SECNAV fired Sunday

Locals speculate on impact to China Lake following recent visit

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Just seven days after touring China Lake, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer was fired from his position by Defense Secretary Mark Esper following a high-profile dispute regarding the pardon of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.

Gallagher was convicted of misconduct by a military court, but President Donald Trump insisted that Gallagher maintained his rank. While the narratives surrounding the incident vary according to source, by most accounts Spencer objected to Trump allowing Gallagher retaining his Trident pin.

“I no longer share the same understanding as the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline,” Spencer stated in a written response to the pardon. “I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the constitution of the United States.”

Spencer reportedly kindled a discussion with White House officials to strike a compromise that would allow Gallagher to retire and keep his SEAL status. That breach in established military protocol for such matters apparently triggered Spencer’s dismissal.

Spencer’s statement following his removal appears to be in accord with that action. “The president deserves and should expect a secretary of the Navy who is aligned with his vision of the future.”

Ken Braithwaite, current ambassador to Norway, has apparently been tapped to replace Spencer. Undersecrettary Thomas Modly will take over as acting secretary in the interim.

While the high-level removal during a critical time in national defense has been a hot topic in the national media, those closer to home have speculated on what, if any, import will be given to Spencer’s recent visit.

According to local officials in politics and defense, the purpose of Spencer’s tour was not only for him to see the billions of dollars worth of damages following recent earthquakes, but also to show him the capabilities here that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.

“I don’t think there is going to be any negative impact for us,” said Scott O’Neil, who served as the top civilian at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division before taking on his current role as executive director of the IWV Economic Development Corp.

“All of the earthquake recovery funds are handled by Congress. The Navy has been supportive of that, and I don’t see a new SECNAV posing any opposition.”

O’Neil said that the real challenge to immediate recovery funding is the continuing resolution — which essentially funds only status quo levels until a new budget is approved.

“So that will pose a delay, but I don’t think it will inhibit our longterm ability to rebuild.”

Funding details will be reported as they are released.

Story First Published: 2019-11-27