cover a period between November 2004 and shortly before Hamilton was relieved of his duties in May.
At the time, the Coast Guard cited alleged misconduct and a loss of confidence in Hamilton's ability to command.
During the Coast Guard's preliminary investigation, Hamilton was temporarily assigned to the staff of the Seventeenth Coast Guard District, which covers Alaska.
Coast Guard Capt. Steven Andersen, the investigating officer presiding over the hearing, will look into the allegations and recommend how the case should proceed. Possibilities include trying those or other charges at a general court-martial or dropping the charges altogether.
The final determination, which could take months, will be made by Rear Admiral Christopher Colvin, district commander.
Hamilton took the Anchorage position in August 2008 and previously served as deputy commander for Coast Guard operations in the Los Angeles area.