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Navy Captain Demoted After Warship Drag Race Surfaced

A Navy captain was demoted because she berated and assaulted her crew, not because she led her guided missile cruiser on a drag-race with another U.S. warship in the Pacific, an investigation shows.

Capt. Holly Graf was relieved of her command of the cruiser USS Cowpens after an investigation substantiated crew allegations that she was abusive and used her position for personal gain, naval officials said Thursday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

Graf did not immediately answer an e-mail. A message on her phone said the number had been changed, disconnected or was not in service.

A Navy inspector general report said investigators had substantiated that Graf assaulted subordinates (pushing one, grabbing another and once throwing wadded up paper at another sailor) and that she regularly verbally abused subordinates by publicly berating them, belittling them and using profane language.

The allegations were called in to a Navy hotline and covered March 2008 to July 2009. The report was issued in December, she was relieved of her command on Jan. 19 and on Thursday was awaiting new orders, one official said.

Graf once ordered a subordinate to stand in a "timeout" in a corner in front of the full watch team, which he complained to investigators was demeaning to him, according to the report.

The report also found she used her office for personal gain — that is, asked junior officers to play piano at her private Christmas party and to walk her dogs.

Among allegations not substantiated was one that she endangered the ship while allowing a drag-race between the Cowpens and the destroyer USS John S. McCain in February 2009.

Four witnesses described the 2009 race off of Okinawa, but they differed on how close the two vessels came to each other before the race was halted.

One sailor said that during the race, aimed at boosting morale, the McCain got ahead of the Cowpens and began drifting to the left into the path of the Cowpens. Though the report did not question that the race took place, it said the allegation of "hazarding a vessel" was unsubstantiated.

"In order to show that (she) improperly hazarded the USS Cowpens, the evidence must show that an actual event occurred in which the ship was lost or damaged, or that there was a situation in which the ship was placed in imminent danger of loss or serious damage" and that she did it willfully, the inspector general said.

One of the officials, who has many years of sea duty, said races on the open seas are not uncommon and are done to bolster morale or as a kind of maneuver drill.