WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the U.S. Navy told lawmakers Thursday that if confirmed, he would fix the depressed morale plaguing the service branch in the wake of what he called a series of leadership failures.
"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, currently U.S. envoy to Norway, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in his opening remarks.
Braithwaite, who would be the fourth civilian to lead the Navy in about five months, listed several incidents in recent years, including the coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, the "Fat Leonard" corruption scandal and deadly Navy ship collisions.
"They are all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service," Braithwaite said, describing the culture in the Navy was "tarnished."
Braithwaite's testimony comes as the Pentagon conducts a deeper investigation into the handling of a coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt which subsequently led to the firing of U.S Navy Capt. Brett Crozier and the resignation of then-acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.
Crozier was relieved by Modly after the captain's letter pleading for help to mitigate the spread of the virus aboard the aircraft carrier was leaked to the media. Modly then took a 35-hour trip, which cost taxpayers $243,000, to address the crew of the Roosevelt.
In the address, delivered via the ship's loudspeaker, Modly doubled down on his decision to relieve Crozier and called the former vessel's captain "naive" and "stupid." Hours later Modly issued an apology to the Navy.
A day later, on April 7, Modly handed in his resignation to Esper, who then announced that he had tapped James McPherson, undersecretary of the Army, to be the new acting Navy secretary.
In a four-page letter, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle in late March, Crozier described a worsening coronavirus outbreak aboard the warship, a temporary home to more than 4,000 crew members. At the time, more than 100 people on the ship were infected.
"We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors," Crozier wrote. "The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating."
The coronavirus exposure aboard the Roosevelt, which is docked in Guam, followed a recently completed port call to Da Nang, Vietnam. Fifteen days after leaving Vietnam, three sailors from the Roosevelt tested positive for the virus. Since then, more than 1,000 sailors on the Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus and one sailor has died.