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The highly respected vice admiral responsible for naval forces in the Middle East who was found dead in his home last year took his own life, a Navy investigation found.
Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, who commanded U.S. 5th Fleet, was found dead in his home in Janabiya, Bahrain, on Dec. 1. His death prompted a probe from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which determined he had died by suicide.
“The timeline of events and witness statements support this conclusion,” a heavily redacted copy of the preliminary inquiry into Stearney's death states. “… No information uncovered during the subsequent NCIS investigation, including multiple interviews and forensic analysis of VADM Stearney's electronic devices, contradicted this finding.”
The cause of Stearney's death was first reported by Navy Times on Tuesday. Navy officials released a copy of the preliminary inquiry Wednesday.
Vice Adm. James Malloy, who replaced Stearney as head of 5th Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command, called Stearney a superb officer.
“His leadership as the 5th Fleet commander, and the initiatives that he put in motion, enhanced our readiness, expanded partnerships across the region, and set a course for this command that remains our way ahead. We continue to reap the benefits of that leadership and vision,” Malloy said in a statement. “… I mourn the loss of an incredible Navy leader, and I miss the camaraderie and wise counsel of my friend.”
In 2018, the military saw the highest rate of active-duty suicides in at least six years. That included 68 sailors, up from 65 in 2017. Five years ago, the Navy recorded 41 suicides among active-duty personnel.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson was asked during a March all-hands in Maryland what he was doing to try to address the service's high suicide rate. The CNO called suicide “the most extreme challenge in the mental health business” and said the service is “hunting it like crazy.”
He said he wants to simplify mental health programs and make it easier for sailors to get help. Richardson also wants to add more counselors and encouraged small-unit leadership and support.
Investigators found that Stearney's death was “in the line of duty and was not due to his own misconduct.”
“Suicide creates a strong inference of a lack of mental responsibility which has not been overcome by any of the facts uncovered from this investigation; therefore, no adverse line of duty determination is recommended,” the preliminary inquiry states.
No further investigation is warranted, the document adds.
Stearney had served as head of 5th Fleet for about seven months. An F/A-18 Hornet pilot, he flew more than 4,500 mishap-free flight hours and had more than 1,000 carrier-arrested landings.
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Author: Gina Harkins