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Death of U.S. 5th Fleet commander in his quarters expected to be ruled a suicide

national post 2018-12-04 22:36:42
Vice Admiral Scott Stearney welcomes the crew of the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) to Manama, Bahrain on October 24, 2018.Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay / US NAVY

The admiral overseeing U.S. naval operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia was found dead in Bahrain on Saturday, the Navy said.

The officer, Vice Adm. Scott A. Stearney, was found dead in his residence in Bahrain, Admiral John M. Richardson, chief of naval operations, said in a statement, noting that no foul play was suspected. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Bahraini Interior Ministry are cooperating on the investigation, Richardson said.

A U.S. defence official told USNI News that Stearney’s death will almost certainly be ruled a suicide and word on the cause of death is expected by mid-week.

Stearney took charge in May of the Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, as well as a broader naval coalition there that includes more than 20,000 U.S. and allied maritime forces.

“This is devastating news for the Stearney family, for the team at 5th Fleet, and for the entire Navy,” Richardson said in the statement. “Scott Stearney was a decorated naval warrior.”

The headquarters of US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet in Manama. THOMAS WATKINS/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S.-led naval forces play an important role in safeguarding such vital regional waterways as the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Red Sea. In recent years, the naval forces have confronted threats including marauding pirates, harassing Iranian revolutionary guard attack boats, weapons smugglers, and Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen firing missiles at commercial ships.

“We stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce where international law allows,” Stearney told reporters in a conference call in September. “We are postured to defend and protect, not to cause international crises and provocation and escalation. We are here for the stability and the security of this region and for nothing else.”

Stearney, an FA-18 fighter pilot and former Top Gun instructor with more than 1,000 landings on aircraft carriers, had previously served in Kabul, Afghanistan, as chief of staff of Joint Task Force 435, which trains and advises Afghan military and security forces conducting detention and other operations there. Other previous assignments included stints at the military’s Transportation Command, commander of the Navy’s warfare development command, and director of operations for the Central Command, according to his Navy biography.

Stearney, a native of Chicago, entered the Navy in 1982 after graduating from the University of Notre Dame. He became a Navy aviator in 1984 and served in strike fighter squadrons flying the FA-18 Hornet using the call sign “Sterno.” He eventually rose to command the air wing aboard the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to his Navy biography.

Rear Adm. Paul J. Schlise, deputy commander of 5th Fleet, has assumed command, Richardson said. Vice Adm. James Malloy, a deputy chief of naval operations, was preparing to fly out to Bahrain last weekend to take command in the interim.