NORFOLK — Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer visited Naval Station Norfolk for the first time Thursday, where he pledged that America would defend itself and its allies against aggression from North Korea.
Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have escalated amid threats from Kim Jong Un to lob missiles near the American territory of Guam, which is home to naval and Air Force bases. President Donald Trump ramped up warnings of “fire and fury” should the dictator put his plan into action.
Spencer, who was sworn in as the Navy’s 76th secretary Aug. 3, declined to comment on the Navy’s preparations in the Pacific.
“We just hope that Korea stops acting the way it does,” Spencer said. “We’re going to defend ourselves; we are going to defend our allies. They should know that and we hope that we can have conversations and de-escalate.”
Spencer’s comments came after he toured the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and Virginia-class submarine USS John Warner and named people, capabilities, and process as priorities for his new role.
Spencer joined the in 1976 after graduating from Rollins College with a bachelor’s degree in economics and flew the service’s H-46 helicopter. He attained the rank of captain before leaving in 1981 for a career in finance, according to a Navy biography. He most recently served as managing director of Wyoming-based Fall Creek Management LLC.
Spencer follows Ray Mabus, whose nearly eight years as Navy secretary — the longest since World War I — was marked with criticism for decisions to name some ships after civil and human rights leaders and for dropping a more than two-century-old naval tradition of referring to sailors by their rate, or job title, in favor of rank. That decision was reversed after a storm of fierce opposition.
During his July 11 confirmation hearing, Spencer told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he supports the use of alternative energy sources, growing the capacity and capabilities of the fleet, and protecting Navy bases against sea-level rise.
Spencer also said he opposed the use of the services as “a petri dish for social experiments,” instead saying it should be left to the Pentagon to develop policy. A little more than two weeks later and in a series of tweets, Trump said he was banning transgender military personnel from service, stunning an unprepared Pentagon.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has reaffirmed current policies until additional guidance is given by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Spencer said Thursday he would follow policies developed by the Pentagon at the direction of the White House, adding context to his “petri dish” statement to mean that no service secretary “should go off and do experiments on their own.” But Spencer did not directly say whether the thousands of transgender service members on active duty and in the reserves should be kicked out.
“As I’ve said before, any patriot that wants to serve and meets all the requirements should be able to serve in our military,” Spencer said.
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