Kenneth J. Braithwaite was sworn in as the Navy’s 77th secretary during a socially distanced Pentagon ceremony on Friday.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper officiated as the retired aviator and public affairs officer’s family, the chief of naval operations and the Marine Corps commandant looked on.
Braithwaite most recently served as the U.S. ambassador to Norway.
“I am incredibly humbled to stand before you, the greatest Navy and Marine Corps in the world, to accept this responsibility,” Braithwaite said in a message to the fleet. “I look forward to the days ahead to do all I can on your behalf, ensuring that you have the opportunity to thrive and succeed in your service to Our Nation.”
It also comes nearly two months after the Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly resigned after disparaging remarks he made about the fired commanding officer of the COVID-19-stricken carrier Theodore Roosevelt were leaked.
Braithwaite was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a voice vote last week.
The newest Navy secretary will likely enjoy a closer relationship with President Donald Trump than his predecessor.
Braithwaite spent his roughly two years as ambassador to Norway pressing NATO allies to increase their defense spending.
He is already close with Esper.
“Kenneth Braithwaite is somebody I’ve know for quite some time,” Esper told reporters after he recommended Braithwaite to the president in November. “I think he’d be very capable.”
A 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Braithwaite has said he was inspired to serve by his father, who was wounded while landing at Normandy during World War II. Braithwaite was the first of his class selected for flag rank after only 21 years of military service.
Earlier in his career, he was an anti-submarine warfare pilot who tracked Soviet submarines in 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.
While Braithwaite’s job qualifications include 31 years in the Navy and Naval Reserve, he also shares a connection to Esper in David Urban, a lobbyist and CNN commentator who helped advise the president’s successful 2016 campaign in Pennsylvania. Urban is also credited with propelling his fellow West Point classmates, Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to their Cabinet posts.
As chief of staff for then-Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in the late 1990s, Urban hired Braithwaite, his University of Pennsylvania classmate, to run Specter’s local office. The two remained close, and Braithwaite both worked on Trump’s Pennsylvania campaign and his transition team at the Pentagon.
At Braithwaite’s confirmation hearing for the ambassadorship in 2017, he thanked, “my best friend, Mr. David Urban, a West Point graduate and proof the Army and the Navy can get along well.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.