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Warship Commander Steps Down

The USS Rushmore (LSD 47) off the coast of California in July 2012. The ship's previous commanding officer resigned after 18 years of service. (Stocktrek Images)
The USS Rushmore (LSD 47) off the coast of California in July 2012. The ship's previous commanding officer resigned after 18 years of service. (Stocktrek Images)

Following a rare request on Nov. 21 to be relieved of duty, Cmdr. Sarah H. De Groot -- highly decorated skipper of the warship USS Rushmore -- has been replaced.

Cmdr. DeWayne Sanders temporarily took the helm of the landing dock ship, according to a statement issued by Naval Surface Force spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Haggard.

De Groot, 42, declined comment when contacted by The San Diego Union-Tribune. Officials indicated that she was not under investigation for any wrongdoing.

The Rushmore, an aging Whidbey Island-class amphibious warship, has been undergoing shipyard maintenance in San Diego, its home port.

The crew's training phase is not slated to begin until early 2017.

De Groot has long ties to the Rushmore. She took command of the Navy warship in March after serving two years as its executive officer. She also was the Rushmore's 1st Lieutenant during her first department head tour.

During the June 1st celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Rushmore's commissioning, Cmdr. De Groot proudly told her sailors that it was an honor to serve aboard the vessel, adding that their "success during the maintenance availability ... will ensure the ship will have many more successes to come."

The Rushmore boasts a storied history. During its first deployment, the warship spearheaded the 1992 beach landing in Somalia, kicking off Operation Restore Hope; it became the largest military-led humanitarian mission in history.

The 38th Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Michelle Howard, commanded the Rushmore in 1999 -- the first black woman to skipper an American warship.

In 2015, the Rushmore rescued 65 survivors clinging to a life raft that was spotted drifting through Indonesia's Makassar Strait following a ferry disaster.

Raised in Long Beach, De Groot's awards include five Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals and the Meritorious Service Medal.

After serving on board the amphibious warship USS Pearl Harbor, De Groot became the super-carrier USS Constellation's combat systems maintenance officer in the early stages of the Iraq invasion. She returned to Iraq to become the force protection officer for Destroyer Squadron 50, where she guarded the nation's offshore oil infrastructure during a brutal counterinsurgency war.

De Groot's shore tours have included serving as Flag Secretary for the commander of Naval Surface Force Atlantic, and later as the top tactical action officer mentor at Afloat Training Group San Diego.

Despite 18 years of exemplary service, De Groot's resignation is likely to end her Navy career.

(c)2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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