WASHINGTON — The skipper and the tactical weapons officer of the guided missile frigate Stark on Monday accepted accountability for the vessel's "lack of readiness" when it was hit by two Iraqi missiles May 17 in a Persian Gulf attack that killed 37 sailors.
A Navy spokesman said both officers were given a letter of reprimand. He said the ship's commander, Capt. Glenn R. Brindel, has requested retirement while Lt. Basil Moncrief Jr. has submitted his resignation.
The action was taken by Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, who chose to hold an "admiral's mast" and administer non-judicial punishment rather than send Brindel and Moncrief before a general court-martial.
Neither of the officers was present for the proceeding at Atlantic Fleet headquarters in Norfolk, Va., on Monday morning.
Less Retirement Pay
Officials said Brindel will be retired as a commander because he has not served the requisite three years to make him eligible for retirement as captain. He thus will lose about $100,000 in retirement pay over his expected lifetime.
A Navy review had recommended that Brindel and Moncrief be court-martialed, and both had been charged with dereliction of duty relating to the readiness of the ship.
The Stark was hit just above the waterline by two sea-skimming Exocet missiles fired by an Iraqi air force jet that ostensibly mistook it for an Iranian vessel. Only one of the missiles exploded, but the second still carried much of its propellant and set off a raging fire when it struck near the crew's quarters.
Although the ship had detected the approach of the plane, it did not maneuver into position where it could fire its six-barrel Phalanx defense system designed to shoot down missiles.
Lt. Cmdr. Raymond Gajan Jr., the Stark's executive officer, had also been under investigation, but the Navy said his case will be handled separately because the allegations against him are of a lesser nature than those against Brindel and Moncrief.
Actions to Save Ship
Kelso apparently chose to administer non-judicial punishment rather than hold a court-martial in part because of the officers' actions in saving the ship after the attack.
In an unusual step for such a proceeding, Kelso listed several factors bearing on the decision. Among them:
-- The attack was "unexpected and originated from a source considered not likely to act in a manner hostile to a U.S. naval vessel in lawful and peaceful operations in international waters."
-- Brindel and Moncrief made "personal efforts in saving the Stark and preventing further loss of life (that) were extraordinary and heroic in the face of extreme personal peril."
-- The prolonged nature of court-martial proceedings raised concerns that they would cause "intensified grief on the part of the families of the victims of the attack and stress to the Stark crew."
Brindel, Moncrief and Gajan were relieved of duty and flown back to the United States after putting out the fire and bringing the disabled Stark into port at Bahrain. The ship, which underwent temporary repairs, is now making its way back to its home port at Mayport, Fla.
Iraq promptly apologized for the attack, but the incident set off another escalation of U.S. naval presence in the gulf and put intense pressure on the Administration for its plans to escort Kuwaiti tankers through the gulf.
Kelso had taken the investigators' report of the tragedy under advisement several weeks ago.
Because the Stark had never fired a shot to defend itself, the actions of the crew had become the focus of the investigation.
Brindel, who had been considered one of the Navy's promising young captains, told congressional investigators that he was in his quarters at the time of the attack and that Moncrief was in charge of the ship's combat information center.
As executive officer, Gajan was second in command on the ship but had only recently joined the crew under Brindel, who had been skipper for more than a year.
Brindel and Moncrief, forgoing their right to trial by court-martial to appear instead before the "admiral's mast," acknowledged in writing their accountability for inadequate protection of the ship.
Moncrief, who has served only about eight years in the Navy, will forfeit any right to a pension by leaving the service.