After only seven months leading the US Navy’s Fifth fleet, Vice Admiral Scott Stearney – who led the American Navy presence in the Middle East from its base in Bahrain – has been found dead in his residence, the Navy announced Saturday evening.
Stearney, a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Notre Dame, assumed control of the fleet from Vice Adm. John C. Aquilino back in May after Aquilino had served in the role for only eight months. He was in his late fifties at the time of his death.
The circumstances surrounding the admiral’s death are not yet known. News media is reporting that his death was an apparent suicide. Bahrainian authorities are cooperating in an investigation, according to a statement released by the US Navy.
During his 36 years in the Navy, Stearney served as a fighter pilot before leading an aerial strike force in Kabul during the 2000s, before ascending to the upper management ranks of the military, according to his Navy bio. As commander, he was responsible for more than 20,000 U.S. and coalition sailors, Marines, Coastguardsmen, and civilians. Rear Admiral Paul Schlise, the fleet’s deputy commander, has assumed control of the fleet.
The Fifth Fleet helps oversee operations in areas like the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. According to CNN, the fleet is critical to US security interests due to its proximity to Iran and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, both of which are seen as threats to shipping in a region that’s seen as one of the most critical arteries for shipments of crude oil and gas. Before Stearney took over, the fleet was involved in one of the biggest controversy in recent US military history when Iran captured two Navy ships that were part of a carrier strike group and temporarily detained 10 US sailors. Ships that were part of the fleet has been involved in several confrontations with Iranian ships since, though they’ve received far less media attention.