President Donald Trump’s departing White House Chief of Staff is John F. Kelly, is a retired four-star Marine general.
As it turns out, his first one is going to be a Navy ensign.
At the age of 46.
Reinhold Richard “Reince” Priebus, the once-powerful chairman of the Republican National Committee before he joined the Trump administration in 2017, has been picked by a Navy selection board to receive a direct commission as a human resource officer.
“The Human Resource Officer community recently selected Reince Priebus as a direct commission candidate — like other applicants, he is currently moving towards earning a commission as an ensign in the United States Navy Reserve." said Navy spokesman Cmdr. Jereal Dorsey in a written statement emailed to Navy Times.
After receiving a waiver for his age and with the backing of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — who wrote a recommendation on his behalf — Priebus was selected with three others from a field of more than 40 candidates, the Post reported.
In a statement to the Navy that was obtained by the Post, Priebus wrote that he was partly moved to enlist after an early 2017 Oval Office meeting between Trump and the wife and child of Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, 36, a SEAL killed in a raid in Yemen.
Despite criticizing Trump early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Priebus served a rocky six months as his chief of staff. He resigned on July 27, 2017, and was replaced by Kelly.
His brief tenure in the White House was marked by reports of constant internal fighting, both with other staffers and Trump. An attorney, Priebus has worked as a campaign strategist in Washington since leaving the executive branch.
His highly partisan background is likely to raise questions about the non-political nature of his new military role, although such circumstances are not unprecedented.
Former White House spokesman Sean Spicer was a direct commission public affairs officer in the Naval Reserve while also serving as the public face of the administration and Robby Mook, the campaign strategist for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, received a commission, too.
Both also began their Navy Reserve careers as ensigns.
Numerous lawmakers have served as officers in the military reserves or the National Guard during their time in Congress, including former Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy, a 57-year-old clinical child psychologist who became a Navy Reserve lieutenant commander in 2010 through the direct commissioning program.
Lauded for his care of troops suffering from the signature hidden wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder — Murphy was promoted to commander in 2015.
But he resigned from the House of Representatives in disgrace two years later, after reports circulated that the eight-term lawmaker urged a woman with whom he’d had an extramarital affair to get an abortion.
In his statement to the Navy obtained by the Post, Priebus noted that his sister served as a Navy doctor and his father taught at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois while he was a child.
Direct commissioning isn’t a rare practice in the Navy Reserve. In fact, there are 21 separate officer communities that are authorized to recruit qualified civilian professionals to fill critical needs in the force.
Once directly commissioned, they’re assigned to their units, get issued their uniforms and start drilling one weekend every month and two weeks every summer.
But there are restrictions on what they can do in the Navy until they’re fully trained and certified, a process that can take more than three years, depending on the profession.
There’s a mandatory two-week Direct Commission Officer Indoctrination Course at Newport, which could fulfill his annual training requirement, and the Human Resources Introductory Course must be completed within three years of commissioning, too.
Until he completes these requirements, Priebus won’t be eligible to go active-duty for more than 60 days at a time, except for training.
The age waiver is necessary because Priebus at 46 wouldn’t have enough qualifying service time in uniform to meet a 20-year obligation before reaching 62, the military’s mandatory retirement age., according to military regulations.
The Navy directive on accessions indicates that Priebus would’ve received extra scrutiny by the chief of personnel because “when high visibility candidates are being considered for direct appointments for Navy Reserve commissions — such candidates include high profile individuals and key government figures.”
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.
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.