Senators confront Gilday during hearing over accusations of recent Navy SEALs misconduct

Vice Adm. Michael M. Gilday listens during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to serve as Chief of Naval Operations, July 31, 2019 on Capitol Hill.


By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 31, 2019

WASHINGTON — Recent reports of misconduct in a combat zone and alcohol and drug abuse by Navy SEALs forced Vice Adm. Michael Gilday to answer some tough questions Wednesday during his Senate confirmation hearing to be the next chief of naval operations.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wanted to know from Gilday what he would do about such behavior if he were to become the service’s next CNO.

Gilday said the incidents are being investigated and he would deal with the root causes behind them and hold people accountable.

“If there is a problem with the culture of the community, [it will be] addressed very quickly and very firmly,” he said.

During the hearing, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., highlighted the recent return of a Navy SEAL platoon from Iraq midway through their deployment because they were accused of drinking in the combat zone as well as an allegation of sexual assault by a senior enlisted member of the team, according a New York Times report. Peters also referred to another report of members from another SEAL team who allegedly used cocaine and told investigators that military drug tests are a joke.

“These issues seem not to be isolated to one team and are being reported from units stationed in California and Virginia, which certainly raises a level of concern,” Peters said.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the Navy’s core values that include leadership, protecting subordinates, and selfless service are called into question given the accusations against the SEALs.

Gilday said ethics are important and they start with leadership and extend down through the ranks in order to make certain that sailors bring their values to work.

“It’s especially important in combat that those values be maintained,” he said.

Gilday said he was committed to having the Navy treat people with dignity and respect and he will try to set the best example from the top.

The three-star admiral is the director of the Joint Staff, a position he has held since March. If confirmed as CNO, he would be promoted to a four-star admiral. President Donald Trump nominated him July 18 for the Navy’s most senior military leadership position.

Trump’s first selection for CNO, Adm. William Moran, had already being confirmed by the Senate for the position when he retired abruptly after reports earlier this month that he had continued a professional relationship with Chris Servello, a former colleague who was removed from his position as a public affairs adviser to current CNO Adm. John Richardson in 2017 following accusations of sexual misconduct, according to The Associated Press. Servello had also worked for Moran as a public affairs officer.

Beyond the recent scandals involving SEALs, Gilday faced questions during Wednesday’s hearing about ongoing issues with the new USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. Senators’ questions focused on the ship’s weapons elevators, arresting system for landing, aircraft catapult, and dual band radar.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the committee, pointed out the Navy accepted the Ford before the ship was complete, it cost more than $2.5 billion over budget, it has untested equipment technology and its ongoing delays.

“This ought to be criminal,” Inhofe said.

Gilday said he shared Inhofe’s concern and assessment of the equipment issues on the Navy’s new class of aircraft carrier, adding the service has made progress with the catapult, arresting system and radar. The next big hurdle to get the ship ready for deployment was with the weapons elevators, of which only two of the 11 are ready.

But Inhofe disagreed with Gilday that the elevators were the next biggest hurdle. The senator said there were still serious problems with catapult system and arresting gear.

“It’s not just the problem of the elevators,” Inhofe said.

Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., right, talks with Vice Adm. Michael M. Gilday, left, and his family before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Gilday's nomination to serve as Chief of Naval Operations, July 31, 2019 on Capitol Hill.