The chief of naval operations is calling on top Navy brass and civilian leaders to step up their personal standards for behavior, telling them ethical missteps tarnish the entire force.
In a memo to admirals and senior executive service officials ahead of a two-day meeting this week in Washington, D.C., Adm. John Richardson wrote that the way leaders conduct themselves can speak more loudly than the Navy's pronouncements about its own values.
"To many inside and outside the service, the "actual" values of the Navy are those we senior leaders reflect by our behaviors - we are the lenses through which the Navy is seen," Richardson wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Military.com. "When we perform superbly, that is expected. When we misstep, it is a shocking disappointment that brings into question that trust and confidence. It is front page news. And so it should be."
The content of the memo was first reported by The Washington Post.
A Navy official with knowledge of Richardson's thinking told Military.com the message was not provoked by any one incident or event, but was intended to address issues within the service more broadly.
"You certainly can look at the headlines over the past couple of years and say they have an influence, but there isn't one particular thing," the official said.
While Richardson avoided naming specific incidents or behaviors he wanted service leaders to avoid, his most direct language addressed the conception that flag officers and others were entitled to luxury and excess. Rather, he said, top brass should aspire to a no-frills, austere lifestyle above reproach.
"To live a life of service, we must visibly eschew personal gain, reject the privileges so often attendant to our rank and position, and uphold a minimalist, even austere approach," Richardson wrote.
"Service to our Navy and our nation calls on us to subtract material distractions and any appearance of affluence or excess," he added. "It's in our DNA as a Navy when we carry only what we can stow on board or pack in our seabag -- only what's needed to get the job done. There's little room for personal comforts."
In the last years, the Navy has been rocked by the so-called "Fat Leonard" bribery and corruption investigation involving the contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia and its owner, Leonard Glenn "Fat Leonard" Francis. Arrested in 2015, he admitted to bribing Navy officials with money, prostitutes, and stays in posh hotels.
One officer, Capt. Daniel Dusek, received a prison sentence of nearly four years for his involvement in the scandal. Nine other people have been charged in the case, and three senior officers have pleaded guilty. Three admirals were censured in connection with the case last year, taking forced retirements.
The Navy also fired a two-star, Rear Adm. David Baucom, in December after an investigation found he had engaged in public drunkenness and wandered outside his hotel room naked during an April 2015 conference.
Another flag officer, Rear Adm. Rick Williams, was fired in January, accused of viewing pornography on his work computer.
"If we are not vigilant, the deep meaning of our values can become clouded by a sense of entitlement, personal ambition, frustration, anger, selfish motives," Richardson wrote.
"We may not always see ourselves as being privileged to have the honor of leading our Navy. We may miss the call to earn that privilege each and every day," he wrote. "What matters is that we live according to our values day by day, whether in the public eye or on our own."
The summit of Navy leaders continues into today.