The first involves disgraced former astronaut and naval officer Lisa Nowak. She officially retired from the Navy last week after 26 years of service, and more than four years after she destroyed her career, by assaulting a romantic rival at the Orlando International Airport.
It was an incident made in tabloid heaven. Separated from her husband, Nowak had an affair with Navy Commander (and fellow astronaut) Bill Oefelein. But Oefelein apparently grew tired of the relationship and began dating Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman. That prompted Nowak to drive non-stop from her home in Houston to Orlando (with a supply of astronaut diapers in the car), to confront Captain Shipman. Encountering the Air Force officer at an airport parking lot, Captain Nowak sprayed pepper spry into Shipman's car before trying to escape. When police arrested her a short time later, they found a number of items in Nowak's car that suggested plans for a possible kidnapping--or worse.
Needless to say, that little incident ended Nowak's NASA career. She was booted from the astronaut corps a few weeks later, and resumed her Navy career, serving as a staff officer at the service's Naval Air Training Command in Corpus Christi. But Nowak still faced military discipline for her misdeeds and last week, she learned her fate, just as her retirement was announced. While the former astronaut will be allowed to retire from the Navy, she will receive an "other-than-honorable" discharge and be reduced in rank, to Commander. With that type of discharge, Nowak will be ineligible for most forms of veterans benefits and the rank reduction will cost her thousands of dollars a year in retirement pay.
Her retirement becomes effective 1 September. It is believed that Nowak is already on terminal leave, and has left her post in Corpus Christi.
Announcing Nowak's fate, the Navy said her conduct "fell well short of what is expected of navy officers," and she demonstrated a complete disregard for the well-being of another service member. A Naval board believed her conduct justified the OTH discharge (the most severe form of administrative separation) and the reduction in rank. Individuals with that type of discharge find it virtually impossible to secure employment with the federal government or defense contractors. However, Nowak could still earn a significant income if she signs a book or movie deal to tell her story.
Yet, while the Navy (seemingly) can't wait to get Lisa Nowak out the gate, one of her Annapolis class mates--fired for more severe offenses--appears to be living a charmed life. We refer to Captain "Horrible Holly" Graf, the female skipper who was fired 18 months ago for "cruelty and maltreatment" of her crew while in command of the USS Cowpens.
As MilitaryCorruption.com reminds us, a Navy investigation determined that Graf pulled a similar stunt a few years earlier, as CO of the USS Winston Churchill, a guided missile destroyer. Leaving a port in the Mediterranean, Graf verbally abused the ship's navigator (an exchange officer from the Royal Navy) while heading out to sea at full speed. When the Churchill scraped the bottom of the harbor, Graf ordered the ship's log falsified, a move she repeated onboard the Cowpens, when the Aegis cruiser hit a whale.
After losing command of the Cowpens, a board of inquiry recommended that Graf receive a general discharge and be retired from service, with no reduction in grade. But she's still on active duty a year later, and the Navy appears to be in no hurry to get rid of her. Both Glenn MacDonald at MilitaryCorruption and defense blogger Susan Katz Keating have been wondering the same thing: why is Holly Graf being allowed to linger on active duty, soaking up an O-6's pay and full benefits?
They believe family connections have something to do with it; "Horrible Holly" is the younger sister of Navy Rear Admiral Robin Graf, commander of the Navy's Recruiting Command. As Ms. Keating notes, Admiral Graf recently fired the CO of her recruiting district in Nashville for "unprofessional conduct." Fair enough, and the Navy has certainly been on a roll of late, dismissing more than 15 commanders for misconduct or poor performance so far this year. It's a fair bet that most of those officers who are retirement-eligible will leave active duty in the coming months.
Which brings us back to the obvious question: how can the Navy justify Holly Graf's continued presence on active duty? Captain Graf should have been on the retired list more than a year ago, and missing a stripe to boot.