Written by Ashton Snyder on
 July 9, 2024

Navy Relieves Commander of USS Hershel Williams

The U.S. Navy has relieved Capt. Lenard C. Mitchell from his command of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams’ Gold Crew.

This decision follows an investigation into the vessel’s grounding incident off the coast of West Africa in May 2024.

According to Task & Purpose, the incident occurred on May 9, 2024, near the port of Libreville, Gabon, where the ship experienced a "soft grounding." According to the Navy, the vessel was stuck for about four hours until it was freed by high tide. There were no reported injuries or major damages from this occurrence.

Findings Lead to Command Change

The investigation is still ongoing, but preliminary findings have led to the dismissal of Capt. Mitchell. "While the investigation is still open, sufficient findings of fact emerged during the investigation to warrant the relief of the commanding officer," stated a Navy press release.

This action reflects the Navy’s adherence to holding commanders accountable for mishaps under their watch. Capt. Mitchell, who began his tenure as commanding officer of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams’ Gold Crew on November 20, 2022, has now been relieved of his duties.

Vice Adm. Thomas E. Ishee, the commander of the 6th Fleet, decided to relieve Mitchell. According to Lt. Cmdr. Jason Tross, a spokesperson for the 6th Fleet, the incident remains under investigation.

Naval Tradition of Accountability

The Navy traditionally holds commanding officers to the highest standards, making them answerable for any mishaps occurring on their ships. This year alone, 13 commanding officers have been relieved of their duties, compared to 16 in 2023.

The Navy often employs the phrase "loss of confidence" to explain why an officer or senior enlisted leader is relieved. This is a standard procedure aimed at ensuring accountability and maintaining trust within the ranks.

Capt. Mitchell's career with the Navy began when he enlisted in 1990. He later received his commission through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at Southern University, Baton Rouge.

Ongoing Investigation and Implications

The investigation into the grounding incident is crucial in understanding the full extent of what happened and how it could have been prevented. The Navy emphasized in its news release that "the U.S. Navy holds commanding officers to the highest standard and takes action to hold them accountable when those standards are not met."

Mitchell's relief underscores the significant responsibilities entrusted to naval leaders, including the safety of their sailors and the operational readiness of their ships. Ensuring that commanders are capable of meeting these standards is a fundamental aspect of naval operations.

The USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, an expeditionary sea base ship, plays a critical role in supporting a variety of naval operations. The incident off the coast of Gabon is a reminder of the challenges faced during regular missions and the importance of command leadership.


Capt. Mitchell's relief from command of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams’ Gold Crew follows an incident of soft grounding off the coast of West Africa. The vessel was temporarily stuck near Libreville, Gabon, and no injuries or significant damage was reported. The investigation continues, with the Navy emphasizing the standard of accountability expected from its commanding officers. This action by Vice Adm. Thomas E. Ishee highlights the critical responsibilities and expectations placed on naval leaders.

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About Ashton Snyder

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