US Navy Fires Pacific Warship Commander Over ‘Loss of Confidence’

A U.S. Navy warship stationed on the Pacific front line—and tasked with deterring Chinese military adventurism in the region—has lost its second commanding officer in six months following a dismissal this week.

Cmdr. Cameron Dennis, who led the crew of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Howard, was relieved on Tuesday “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to perform his duties,” according to a brief statement released by the service.

Dennis, a career surface sailor who took command of the Howard last September, was reassigned to the staff of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, headquartered at the naval base in Yokosuka in Japan’s eastern Kanagawa prefecture. He was replaced in the interim by Capt. Dave Huljack, the Navy said, “until a permanent relief is identified.”

The USS Howard arrives in Wellington for a routine port visit on November 26, 2021. The Howard’s commanding officer was relieved of his duties following a “loss of confidence,” the U.S. Navy said on February…

U.S. Embassy Wellington

The Howard is part of Destroyer Squadron 15—the largest in the service, with nine Arleigh Burke-class warships—and a member of Carrier Strike Group 5, led by the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reaganboth based in Yokosuka.

Dennis was relieved by Capt. Justin Harts, the commodore of Destroyer Squadron 15, according to the Navy, which didn’t elaborate on the decision.

An unnamed Navy official told USNI News, the U.S. Naval Institute’s news website, that Dennis was removed for “conduct reasons” and not because of his performance.

“The relief followed a substantiated command investigation into ‘unprofessional’ comments,” the report said, citing the official.

The Navy’s Arleigh Burkes and other ship classes regularly operate in Asia’s crowded shipping lanes—some of the busiest in the world—and lead operations that frequently draw complaints from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

American destroyers or maritime patrol aircraft conduct monthly transits through the Taiwan Strait, the 100-mile-wide waterway separating China from its political foe, Taiwan, the island Beijing claims is part of Chinese territory.

U.S. warships also embark on freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPs, in the highly contested South China Sea, over which the Chinese government claims sovereignty.

In both areas in the Western Pacific region, the Navy’s surface ships or aircraft have reported close shadowing by PLA naval vessels or fighter jets, some of which have been involved in near misses due to their proximity.

Strait transits and FONOPs challenge Beijing’s desire to assert control over international waters.

US Navy Fires Pacific Warship’s Commanding Officer
Kamala Harris prepares to speak during her visit onboard the USS Howard at the naval base in Yokosuka, in Japan’s eastern Kanagawa prefecture, on September 28, 2022. The Howard’s commanding officer was relieved of his…


Six months ago, on September 1, Dennis became the Howard‘s commanding officer following the dismissal of Cmdr. Kenji Igawa, who had been relieved the previous month due to “loss of confidence in his ability to command,” the Navy said in a statement at the time.

It came after the Howard experienced a “soft grounding” outside of the Indonesian island of Bali, the Navy told USNI News. The Navy dismissed 16 commanding officers in 2023.

“Navy commanding officers are held to high standards of personal and professional conduct. They are expected to uphold the highest standards of responsibility, reliability and leadership, and the Navy holds them accountable when they fall short of those standards,” the service said in a statement in December.