This post has been updated with additional comments from U.S. Pacific Fleet.
The officer in charge of a detachment of ten sailors who were captured by Iranians in January has been issued a punitive letter of reprimand for his role in the capture of the crews of the two boats, two defense officials confirmed to USNI News on Thursday.
Lt. David Nartker was accused of violating Article 92 – failure to obey an order or regulation — of the Uniform Code Military Justice and was issued punishment by then Naval Expeditionary Combat Command commander Rear Adm. Frank Morneau last month but had appealed the decision to U.S. Pacific Fleet, one defense official told USNI News.
“A Navy officer received Admiral’s Mast and was awarded a punitive letter of reprimand for violating Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” Lt. Clint Ramsden with PACFLT told USNI News on Thursday.
“The NJP was appealed to U.S. Pacific Fleet. The appeal was denied based on a finding that the punishment was neither unjust nor disproportionate.”
Now the service could use the punitive letter of reprimand as a foundation to start a process that would separate him from the Navy, Rob “Butch” Bracknell, a former Marine and military lawyer told USNI News on Thursday.
“A letter of reprimand awarded at mast is a punishment under military law, which triggers a report of misconduct to be forwarded to the Chief of Naval Personnel. NAVPERS is the ‘show cause’ authority – that is, he can direct a local commander convene a board of inquiry to determine whether an officer should be separated from the Navy, and the officer’s characterization of service, which can be characterized as Other Than Honorable. An OTH discharge can jeopardize valuable VA benefits, including certain disability compensation, education benefits and VA home loans,” Bracknell said.
“I’d be shocked if a BOI doesn’t occur where this officer has to fight to stay in the Navy. And even if he’s allowed to stay, it will only be to the end of his obligated service. He won’t get promoted again with a report of NJP in his record. His career is over. The only questions are how soon, and what are the third order effects of his discharge characterization.”
Nartker’s letter of reprimand is the last of the accountability actions Navy leaders outlined in June following the release of a report on the failures in leadership up the chain that resulted in the capture of the two Riverine Command Boats (RCBs) by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps after the boats strayed into Iranian waters.
Prior to Nartker’s punishment, “four Navy officers went to admiral’s mast, two have been awarded a punitive letter of reprimand for violating Articles 90 (disobedience of a superior commissioned officer) and 92 (dereliction in the performance of duties) of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice; one Navy officer was found not guilty of violating Article 92 (dereliction in the performance of duties) of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice; and accountability actions for the fourth Navy officer have not yet been completed,” Lt. Cmdr Jennifer Cragg told USNI News last month.
“Two enlisted have been awarded a punitive letter of reprimand for violating Article 92 (dereliction in the performance of duties) of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.”
In May the service relieved the riverine squadron commander, Cmdr. Eric Rasch.
Capt. Kyle Moses, commander of Task Force 56, was removed from his position in June. An enlisted member of one of the two RCBs faced an administrative hearing but was not punished.
The Jan. 12 incident occurred during a transit of the two RCBs from Kuwait to Bahrain. The distance was much further than the boats typically operated. Shortly after starting the trip, the ships traveled off course and were lost when one of the ships broke down.
The boats were in sight of the Iran’s Farsi Island when they were surrounded by IRGC forces and the crews were captured.
Nartker said he was trying to prevent an international incident when he and his sailors were captured.
“We might have all been dead at that point in time. I didn’t want to start a war with Iran either. That was also on my mind. I didn’t want to start a war that would get people killed. My thought at the end of the day was that no one had to die for a misunderstanding,” Nartker told investigators
“I made the gamble that they were not going to kill us. I made the gamble that they’re not going to Tehran and parade us around like prisoners of war — because they want this nuke deal to go through… What’s the commander’s intent here, the highest commander’s intent? The Commander-in-Chief would not want me to start a war over a mistake, over a misunderstanding.”
In addition to the larger investigation, NECC is holding a separate review to see if the command is adequately manned and equipped to carry out its missions.