James McPherson, shown here in 2018 when he served as general counsel of the U.S. Army, sent a letter to Navy personnel and families Thursday pledging to do everything in his power to support their safety. Photo by Teddy Wade/U.S. Army
April 9 (UPI) -- The Navy's new Acting Secretary sent an open letter to Navy personnel and their families Thursday ensuring he would do "everything in my power to support your efforts and safety, and the safety and well-being of your families."
Just weeks after James McPherson was sworn in as the undersecretary of the Army, he made the unexpected pivot to leadership of another branch as its Acting Secretary unexpectedly resigned over his handling of an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt currently docked in Guam.
"Today, with the extraordinary challenges posed by COVID-19, and the continual threats we face in a changing global security environment, our Nation needs you more than ever," McPherson wrote. "Throughout this crisis, Sailors, Marines, and Civilians have stepped forward to protect the American people and our force. From New York to New Orleans, Los Angeles to Dallas, Maine to Guam, you have responded to the medical, logistics, engineering, and security requirements of our homeland during this time of need. And through it all, you have maintained the watch around the world."
In the press statement announcing Modly's resignation and McPherson's appointment, Defense Secretary Mark Esper described McPherson as a "smart, capable and professional leader who will restore confidence and stability in the Navy during these challenging times."
Esper also wrote that McPherson would serve as Acting Secretary until a permanent Navy Secretary is confirmed.
Modly was appointed as Acting Secretary in November following the resignation of Richard V. Spencer over the Pentagon's handling of the case of a Navy SEAL who posed for photos with a dead prisoner of war.
President Donald Trump said in November and again in February that he plans to nominate U.S. Ambassador to Norway Kenneth Braithwaite to replace Spencer permanently, and Esper has reportedly pushed lawmakers to speed up the confirmation process.
McPherson was raised in San Diego and enlisted in the Army in 1972. He served as a military police officer before leaving to enroll at San Diego State University and later law school at the University of San Diego. His subsequent military career has primarily focused on military law.
Modly resigned after saying Capt. Brett Crozier, who he had just fired, was "too naive or too stupid" to realize a letter he sent asking for more resources to manage a COVID-19 outbreak on his ship would go puiblic.
By Thursday more than 400 sailors on the Roosevelt had tested positive for the virus, and one sailor was found nonresponsive and taken to the hospital Thursday morning.