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Thursday, March 4, 2010


The Rise and Fall of a Female Captain Bligh

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Captain Holly Graf and the U.S.S. Cowpens
U.S. NavY

Women are so common in the upper ranks of the U.S. military these days that it's no longer news when they break through another barrier. Unfortunately, the latest benchmark isn't one to brag about: being booted as captain of a billion-dollar warship for "cruelty and maltreatment" of her 400-member crew. According to the Navy Inspector General's report that triggered her removal — and the accounts of officers who served with her — Captain Holly Graf was the closest thing the U.S. Navy has to a female Capt. Bligh.
A Navy admiral stripped Graf of her command of the Japan-based guided missile cruiser U.S.S. Cowpens in January. The just-released IG report concludes that Graf "repeatedly verbally abused her crew and committed assault," and accuses her of using her position as commander of the Cowpens "for personal gain." But old Navy hands tell TIME that those charges, substantiated in the IG report, came about because of the poisonous atmosphere she created aboard her ship. (See the best pictures of 2009.)
The case has attracted wide notice inside the Navy and on Navy blogs, where her removal has generated cheers from those who served with her since she graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1985. While many denounced Graf, even greater anger seems directed at the Navy brass for promoting such an officer to positions of ever-increasing responsibility. The Navy declined to make Graf available for an interview.
While in command at sea — where a captain's word is law and she or he has the power to make or break careers — Graf swore like, well, a sailor. She "creates an environment of fear and hostility [and] frequently humiliates and belittles watch standers by screaming at them with profanities in front of the Combat Information Center and bridge watch teams," one crew member told the IG. According to 29 of 36 members of the crew questioned for the Navy's report, Graf repeatedly dropped F-bombs on them. "Take your goddamn attitude and shove it up your f------ ass and leave it there," she allegedly told an officer during a stressful maneuver aboard the 567-foot, 10,000-ton vessel. (See TIME's special report on the state of the American woman.)
Junior officers seeking her guidance were rebuffed. "This is one of the reasons I hate you," she allegedly told one seeking her help. When another officer visited her quarters to discuss an earlier heated discussion, her response was terse: "Get the f--- out of my stateroom." She allegedly told a male officer: "The only words I want to hear our of your mouth are 'Yes ma'am,' or 'You're correct ma'am.'" She put a "well-respected Master Chief" in "time out" — standing in the ship's key control room doing nothing — "in front of other watch standers of all ranks."
While most witness statements contained in the IG report didn't specify whether the person testifying was male or female, the IG asked at least two women officers whether or not they viewed Graf as a role model. One younger woman recalled going to Graf to seek her help. "Don't come to me with your problems," she said Graf responded. "You're a f------ Department Head." The officer also said that Graf once told her: "I can't express how mad you make me without getting violent."
A second female officer told the IG that Graf "is a terrible role model for women in the Navy," alleging that Graf had once told her and a fellow officer on the bridge: "You two are f------ unbelievable. I would fire you if I could but I can't."

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