Former Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite traveled the world during his brief tenure in the Trump administration, spending approximately $2.4 million on air travel.
Braithwaite spent $232,000 the week before President Joe Biden’s inauguration to fly to Wake Island, a tiny Pacific atoll where no sailors or Marines are stationed, according to Navy spokesman Capt. Jereal Dorsey. The trip was described as a “expensive abuse of power” by the executive director of the government watchdog Project On Government Oversight.
Braithwaite served as Navy Secretary, the service’s highest-ranking civilian, from May 29 to January 21, when Biden took office. During that time, Braithwaite made 22 trips to foreign and domestic destinations – more than any other senior Pentagon civilian – despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to two Defense Department officials.
According to two Defense officials who were not authorized to comment publicly, the COVID-19 pandemic reduced foreign travel for most senior officials. According to one official, some countries restrict travel for visiting delegations, making trips less useful. Domestic travel was also restricted, according to the other official, to avoid virus exposure and spread among troops and officials.
Braithwaite’s international travels included Norway, Italy, Greece, Japan and India. His domestic trips included more than $24,000 to attend the Army-Navy football game with his family and more than one visit to Hawaii.
During the same time period, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and his replacement, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, made 15 trips. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy made 17 trips, while Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett made 19. McCarthy and Barrett had been in charge of their services since 2019. McCarthy’s trips cost around $900,000, and his family did not accompany him on any of them, according to Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Audricia Harris. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took four trips during Braithwaite’s tenure.
Former President Donald Trump nominated Braithwaite for Navy Secretary after acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned over his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Modly was chastised by Congress for his $243,000 flight to Guam, where he stayed briefly to deliver an address to the crew blasting the captain of the stricken ship.
Braithwaite’s trip to Hawaii and Wake Island in the South Pacific stands out among his travels. The Wake Atoll, a string of islands generally inaccessible to civilians, is administered by the Air Force rather than the Navy. Navy F-18 pilots train at the strip and nearby ranges. It primarily serves as a refueling stop and emergency landing strip in the middle of the ocean, thousands of miles away from Hawaii. Wake, according to a senior Defense Department official, is not a strategic base like Guam, where the Navy and Air Force have extensive facilities.
Braithwaite recorded his farewell message to the Navy and Marine Corps while on Wake Island. He appeared in a flight jacket against a backdrop of a gravelly beach, scrubby brush, and water. Braithwaite described the valor of the sailors and Marines who defended the island. Wake has historical significance because it was attacked by the Japanese in December 1941, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor triggered America’s entry into World War II.
Braithwaite traveled to Washington in January to seek and receive a waiver from a 2018 Pentagon policy for ethical use of military aircraft, which prohibited the use of multiple crews and planes in order to “be peerless stewards of taxpayers’ dollars,” according to a memo outlining the policy.
Braithwaite flew in a C-37B, a military-modified Gulfstream 550 business jet. It employs four people and costs $8,007 per hour to operate. He made several quick trips, including three to Norfolk, Virginia, which has a large Navy presence. According to Dorsey, Braithwaite’s trips totaled about $2.4 million.
According to Lt. Col. Justin Brockhoff, an Air Force spokesman, Barrett’s trips aboard a C-37 and C-40 based on a Boeing 737 are estimated to cost $1.6 million.