WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy is in “rough waters” and suffering from leadership failures, the diplomat tapped to be the next Navy secretary told a Senate committee Thursday. He pledged to restore a culture of good order and discipline to the service.
Kenneth J. Braithwaite, the ambassador to Norway and a retired Navy rear admiral, faced repeated questions about recent crises that have rocked the service, including the firing of an aircraft carrier captain who urged faster action to fight a coronavirus outbreak on his ship and the subsequent resignation of the acting secretary who fired him.
Braithwaite said that Navy culture has been tarnished and trust in the service's leaders has broken down.
“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,” he said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Braithwaite said he is ready to face the challenge of repairing those problems.
Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the panel's top Democrat, told Braithwaite that he must address the effects of the pandemic on the Navy and its ships, including the mishandling of the outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Reed agreed with Braithwaite's assessment that the Navy's chain of command is in disarray, and “nothing illustrates that more than the Roosevelt situation.”
After an outbreak of coronavirus was discovered on the Roosevelt, the ship's commander, Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, sent a note to several commanders pleading for more urgent Navy action, including the removal of nearly all sailors from the ship to protect their health.
The acting Navy secretary at the time, Thomas Modly, accused Cozier of bad judgment and directed that he be relieved of command April 2. Days later, amid an uproar of his handling of the matter, Modly resigned and was replaced by James McPherson.
After a preliminary inquiry was done, Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, initially recommended Crozier be reinstated as captain. But McPherson decided to launch a broader investigation into the communications and decision-making on the outbreak up through the chain of command.
That probe, which is expected to be done by month's end, puts a decision on Crozier's reinstatement on hold.
Braithwaite is a 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland, and he served as a naval aviator.