Modly Resigns After Crozier Remarks

Thomas Modly
file photo of Thomas Modly

Published Apr 7, 2020 8:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned on Tuesday after a recording of his speech to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt was made public.

Modly had relieved the vessel's Commanding Officer, Captain Brett Crozier, of duty, and justified his actions by indicating that Crozier might be too naive or stupid to command an aircraft carrier. His speech is available here.

Crozier wrote and distributed a letter calling for help and asking for 4,000 members of the carrier's crew to be disembarked in Guam, thereby reducing the potential that they might be exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Crozier warned that effective isolation of known cases and quarantine of suspected contacts aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt was impossible. The letter is available here.

According to Modly, the letter was sent via unsecured email to about 20 recipients, and it was subsequently leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle which he claimed published sensitive information about a warship. Modly accused Crozier of bypassing the chain of command, failing to ensure that the communication remained secure and undermining operational security. In addition, Modly said that the Navy was already acting on Crozier's requests. 

Prior to his speech to the crew, in a media interview, Modly said: “It’s been a long time since I was in the Navy on active duty, but one of the first things I learned as a midshipman was this phrase that I think became popular in World War II, which is loose lips sink ships. You know, maybe we need to update that now for the digital era, but I think the message is pretty clear. We have to be careful with the information we share and how we share it.”

Modly said he felt Crozier put the spotlight on the Navy in a negative light. “And also, I think sort of most disappointing to me is that I had set up a direct line to him that if he felt that anything, way before his letter was written, that if he felt anything wasn’t going well and he needed help, that he could reach out to me directly. And he did not do that. 

“And so for that reason, I just think maybe in the midst of the crisis, you know, sometimes this happens. People get overwhelmed. And I just can’t have a commanding officer who gets overwhelmed and uses that type of judgment in the middle of a crisis. And this is not an indictment of his entire career. He’s had an absolutely incredible career. I’m envious of it. He’s done some amazing things. But at this particular time, I needed a CO there that could help manage us through this crisis.” 

Modly later apologized for what he had said to the crew of the aircraft carrier. “Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite,” he said in a statement. “We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate. I believe, precisely because he is not naive and stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it into the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship.”

He said: “I want to apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused... I also want to apologize directly to Captain Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of the Theodore Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused.”

As of April 7, 79 percent of the USS Theodore Roosevelt crew have been tested for COVID-19, with 230 positive cases so far.  Additionally, 2,037 Sailors have tested negative, 1,999 Sailors have moved ashore, and 1,232 are ashore in hotels. 

As testing continues, the ship will keep enough Sailors on board to sustain essential services and sanitize the ship in port. So far, there have been no hospitalizations.