GROTON, Conn. -- A newly appointed nuclear attack submarine commander who went to extreme lengths to end an extramarital affair thought the issue was behind him -- until the family of his ex-girlfriend got in touch with the Navy.
Now the military career of Cmdr. Michael P. Ward II, who faked his death to end the eight-month affair, appears to be over. A panel of officers recommended Friday that Ward be ousted from the Navy with an honorable discharge.
Ward apologized during the hearing to the Navy, his sailors and his wife in the hearing at Naval Submarine Base and said he took full responsibility for his actions, including the email he sent to his mistress posing as a fictitious co-worker named Bob and saying Ward had died unexpectedly.
"The reason I did it was to sever the relationship," he said, "but the choice was ridiculous."
Ward, who was relieved of his duties aboard the USS Pittsburgh in August only a week after taking command, already has received a letter of reprimand for adultery and other military violations. The three-officer board of inquiry recommended he retain his rank upon being discharged. Its decision goes to the secretary of the Navy for approval within 90 days.
Ward asked to remain in the service during the hearing, and his lawyers argued that despite his mistakes, the case came down to personal misconduct that should not destroy what had been a highly distinguished career. But attorneys for the government countered that Ward discredited the Navy and that his removal put a strain on the fleet because officers had to be shuffled around to cover his removal.
"This is not a case of lapsed judgment, this is case of no judgment," said Navy Lt. Griffin Farris, acting as prosecutor at the hearing.
Wearing dress blues and surrounded by his military lawyers on either side, Ward said in an unsworn statement he would regret his mistakes his life, adding that he was grateful to his wife for standing by him.
"I want to apologize directly to my wife for the hurt and harm and humiliation I have caused her," he said as she sat in the front row, her eyes red.
Still, the Navy shouldn't throw away his talent and training, said high-ranking officers with whom Ward has served. They said he made an awful mistake and that he was a fast-rising, hard-working officer.
Before moving to Connecticut Ward served the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he used his nuclear expertise to provide daily briefings to the chairman as the Fukushima disaster unfolded following the earthquake in Japan. Navy Capt. Lawrence Vincent, who worked with Ward in Washington, said he would serve with again and the handling of the affair struck him as out of character.
"With Mike Ward, it was a true shock," Vincent said.
Ward's girlfriend, a younger woman in Virginia, discovered that he had not died and had actually moved to Connecticut to take command of a submarine when she visited the house his family used to occupy in Virginia. A lawyer who represented Ward at the hearing, Navy Cmdr. Daniel Cimmino, said Ward's wife and girlfriend spoke and the family was working through what they expected would remain a private issue.
Once the story came out, Cimmino said Ward was honest with his chain of command from the beginning.
"This man probably would have been an admiral someday, and he's brought shame on himself and he knows that," Cimmino said.
But a senior enlisted sailor from the USS Pittsburgh told the panel that Ward at first denied the accusations.
The sailor, Master Chief Chris Beauprez, said he received a call on the submarine from a sister of Ward's girlfriend, who told him what Ward had done.
Beauprez said he told Ward about the call and Ward denied the woman's allegations, then said he'd address the situation himself. Beauprez testified that he had an implicit trust in what his commander said so he didn't take the matter any further.
Days later, he said, he heard Ward was being dismissed. The Navy has said the investigation began when a relative of Ward's mistress contacted the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
A fellow Navy officer who had gone through training with Ward, Cmdr. Anthony Moore, testified that he heard about the affair when news of it first surfaced - including the detail that Ward had used the name Tony Moore in an online dating profile that he used to meet the woman.
"I was very surprised," Moore, who's based on a submarine squadron in Washington state, told the board by telephone. "And frankly, I was a little concerned for my reputation."