New CNO Gilday Says He'll Lead Navy 'With a Sense of Urgency'

New Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday delivers his first remarks as the 32nd CNO during a change of office ceremony held Aug. 22, 2019, at the Washington Navy Yard. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan U. Kledzik)
New Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday delivers his first remarks as the 32nd CNO during a change of office ceremony held Aug. 22, 2019, at the Washington Navy Yard. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan U. Kledzik)

Adm. Michael Gilday has no plans to follow a business-as-usual approach in leading the Navy as he takes the helm of the service amid growing threats across the globe.

"We will question our assumptions; we will think differently about the competition we are now in," he said during the Chief of Naval Operations change of responsibility ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard.

The career surface warfare officer became the 32nd chief of Naval Operations, replacing Adm. John Richardson, who is retiring following a 37-year career. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, several former chiefs of naval operations, and military representatives from Japan, India, Qatar, Mexico and Colombia -- among others, were in attendance.

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said Gilday, who was promoted to admiral Thursday, is well positioned to lead the Navy into the future.

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"From his distinguished commands at sea to his cooperation with NATO allies to confront the great power competition, to his innovation with Cyber Command, Adm. Gilday has demonstrated what an outstanding leader and officer he is," Spencer said.

Gilday's path to the job was atypical. He steps into the role, originally slated for Adm. Bill Moran, just a month after he was chosen over several four-stars to be the next CNO. Moran, who had already been confirmed by the Senate, announced his sudden retirement last month after questions arose about his relationship with a former officer who'd been accused of sexual harassment, though he faced no charges.

Gilday said his focus in the coming years will be on pushing the Navy forward "with a sense of urgency." That will involve modernizing the force, keeping readiness levels up, and taking care of naval personnel and their families, he said.

He's stepping into the CNO role at a challenging time. Not only are China, Russia and Iran posing new threats to sailors and Marines at sea, but the Navy faces ongoing questions about problems in the special warfare community, and continued reform following two fatal ship collisions in the Pacific.

But the new CNO credited Richardson, who received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal for exceptional leadership on Thursday, with putting the Navy on the right path.

"We are modernizing our Navy at a scope and pace not seen in decades," Gilday said, "and I can say all that, in large part, [is] due to the leadership of our 31st CNO."

A Troubled Tenure

Richardson's tenure as CNO has been filled with challenges that even led some to question whether he still deserved to serve in the role.

The back-to-back 2017 ship collisions in the Pacific that killed 17 sailors left Navy leaders facing serious questions about how officers and sailors were trained to perform one of the service's most basic and important functions: operating ships at sea.

More recently, there has been a series of incidents involving special warfare operators -- including one unit that got that kicked out of the war zone -- prompting an ethics review in that community. The Navy's entire legal community is also facing a review after President Donald Trump ordered Richardson to rescind awards given to a team of military prosecutors who failed to secure the conviction of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who'd been charged in the wrongful death of an Islamic State group fighter in Iraq, but was acquitted on all charges except that of posing with a corpse.

Richardson also had to deal with the consequences of the ongoing corruption case known as the "Fat Leonard scandal," in which several Navy officers were accused of trading secret information for money, gifts, lavish trips and prostitutes.

And early into his time as CNO, a Navy riverine team was briefly taken hostage by Iranian forces after their errors led them into the country's waters.

But the Navy has been able to fix many of its mistakes, Spencer said, because of Richardson, who he called a "renaissance person." That was especially true after the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions, he said.

"Under John Richardson's eye, we wanted to learn from our tragedies and that ... to me, is the sign of a true leader," the SecNav said.

Sailors are now safer and more well-prepared because Richardson served as their CNO, he added.

"He's done more to this Navy to put us in a ready lethal position than many before," Spencer said.

A 'High-Quality Force'

Despite the challenges Gilday will inherit as CNO, he said the service "is in great shape."

"We are recruiting and retaining a high-quality force; we are providing well-trained, combat-ready forces forward around the globe," he said.

During his confirmation hearing, Gilday was asked how he'll deal with the setbacks that have delayed delivery of the Navy's next aircraft carrier and ethical problems in the special warfare ranks.

Gilday called the decision not to test the elevators that carry ordnance to the flight deck before installing them on the new line of Ford-class carriers "a failure of the Navy." He also pledged to hold anyone found to have misbehaved accountable, and said he'd get to the "root causes" of what's led to what some see as a breakdown of discipline in the SEAL community.

"Ethics," Gilday told lawmakers earlier this month, "is a particularly important point for me, and that begins at the top with my leadership."

He committed to setting the best possible example for the service and said he'd be leaning on flag officers, commanders and chief petty officers to ensure Navy ethics are spread throughout the ranks.

Gilday reiterated that goal Thursday.

"We will be the Navy the nation needs now, and we will build the Navy the nation needs to fight and win in the future -- always guided by our core values," he said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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