Angry that he was not invited to a group dinner, the commander of a Navy flight squadron hurled insults at subordinates and slapped another sailor several times while they were all drinking at a bar in Bahrain, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The misconduct led to a demotion for Cmdr. Karl Pugh, one of several officers who have tainted the Navy's image this year by misbehaving. In January, a carrier commander was relieved of duty after he produced videos that included simulated same-sex shower scenes, anti-gay slurs and references to prostitution in foreign ports. Other Navy officers have been dismissed for marital infidelity and not addressing hazing.
The embarrassing episodes drew a stern reminder this spring from then-Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead, who told prospective commanding officers that they are required to have exemplary conduct. Adm. John Harvey, head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, has also said he'd review the screening process for commanding officers in response to the rash of dismissals.
The Navy has fired 18 commanding officers so far this year. The highest one-year total was 26 in 2003.
Pugh's actions in July violated a variety of Navy codes, including directives given to sailors intended to prevent them from embarrassing the U.S. while in foreign ports and jeopardizing international relations.
Pugh committed assault, disorderly conduct and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman, according to an investigative report AP obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request.
Pugh declined to comment on Friday through a spokeswoman, but in a statement to Navy investigators, he said he accepted responsibility for his actions and he embarrassed himself, his family and his air wing. He said he did not meet his own expectations as an officer.
"For offending my fellow aircrew, I am truly sorry. Their job is hard enough and any act I participated in should not make it harder," Pugh wrote.
At the time, Pugh was serving aboard the Norfolk-based U.S.S. George H.W. Bush as the commanding officer of Electronic Attack Squadron 141. The squadron is comprised of EA-18G Growlers and is based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor, Wash.
Pugh was upset that his crew didn't leave a dinner once they realized that he and his executive officer weren't there, the report said. As Pugh drank at a hotel bar filled with others in the carrier's air wing, he loudly confronted his crew about the dinner. His behavior continued to deteriorate, according to witness statements. Pugh was at the bar for about four hours until it closed.
"I didn't think much of it at first since we all joke around and give each other a hard time. But as the conversation went on, his joking and actions reached a level where I felt very uncomfortable and was in disbelief in what was occurring. He was very drunk and not making a lot of sense," according to a witness. The witnesses names were redacted in the report.
The bulk of Pugh's misbehavior started after he joined a table, uninvited, that was occupied by the crew of a helicopter squadron, several of whom he said didn't matter because they were enlisted.
"CDR Pugh said he wanted (to) tell us his philosophy of what is wrong with the Navy. He never got to a point. Instead he spewed hate talk and nonsense to us," another witness said. "When asked why he was saying the things he was or if he disagreed and said that is not right, he ignored us. He would flick beer at everyone sitting at the table. He then looked at me and dumped his glass of beer on me."
He pointed at the officer and said he wasn't worth anything because he's Mexican, according to the statements. Pugh eventually grabbed the officer and struck him hard on the face four to five times. He also pinched and twisted the chest of another person.
Pugh is currently assigned to the Electronic Attack Wing staff.
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