WASHINGTON ― The U.S. Senate confirmed a new Navy secretary, Kenneth “K.J.” Braithwaite, by voice vote on Thursday.
Braithwaite, a former ambassador to Norway and executive for American oil and health care companies, assumes the job after financier Richard V. Spencer was forced out of office amid a fight with the White House and senior defense leaders over the handling of a legal case against a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes.
At his confirmation hearing this month, Braithwaite vowed Thursday to improve public trust in leadership of the service after years of controversies have led to a “tarnished” culture within the ranks.
A Michigan native and 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Braithwaite was an anti-submarine warfare pilot who tracked Soviet submarines in the western Pacific and Indian oceans for a Hawaii-based patrol squadron. From there, he served in various communications and legislative affairs roles before leaving active service in 1993 and the Naval Reserve in 2011.
As ambassador, Braithwaite focused on the security of the Arctic, a region that’s seeing an uptick in Russian and NATO activity. He also both pressured Oslo to meet the NATO spending target of 2 percent of annual gross domestic product on defense and, amid Trump’s often bruising rhetoric on the 70-year-old alliance, reassured the Nordic nation the administration remains committed to it.
Braithwaite’s nomination to be the next Navy secretary has been stalled since last fall.
It also came one month after the resignation of Thomas Modly from the top service civilian role, amid outcry over his handling of an outbreak of coronavirus aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. That included Moldy’s decision to fire the ship’s commanding officer after complaints about slow leadership response was made public, and a caustic speech to crew members for applauding the dismissed captain.
Braithwaite referenced the incident during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, along with a pair of deadly Navy ship collisions in 2017, the ongoing “Fat Leonard” contracting corruption scandal and other unspecified “judicial missteps” by Navy leaders.
“It saddens me to say the Department of the Navy is in troubled waters due to many factors, primarily the failings of leadership,” he said. “[The controversies] are all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.