A Navy lieutenant who attempted to negotiate with Iranian captors by filming a taped apology during the brief detention of two riverine command boat crews in January has appealed after being disciplined last week, an official with knowledge of the proceedings confirmed to Military.com.
Lt. David Nartker was in charge of the lead boat when the two crews strayed into Iranian waters during a Jan. 12 transit from Kuwait to Bahrain. One of the boats subsequently broke down, and the 10 crew members were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard while dead in the water off the coast of Farsi Island.
An investigation into the incident found that Nartker, the only officer among the 10 sailors, failed to take decisive action when detained and had acted improperly in surrendering the two boats. He also was faulted for apologizing to captors on camera in exchange for the sailors' release -- video that later would be used by Iranian media for propaganda purposes.
"We apologize for our mistake," he said in the circulated video. "That's our fault."
Nartker received an unspecified punishment alongside another officer Aug. 4 at a captain's mast before Rear Adm. Frank Morneau, head of Naval Expeditionary Combat Command. The appeal will go to Adm. Scott Swift, head of U.S. Pacific Fleet, sources said. Swift has 30 days to make a decision on the appeal.
"The appeal authority may set aside the punishment, decrease its severity, or deny the appeal, but may not increase the severity of the punishment," NECC spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg said in a statement.
The investigation found that Nartker had resisted reciting scripted remarks on camera for his Iranian captors, but had violated the U.S. code of conduct for troops who are captured by apologizing.
Unbeknownst to him, the State Department had already negotiated the sailors' release before he agreed to appear in the video.
The investigating officer made allowances, however, for Nartker's youth and inexperience, adding that lack of oversight and leadership on the part of more senior leaders had contributed to the difficult position in which he was placed.
"His deployment to the Fifth Fleet area of operations lacked any form of oversight and he lacked basic mentorship and development from his entire chain of command," the investigation stated. "Left to his own devices, he emulated the poor leadership traits he witnessed first-hand within his own chain of command."
At least three commanding officers have been removed from their posts in connection with the incident, and four officers, including Nartker, have appeared at captain's mast. Three received punitive letters of reprimand, and one was found to be not guilty of wrongdoing, officials said.
Two enlisted personnel also received letters of reprimand.
But one of the riverine sailors was singled out for commendation: The number two gunner on the second boat, the only woman among the two crews, received a Navy Commendation Medal this month for activating an emergency beacon to summon help while under Iranian guard.