Holly Ann Graf is an officer of the United States Navy, holding the rank of Captain. Until January 2010 she was commanding officer of the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens, a major vessel of the fleet. She was the first woman to command a cruiser in the history of the Navy. Earlier, she had been the first woman to command a destroyer when she served as skipper of the USS Winston Churchill. She holds the Bronze Star, among others
On 13 January 2010, Graf was relieved of command of USS Cowpens by Rear Admiral Kevin Donegan, commander of Carrier Strike Group Five, as non-judicial punishment stemming from an admiral's mast. The punishment followed an investigation which verified allegations of cruelty and maltreatment of her crew, and conduct unbecoming an officer. Graf was found to have violated articles 93 and 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice during her tenure as captain of the Cowpens. The investigation was initiated after multiple allegations and complaints of physical and verbal abuse were made to Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Navy Inspector General by members of the crew. Graf was subsequently replaced as the ship's commanding officer by Captain Robert Marin.
The report found that Graf frequently abused members of her crew verbally and physically, creating what one crew member described as "an environment of fear and hostility." She frequently screamed and cursed at her officers and men, and often grabbed junior officers during heated discussions. She also sent a respected petty officer to "time out," standing in the main control room doing nothing.
Graf was also found to have neglected her junior officers, even though the Navy considers training of junior officers to be among a CO's highest priorities. One of them told the IG that Graf said to his face, "I don't have time to train junior officers." She reportedly told an officer who needed her guidance on something, "This is one of the reasons I hate you." When an officer wanted to clear the air about an earlier heated discussion, Graf ordered him to "get the fuck out of my stateroom." She was particularly hard on female officers looking to her as a mentor. When one female officer asked for help, Graf snapped at her, "Don't come to me with your problems. You're a fucking department head." Another said that Graf had called her and another officer "fucking unbelievable" and would have fired them if she had the authority to do so.
Graf claimed she never made such comments, blaming the complaints about her command style on a disgruntled group in the Cowpens wardroom. However, in a follow-up email, she admitted to raising her voice and cursing at times to show she meant business.
Subsequent reports by Time revealed that Graf had a history of abusive treatment of subordinates as far back as her tenure on the Curtis Wilbur. Previous complaints had not been acted upon by Navy leaders. Many who served with her thought she was the closest thing they'd seen to a female Captain Bligh. For instance, while she was commander of the Churchill, a propeller snapped just as it was leaving port, leaving it dead in the water. Graf grabbed the Royal Navy navigator and dragged him to the outdoor bridge wing, screaming, "Did you run my fucking ship aground?" According to chaplain Maurice Kaprow, many Churchill sailors, knowing that Graf's career would have ended if the Churchill had run aground, started jumping for joy and singing Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead on the fantail. Kaprow later said that the crew's morale was the lowest he'd ever seen in his 20-year naval career. The Churchill's gunnery officer said that Graf frequently spat at other officers and threw things at them—including ceramic coffee cups and binders. Ultimately, the entire crew broke out in cheers when she was relieved in 2004.