WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has named Admiral Lisa Franchetti to head the Navy, an unprecedented choice that, if confirmed, will make her the first woman to head the Pentagon service and the first female member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Biden’s decision goes against his Pentagon chief’s recommendation. But Franchetti, the Navy’s current deputy chief of operations, has extensive managerial and leadership experience and was viewed by insiders as the best choice for the job.
In a statement Friday, Biden noted the historic significance of her election, saying, “Admiral Franchetti has demonstrated extensive expertise in both the operational and political spheres throughout her career.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recommended that Biden select Admiral Samuel Paparo, the current commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, several US officials said last month. Instead, Biden appoints Paparo to head the US Indo-Pacific Command.
A senior administration official said Biden chose Franchetti because she has a wide range of experience at sea and on land, including a number of senior political and administrative roles, giving her a deep understanding of budgeting and running the department.
At the same time, the official acknowledged that Biden understands the historic nature of the nomination and believes Franchetti will be an inspiration to sailors for both men and women. The official previously spoke on condition of anonymity as the nomination had not been made public.
Franchetti’s nomination joins the list of hundreds of military moves being blocked by Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. He blocks Confirmation from military officers in protest of a Department of Defense policy that covers travel expenses when a military member is required to leave the state to have an abortion or other reproductive care.
In his statement, Biden criticized Tuberville for prioritizing his domestic political agenda over military preparedness.
“What Senator Tuberville is doing is not only wrong — it’s dangerous,” Biden said. “He is jeopardizing our ability to ensure that the United States Armed Forces remain the largest military force in the history of the world. And his Republican counterparts in the Senate know it.”
Franchetti is set to serve as acting naval chief from next month when Admiral Michael Gilday, the current top naval officer, retires as planned.
Several women have served as political officers as military secretaries, but never as senior uniformed officers. One woman, Admiral Linda L. Fagan, is currently the Coast Guard Commandant. However, she is not a member of the Joint Staff. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Pentagon.
News last month that the defense chief had recommended Papara stunned many in the Pentagon, who had long believed Franchetti was a candidate for the top Navy post.
In a statement on Friday, Austin praised the nomination, saying, “I am very proud that Admiral Franchetti has been nominated as the first female chief of naval operations and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where she will continue to inspire us all.”
As a surface warfare officer, she was commanded at all levels and commanded the US 6th Fleet and US Naval Forces in Korea. She was the second woman ever to be promoted to four-star admiral, and she served in multiple deployments, including as commander of a naval destroyer and two posts as commander of an aircraft carrier assault group.
Paparo, who will replace Admiral John Aquilino if confirmed, is a naval aviator and TOPGUN graduate with more than 6,000 flight hours on naval fighter aircraft and 1,100 landings on aircraft carriers. A native of Pennsylvania, he graduated from Villanova University and was drafted into the Navy in 1987.
Prior to his Pacific voyage, he was the commander of Naval Forces in the Middle East based in Bahrain and previously also served as Operations Commander with US Central Command in Florida.
Biden also said he will appoint Vice Admiral James Kilby as vice chief of the Navy and appoint Vice Admiral Stephen Koehler as head of the Pacific Fleet.