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Report: Fired CO undone by curious spouse - not his

Nov. 22, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Capt. Jeffrey Winter was fired in September from command of Carrier Air Wing 17 over a relationship with a female junior officer.
Capt. Jeffrey Winter was fired in September from command of Carrier Air Wing 17 over a relationship with a female junior officer. (MC2 James R. Evans/Navy)
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A jealous spouse grounded the career of Navy pilot Capt. Jeffrey “Chilly” Winter — but not the spouse you’d think.

The allegations arose in mid-2013, when the wife of an information systems technician second class found a flash drive in her husband’s clothes and, suspicious of her spouse, decided to take a peek. She found something startling: Emails between Winter, the air wing’s top officer, and a female flight surgeon cooing about their affair.

The IT2’s wife immediately sensed an opportunity to cudgel her husband’s command, Carrier Air Wing 17, which is based in Lemoore, Calif.

“The command better not mess with my husband,” she told the ombudsman, according to an investigation. “Have I got something for them.”

The allegations — and the unusual way they came to light — led to a command investigation that found Winter and the unnamed flight surgeon had carried on an affair that ignited on the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson’s 2012 cruise and burned for 16 months. Winter, a married man, admitted the affair Sept. 18 and was stripped of his command two days later by his boss, the strike group commander.

The investigation was first reported Tuesday by U-T San Diego.

Flight surgeon 'Sugar'

The probe uncovered evidence that Winter nominated his lover for the Flight Surgeon of the Year award and, at one point, she may have asked him to “sign off” on her insufficient number of flight hours; this allegation made by the IT2’s wife was not addressed in the report’s findings, which officials stripped of most names and ranks.

It is clear, however, that Winter, living as a “geo-bachelor” away from his wife, fell under the spell of the air wing’s flight surgeon, a physician whose job is to perform routine checkups on fliers and aircrews. He called her “Sugar” and seemed to relish their fling.

“I was thinking about our time in Perth just today,” he wrote in one of the two emails included in the 22-page report obtained by Navy Times. “What a wonderful time that was.”

Winter said he was “perplexed” by his emotions, however, and hadn’t decided whether to leave his wife, as the lieutenant implored. She told him he was “hea[d]-over-heels in love” and didn’t belong in a “passionless” marriage, according to the report.

Both signed off their emails, “I love you,” but it was not to be. Winter told investigators that the relationship ended in June.

The lieutenant was not interviewed. She left the Navy in June, two months before the allegations arose.

Her email to Winter, oddly, mentions that she received an official subpoena.

'Extremely hurtful'

Winter’s firing was an abrupt turnaround for a decorated aviator. A 1989 Naval Academy grad, he is an F/A-18 pilot who has more than 800 carrier landings and who once served as a “Top Gun” instructor at the Navy Fighter Weapons School.

He has received the Defense Superior Service Medal; three Meritorious Service Medals; nine Air Medals, one with combat “V”; and five Navy Commendation Medals, one with Combat “V.”

Reached on his cellphone Thursday, Winter declined to comment on the report, which he said had exposed an episode he is doing his best to move on from.

“I’m not going to say much,” Winter said. “The details are extremely hurtful to me, to my kids, to my family.”

The command report does not establish how the IT2 wound up with his skipper’s emails on a thumb drive he brought home. The IT2, who said he was now going through a divorce, wasn’t sure how his wife got access to Winter’s Navy Marine Corps Intranet emails.

“The compromise of personal and official email requires further investigation,” the report concludes.

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