In an expected but somewhat unusual move, a financier with deep roots in Asia but no naval experience will be nominated as Navy secretary, the civilian leader of the Navy and Marine Corps.
Philip Bilden spent most of his career in Hong Kong finance circles at HarbourVest International Private Equity Partners.
President Donald Trump announced the nomination on Wednesday, saying Bilden will “apply his terrific judgment and top-notch management skills to the task of rebuilding our unparalleled Navy.”
Bilden’s military experience was 10 years in the Army Reserve as a military Intelligence officer, between 1986 and 1996. One of his reserve assignments was at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
His two sons now serve in the Navy, one reportedly a Naval Academy graduate.
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It appears that Bilden parlayed involvement on Navy charitable boards into friendships with influential people in the Navy establishment.
Trump touted Bilden’s “longstanding trusted relationships with senior military leaders” gained through his volunteerism with the United States Naval Academy and Naval War College foundations.
Reaction on Wednesday was mixed.
New Defense Secretary James Mattis praised the choice, in addition to Trump’s picks for the Army and Air Force.
Former New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson was named Monday to lead the Air Force, and billionaire Florida businessman Vince Viola was tapped for the Army secretary position soon after the election.
Mattis released a statement on Wednesday afternoon:
All three of these nominees have my utmost confidence. They will provide strong civilian leadership to strengthen military readiness, gain full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense, and support our service members, civilians, and their families. I appreciate the willingness of these three proven leaders to serve our country. They had my full support during the selection process.
Others on social media wondered what happened to Randy Forbes, the former Virginia congressman who was considered the early front-runner for the top Navy appointment.
Forbes was viewed as the architect of Trump’s campaign platform stance on increasing the Navy fleet to 350 ships.
Duncan Hunter, the Republican congressman from eastern San Diego County, was also considered an early candidate for this post and defense secretary.
In a statement released by the White House, Bilden said
I am deeply humbled and honored to serve as Secretary of the Navy. Maintaining the strength, readiness, and capabilities of our maritime force is critical to our national security. If confirmed, I will ensure that our Sailors and Marines have the resources they need to defend our interests around the globe and support our allies with commitment and capability.
Recently retired 25 years in finance, Bilden got his undergraduate degree in foreign service from Georgetown University, with a concentration in international politics and Soviet bloc studies, and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.
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