Navy secretary nominee: Service in ‘rough waters’ after ‘failure of leadership’

By Ellen Mitchell

The nominee to be Navy secretary on Thursday blamed a “failure of leadership” for the Navy being in “rough waters” and pledged to restore a culture of good order and discipline.

“It saddens me to say that the Department of the Navy is in rough waters due to many factors, but primarily the failure of leadership,” Kenneth Braithwaite told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Whether Glenn Marine Defense, the ship collisions in 2017, judicial missteps or the crisis recently aboard USS Roosevelt, they are all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service,” he added.

Where he said it: Braithwaite, the current U.S. ambassador to Norway, was testifying at his confirmation hearing to be Navy secretary as the military service reels from the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier that infected more than 1,000 sailors.

Reminder: The previous commander of the ship, Capt. Brett Crozier, was fired after a letter he wrote warning about the outbreak leaked in the media. The acting Navy secretary who fired him, Thomas Modly, subsequently resigned after flying to Guam where the ship is docked to give a speech aboard the ship’s loudspeakers berating Crozier.

The Navy conducted a preliminary investigation into the situation on the Roosevelt, resulting in a recommendation to reinstate Crozier. But current acting Secretary James McPherson ordered a more in-depth probe, effectively delaying a decision on the Crozier’s fate.

Open to reinstatement: Braithwaite — who Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said committed during a pre-hearing meeting to reinstate Crozier pending results of the investigation — said Thursday he supported the decision to open a broader inquiry as recommended by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

“Whenever you’re confronted with a challenge like this, it’s best to pause, consider all the facts and then make the right decision,” Braithwaite said.

“I learned that in flight school as a young naval aviator, that whenever any bell or whistle went off in your cockpit, the most important thing to do is to sit on your hands for two seconds … because then you can assess the problem correctly before shutting down the wrong system.”

Compounding scandals: The Roosevelt scandal came months after the Navy was rocked by President Trump’s decision to intervene in Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s discipline for being convicted in the military justice system of posing with the corpse of an ISIS fighter, an episode that ended with the ouster of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.

The Navy was also shaken by ship collisions in 2017 that killed 17 sailors, as well as the so-called Fat Leonard corruption scandal that ensnared several top officers allegedly bribed by contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia head Leonard Glenn Francis.

Other commitments: On Thursday, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, pressed Braithwaite on what “specific steps” he would take to address the Navy’s leadership issues “because without a functioning chain of command, without a culture of trust and confidence, the platforms are irrelevant.”

Braithwaite replied that it would be his top priority to restore a culture in the service that focuses on good order and discipline, “empowering people to understand their responsibilities along that chain of command,” and “setting the tone here from the very highest level.”

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