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Navy replaces admiral leading Mideast strike group

WASHINGTON – The Navy said Saturday it is replacing the admiral in command of an aircraft carrier strike group in the Middle East, pending the outcome of an internal investigation into undisclosed allegations of inappropriate judgment.

Rear Adm. Charles M. Gaouette is being sent back to the USS John C. Stennis' home port at Bremerton, Wash., in what the Navy called a temporary reassignment. The Navy said he is not formally relieved of his command of the Stennis strike group but will be replaced by Rear Adm. Troy M. Shoemaker, who will assume command until the investigation is completed.

It is highly unusual for the Navy to replace a carrier strike group commander during its deployment.

The Navy did not reveal details of the allegations, citing only an accusation of "inappropriate leadership judgment" that arose during the strike group's deployment to the Middle East. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy's chief spokesman, declined to discuss the investigation.

The Stennis group deployed from Bremerton in late August and had entered the Navy 5th Fleet's area of operations in the Middle East on Oct. 17 after sailing across the Pacific. The Stennis made port visits in Thailand and Malaysia on its way to the Middle East.

It deployed four months earlier than scheduled in response to a request by the commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. James Mattis, to maintain two aircraft carriers in the Middle East. The Stennis replaced the USS Enterprise carrier group.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited the Stennis and its sailors in Bremerton shortly before they departed. He thanked them for accelerating their deployment on short notice.

"I understand that it is tough," Panetta said. "We are asking an awful lot of each of you, but frankly you are the best I have and when the world calls we have to respond."

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