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Officer Punished for 2016 Farsi Island Incident Allowed to Stay in Navy

Riverine Command Boat (RCB) 802’s boat captain, Lt. David Nartker, assigned to Commander, Task Group (CTG) 56.7, checks his boat’s communications system operating in the Persian Gulf in 2015. US Navy Photo

This post has been updated to include a staetment from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

The officer in charge of 10 U.S. Navy sailors captured by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf last year will be allowed to stay in the service, his attorney said.

On Tuesday, a three-sailor board of inquiry voted to let Lt. David Nartker stay in the Navy after he received a punitive letter of reprimand for his role in the capture of himself and nine other riverine sailors by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), after two boats he commanded drifted into Iranian waters during a transit in the Persian Gulf.

The board of inquiry proceeding — held at Imperial Beach, Calif. from April 17 to 18 — follow a September ruling that placed a letter of reprimand in Nartker’s file for violating Article 92 – failure to obey an order or regulation — of the Uniform Code Military Justice. The BOI to see if Nartker would remain in the service was triggered after the letter of reprimand was issued.

“I believe, in the end, the system worked,” Phillip Lowry, Nartker’s defense attorney, told USNI News on Thursday.
“Once this got outside of the realm of the Pentagon and got to the levels of peers being able to review his conduct – O6s and O5s that were in the trenches with him as an officer – I knew that they would make the right call.”

Foreign Policy first reported the story on Wednesday.

“Boards of Inquiry (BOI) are administrative hearings held for officers who have failed to maintain the required standards of professional proficiency or personal conduct,” read a statement from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr.Jen Cragg provided to USNI News.
“Lt. Nartker’s involvement in the January 2016 riverine boat incident warranted the convening of this board. The board determined that Lt. Nartker should be retained in the Navy. That decision is final.”

The Jan. 12, 2016, incident leveled intense scrutiny on the Navy’s deployed riverine community and resulted in a months-long investigation that concluded failures up and down the chain of command led to Nartker’s capture by the IRGCN.

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.”

While the BOI recommended he be allowed to stay in the service, Nartker’s career in the Navy will likely be curtailed, Rob “Butch” Bracknell, a former Marine and military lawyer, told USNI News on Thursday.

“He will never get promoted again. This was all about when he left the Navy, and with what characterization of service on his discharge,” he said.
“He has no career going forward. He will finish his obligated service, fail selection to O4 a couple times, and leave with a nice payout of separation pay to help fund his attendance at business school.”

The following is the complete statement from NECC provided to USNI News.

— A Board of Inquiry took place for Lt. David Nartker at Coastal Riverine Group 1 headquarters in Imperial Beach, California April 17-18. Boards of Inquiry (BOI) are administrative hearings held for officers who
have failed to maintain the required standards of professional proficiency or personal conduct. The boards are held to determine if the Navy will retain the officer for continued service. Lt. Nartker’s involvement in the January 2016 riverine boat incident warranted the convening of this board. The board determined that Lt. Nartker should be retained in the Navy. That decision is final.

— Commander, Navy Personnel Command, directed Navy Region Southwest to convene the BOI to determine if Lt. David Nartker should be retained
for continued naval service.

— A board composed of at least three, senior commissioned officers receives evidence and gives the officer a fair and impartial hearing so that the officer may argue as to why he or she should be retained in the Navy. In this instance, the board determined the officer should be retained in the Navy and the case against the officer is closed.