President Trump's New Navy Secretary Pick is a Combat Vet Who Tracked Soviet Subs

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Kenneth J. Braithwaite boards the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) during a scheduled port visit to Oslo, Norway, June 25, 2018.  (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold)
Kenneth J. Braithwaite boards the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) during a scheduled port visit to Oslo, Norway, June 25, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold)

A U.S. Naval Academy graduate who deployed to Iraq during the initial 2003 invasion is the president's next pick to lead the Navy and Marine Corps, following another unexpected leadership shakeup.

President Donald Trump tweeted just hours after Richard V. Spencer was fired as Navy secretary that he planned to nominate retired Rear Adm. Kenneth Braithwaite to the position. The retired flag officer currently serves as the U.S. ambassador to Norway.

"A man of great achievement and success, I know Ken will do an outstanding job!" Trump said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Braithwaite would take over the Navy's top civilian leadership spot. Spencer, a former Marine aviator and businessman, had served in the role since 2017.

Spencer's handling of the controversial SEAL Eddie Gallagher's case led to his firing, causing the second big leadership void for the Navy in six months. In July, the admiral who was set to become the new chief of naval operations suddenly announced his retirement, leaving leaders scrambling to fill the service's top uniformed spot.

Braithwaite, who retired in 2011, served as the top Navy Reserve's top spokesman and adviser to the service's chief of information. The Naval Academy grad made the switch to public affairs in the late 1980s.

Related: Navy Secretary Ousted Over Handling of SEAL’s Trident Dispute

Before that, Braithwaite served as a naval aviator, tracking Russian submarines in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean while assigned to Patrol Squadron 17 and Patrol Wing 2, according to his official bio.

As a PAO, Braithwaite deployed above the Arctic Circle and to the Middle East before transitioning to the Reserve and pursuing a master's degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2003, Braithwaite again deployed to the Middle East during the initial 2003 invasion into Iraq as commanding officer of Fleet Combat Camera Atlantic (Reserve). He then went on to lead a 50-person forward-deployed public affairs unit. When an earthquake devastated Pakistan in 2005, Braithwaite was sent there to serve as director of strategic communications, his bio states.

He picked up a star in 2007 when he became a rear admiral, and over the course of his career earned a five Navy Commendation Medals -- at least one of which has a combat "V" device, a Combat Action Ribbon, and a Navy Achievement Medal, among other awards, according to his bio.

Braithwaite has served as U.S. ambassador to Norway since 2018 after spending several years in the health care industry. Braithwaite also served as senior adviser to the late-Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and former chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee.

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

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