Acting Navy secretary rips ousted captain of aircraft carrier facing coronavirus outbreak

Editor’s note: Acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly apologized for his comments on Monday night. Read the latest update here. The original story appears below.


Washington — The acting secretary of the Navy harshly criticized the former commanding officer of an aircraft carrier dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, saying the captain was either “too naive or too stupid” to lead the ship if he thought an alarming memo he circulated wouldn’t become public. 

Thomas Modly, the acting secretary, spoke to sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and explained his decision to relieve Captain Brett Crozier of command of the ship last Thursday. Crozier was ousted after he went outside his chain of command and sent a memo to more than 20 people describing dire conditions on board the Roosevelt as dozens of sailors tested positive for the coronavirus, a memo that quickly made its way to The San Francisco Chronicle.

“It was my opinion that if he didn’t think that information was going to get out into the public, in this information age that we live in, then he was, A, too naive or too stupid to be commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly told sailors, apparently over the ship’s intercom, according to recordings of the address obtained by The Chronicle and the website Task & Purpose. “The alternate is that he did it on purpose. And that’s a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which you are all familiar with.”

In the recording, someone can be heard yelling, “What the f–k?” when Modly said Crozier was “too naive or too stupid” to lead. A rough transcript of his remarks was first published by The Daily Caller on Monday morning.

The Roosevelt has been docked in Guam for more than a week as sailors are tested for coronavirus and removed from the ship for isolation or quarantine as needed. As of Saturday, the Navy said 155 sailors had tested positive for the virus, and a total of more than 1,500 crew members had been removed from the ship.

Modly relieved Crozier of command shortly after the memo became public, a decision that was backed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Trump. In his address to the Roosevelt crew, Modly called Crozier a “martyr CO” and said the captain could have brought his concerns directly to him instead of distributing the memo about the situation on the ship to a wider audience.

“It was a betrayal of trust — with me, with the chain of command. With you. With the 800 to 1,000 people who are your shipmates on shore right now busting their asses everyday to do what they need to do … to get you guys off of here, get you safe, get you healthy, get you clean and get you back on this ship where you’re supposed to be,” Modly said. “It was a betrayal.”

Videos showing thousands of sailors cheering for Crozier as he departed the Roosevelt went viral late last week. Modly told the crew that Crozier had caused unnecessary panic with his memo, and to keep that in mind.

“So think about that when you cheer the man off the ship who exposed you to that. I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him. But you’re not required to love him,” he said.

“Crew of the Teddy Roosevelt: You are under no obligation to love your leadership. Only to respect it,” Modly said later. “You are under no obligation to like your job, only to do it. You are under no obligation to expect anything from your leaders other than they will treat you fairly and put the mission of the ship first, because it is the mission of the ship that matters. You all know this, but in my view, your captain lost sight of this and he compromised critical information about your status intentionally to draw greater attention to your situation.”

The acting secretary confirmed the authenticity of the recordings in a statement on Monday and said he stood by his comments. 

“The spoken words were from the heart, and meant for them,” Modly said. “I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis. Anyone who has served on a Navy ship would understand. I ask, but don’t expect, that people read them in their entirety.”

David Martin contributed reporting.

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