Esper asks SEALs, Navy to focus on standards, ethics

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Navy Seal candidates participate in “Hell Week,” April 13, 2018, at Coronado, Calif. (Navy photograph by PO1 Abe McNatt)

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said he wants the Navy and the SEALs to focus now on professionalism and ethics following the resignation of Richard V. Spencer as Navy secretary.

“I want the SEALs and the Navy to move beyond this now and get fully focused on their warfighting mission, and I also want them focused on resetting their professional standards, ethics and conduct,” Esper said Nov. 25 at the Pentagon. “These two issues are related and I know the service has plans to address this head-on.”

Esper said he asked for Spencer’s resignation because he had lost trust and confidence in Spencer, citing several rules of conduct for defense leaders that he said Spencer had violated. 

Among those rules is a respect for the chain of command, supporting an agreed-upon decision in both public and private, being willing to resign if you don’t like an agreed-upon position, and refraining from discussing “sensitive internal deliberations.”

“Secretary Spencer broke these rules and, thus, lost my trust and confidence,” Esper said.

Navy Seal candidates participate in basic underwater demolition training, April 10, 2018, at Coronado, Calif.

The resignation came after Esper learned the Navy secretary had been working on a proposal different from one Pentagon leaders previously agreed upon regarding Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL. Esper said he learned of that deal after meeting Saturday with President Donald J. Trump at the White House.

“We learned that several days prior, Secretary Spencer had proposed a deal, whereby, if the president allowed the Navy to handle the case, he would guarantee that Eddie Gallagher would be restored to rank, allowed to retain his Trident, and permitted to retire,” Esper said. “This proposal was completely contrary to what we agreed to, and contrary to Secretary Spencer’s public position.”

He and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley had been “completely caught off guard by this information, and realized that it had undermined everything we had been discussing with the president,” Esper said.

On Nov. 24, Esper contacted Spencer to ask for his resignation.

“He took it in stride and said he would have a letter to me in 30 minutes, and he did,” Esper said.

Currently, Thomas B. Modly, the undersecretary of the Navy, is serving as the acting secretary. Esper said both Modly and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday “are capable leaders and I am confident in their ability to lead the Navy.”

Esper said the president told him on Nov.2 4 that Gallagher will keep his Trident. He is expected to retire at the end of the month.