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Biden picks female admiral to lead Navy. She’d be first woman on Joint Chiefs of Staff

Biden’s decision to tap Franchetti goes against the recommendation of his Pentagon chief. But Franchetti, the current vice chief of operations for the Navy, has broad command and executive experience

Adm. Lisa Franchetti
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti meets with leadership at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Nov. 17, 2022 in Kittery, Maine.Jim Cleveland (AP)

President Joe Biden has chosen Adm. Lisa Franchetti to lead the Navy, an unprecedented choice that, if she is confirmed, will make her the first woman to be a Pentagon service chief and the first female member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Biden’s decision goes against the recommendation of his Pentagon chief. But Franchetti, the current vice chief of operations for the Navy, has broad command and executive experience and was considered by insiders to be the top choice for the job.

In a statement Friday, Biden noted the historical significance of her selection and said “throughout her career, Admiral Franchetti has demonstrated extensive expertise in both the operational and policy arenas.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recommended that Biden select Adm. Samuel Paparo, the current commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, several U.S. officials said last month. But instead, Biden is nominating Paparo to lead U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

A senior administration official said Biden chose Franchetti based on the broad scope of her experience at sea and ashore, including a number of high-level policy and administrative jobs that give her deep knowledge in budgeting and running the department.

At the same time, the official acknowledged that Biden understands the historical nature of the nomination and believes that Franchetti will be an inspiration to sailors, both men and women. The official spoke earlier on condition of anonymity because the nomination had not been made public.

Franchetti’s nomination will join the list of hundreds of military moves that are being held up by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. He is blocking confirmation of military officers in protest of a Defense Department policy that pays for travel when a service member has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care.

Biden, in his statement, blasted Tuberville for prioritizing his domestic political agenda over military readiness.

“What Senator Tuberville is doing is not only wrong — it is dangerous,” Biden said. “He is risking our ability to ensure that the United States Armed Forces remain the greatest fighting force in the history of the world. And his Republican colleagues in the Senate know it.”

Franchetti is slated to serve as the acting Navy chief beginning next month when Adm. Michael Gilday, the current top naval officer, retires as planned.

Several women have served as military service secretaries as political appointees, but never as their top uniformed officer. A woman, Adm. Linda L. Fagan, is currently the commandant of the Coast Guard. She, however, is not a member of the Joint Staff. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, not the Pentagon.

The news last month that the defense chief had recommended Papara stunned many in the Pentagon because it was long believed that Franchetti was in line for the top Navy job.

In a statement Friday, Austin praised the nomination, saying, “I’m very proud that Admiral Franchetti has been nominated to be the first woman Chief of Naval Operations and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where she will continue to inspire all of us.”

A surface warfare officer, she has commanded at all levels, heading U.S. 6th Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Korea. She was the second woman ever to be promoted to four-star admiral, and she did multiple deployments, including as commander of a naval destroyer and two stints as aircraft carrier strike group commander.

Paparo, who if confirmed will replace Adm. John Aquilino, is a naval aviator and a TOPGUN graduate with more than 6,000 flight hours in Navy fighter jets and 1,100 landings on aircraft carriers. A Pennsylvania native, he graduated from Villanova University and was commissioned into the Navy in 1987.

Prior to his Pacific tour, he was commander of naval forces in the Middle East, based in Bahrain, and also previously served as director of operations at U.S. Central Command in Florida.

Biden also said he will nominate Vice Adm. James Kilby to be the vice chief of the Navy and tap Vice Adm. Stephen Koehler to head the Pacific Fleet.

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