Decorated Navy Captain Dies in Off-Duty Accident

Capt. Stephen "Cole" Hayes, Task Force 76 chief of staff, died in an off-duty recreational accident, Feb. 21, 2017. Navy photo
Capt. Stephen "Cole" Hayes, Task Force 76 chief of staff, died in an off-duty recreational accident, Feb. 21, 2017. Navy photo

An Okinawa-based senior Navy officer was killed this week in what officials are calling an off-duty recreational accident.

Capt. Stephen "Cole" Hayes, chief of staff for Task Force 76, died Feb. 21, officials with Amphibious Force 7th Fleet announced Thursday.

Hayes was a 24-year sailor with a prior enlisted career who had served on three command tours and completed seven at-sea deployments. He had earned the Bronze Star, the Combat Action Ribbon, and five Navy Commendation Medals, among other awards.

Questions about the specific nature of the accident did not receive an immediate response.

"We are deeply saddened by the death of a shipmate and friend. Our sincere condolences are with Capt. Hayes' wife, children, and entire family," Task Force 76 commander Rear Adm. Marc Dalton said in a released statement. "Our staff and the Navy have lost an amazing officer and leader. His time here will leave an indelible imprint."

Hayes, a Henderson, Colorado, native, had assumed his current post at CTF 76 in September. According to his official biography, he enlisted in the Navy in 1992 after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature at the University of Colorado, Boulder. While in college, he also distinguished himself in sports as a three-year letterman in football.

He served as a fire controlman aboard the Kidd-class guided-missile destroyer Chandler, then attended the Navy's Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida.

Hayes' command tours included the Cyclone-class patrol ship Chinook, the amphibious transport dock Ponce, and the amphibious transport dock Somerset. He also served as deputy commander of Amphibious Squadron 3 and, most recently before CTF 76, as the deputy director of the equal opportunity branch of the Navy's 21st Century Sailor office.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

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