On Jan. 18, 2023, US Navy leaders relieved Cmdr. Alexa Jenkins, the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Carney, and Capt. Michael D. Nordeen, the commanding officer of the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.
On the same day, Big Navy fired two distinguished commanders tied to troubled warships in Virginia and Florida.
Officials told Coffee or Die Magazine the reliefs of Cmdr. Alexa Jenkins, the commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer Carney, and Capt. Michael D. Nordeen, the skipper of the amphibious warship Mesa Verde, weren’t related, and the timing of their ousters was merely coincidental.
But the twin removals on Wednesday, Jan. 18, still surprised the fleet, especially because Jenkins and Nordeen boast unblemished records of stellar service and command.
A trailblazing surface warfare officer, Jenkins, 41, is the first Jewish woman to helm a US warship. And six Air Medals spangle Nordeen’s chest, including one for combat heroism, plus a separate Navy Commendation Medal for battlefield valor.
“I respect the decision of the chain of command,” Jenkins told Coffee or Die on Thursday. “I enjoyed every minute I spent with an incredible crew and team.”
Cmdr. Alexa F. Jenkins (right), Lt. Cmdr. Gordan Graham Van Hook (center), and Lt. James Whittlesey attend the decommissioning ceremony of the Cyclone-class patrol coastal ship Tornado on Feb. 18, 2021, at Naval Station Mayport, Florida. US Navy Photo by Seaman Aaron Lau.
Jenkins said she’d continue to support her superior officers and wished nothing but success for her temporary replacement, Capt. Aaron Anderson. She also expressed a strong love for the Navy and spoke of her immense pride in serving as a surface warfare officer.
Cmdr. Jason S. Fisher, the spokesperson for Naval Surface Force Atlantic, told Coffee or Die that Capt. Jennifer Blakeslee, the commodore of Florida-based Naval Surface Squadron 14 , lost confidence in Jenkins’ ability to command due to “a pattern of poor performance.”
Her termination after only seven months in command isn’t linked to an early morning Dec. 23 blaze on board Carney that injured six sailors. Fisher said a probe into the cause of the fire continues, and it involves agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Fisher emphasized that Jenkins isn’t a target of the fire probe, hasn’t been blamed in any of the initial findings, and isn’t facing disciplinary action.
She’s been temporarily reassigned to the staff of Naval Surface Squadron 14, the Greyhounds of the Sea.
Vice Adm. Daniel Dwyer, the commander of the US 2nd Fleet, speaks with Capt. Michael Nordeen, the skipper of the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship Mesa Verde on Dec. 21, 2022, in Norfolk, Virginia. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ryan Seelbach.
Coffee or Die’s attempts to reach Capt. Nordeen weren’t successful.
Lt. Cmdr. Paul S. Newell, spokesperson for Expeditionary Strike Group 2 in Norfolk, Virginia, said Rear. Adm. Tom Williams canned Nordeen after Mesa Verde suffered a string of three unrelated engineering casualties.
“He was relieved based on the engineer casualties, and what was found in the investigation into those engineering casualties, which was a failure of shipboard leadership,” said Newell.
A key concern was Nordeen’s ineffective communication with his crew, but the captain isn’t under investigation and won’t face disciplinary action, Newell insisted.
Capt. Michael Nordeen, commanding officer of the amphibious transport dock ship Mesa Verde, speaks during a 9/11 memorial ceremony in the hangar bay of the warship while underway off Brazil, Sept. 11, 2022. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sydney Milligan.
Although both Jenkins and Nordeen are graduates of service academies, the captain’s commissioning route is unique.
A mustang who began his military career in 1992 as an enlisted soldier in the Army, Nordeen graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, before seeking a commission as a Navy ensign.
A career Naval Aviator, he served with the “Tomcatters” of Strike Fighter Squadron 31 and the “Fighting Swordsmen” of VFA-32 before taking the helm of the “Fighting Checkmates” of VFA-211.
He’s flown more than 2,000 hours in F-14 Tomcats and FA-18 Hornet and Super Hornet aircraft and made 490 carrier arrested landings.
He’d commanded Mesa Verde only five months before he was relieved.
Capt. Michael D. Nordeen, from Necedah, Wisconsin, the outgoing executive officer of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier George Washington, departs the ship during his bong off ceremony in Newport News, Virginia, on March 3, 2022. George Washington was undergoing a refueling complex overhaul at Newport News Shipyard. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Stephen B. Sullins.
Cmdr. Jenkins graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2004, and her official biography is a case study in increasingly tougher assignments.
She was the gunnery officer on board the guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain, the Combat Information Center officer on board the amphibious warship Fort McHenry, and the operations officer on board the guided-missile destroyer Gonzalez during counter-piracy missions off Somalia.
In 2015, she took the helm of the coastal patrol ship Tornado, becoming the first Jewish-American woman to command a US warship. She then commanded a sister patrol boat, Chinook, in the Persian Gulf before returning to Tornado in its Mayport, Florida, homeport.
Her decorations include two Meritorious Service Medals, five Navy Commendation Medals, and three Navy Achievement Medal.
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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