May 7, 2020 / 2:33 PM / a month ago

U.S. Navy suffering from 'failure in leadership,' says nominee to lead it

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The handling of a coronavirus outbreak aboard the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier was just another example of a “failure in leadership” in the Navy in recent years, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the service said on Thursday.

Kenneth Braithwaite, U.S. President Donald Trump's nominee for navy secretary, speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 7, 2020. Al Drago/Pool via REUTERS

The United States Navy has been hit with a number of crises in the past year, most recently the firing of the Roosevelt’s captain after the leak of a letter he wrote calling on the Navy for stronger measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus on the ship.

“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.

Braithwaite, who would be the fourth civilian to lead the Navy in about five months, listed several incidents in recent years, including the Roosevelt, 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, adding that he believed that the culture in the Navy was “tarnished.”

In an otherwise friendly hearing where lawmakers largely focused on more narrow issues, Democratic Senator Jack Reed said the Navy’s handling of the Roosevelt illustrated how the Navy was in “disarray.”

More than 1,000 sailors on the Roosevelt, currently in Guam, have tested positive for the virus and one sailor has died.

Captain Brett Crozier was fired by the Navy’s top civilian, then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, against the recommendations of uniformed leaders, who suggested he wait for an investigation into the letter’s leak.

Modly’s decision backfired badly, as members of the crew hailed their captain as a hero for risking his career out of concern for their health, in an emotional sendoff captured on video that went viral on social media.

Embarrassed, Modly then compounded his problems by flying out to the carrier to ridicule Crozier over the leak and question his character in a speech to the Roosevelt’s crew, which also leaked to the media. Modly then resigned.

Modly’s predecessor Richard Spencer was fired over his handling of the case of a Navy SEAL who was convicted of battlefield misconduct in Iraq and later won Trump’s support.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Dan Grebler and Steve Orlofsky

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