Acting Navy secretary blasts ousted Roosevelt captain

Capt. Brett Crozier, then commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), addresses the crew during an all-hands call on the ship’s flight deck in November 2019. (Navy photograph by Seaman Apprentice Nicholas Huynh)

In an address broadcast to the entire crew of the USS Roosevelt, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly blasted the ousted captain of the ship, while defending his decision to fire him.

The address was broadcast to the ship’s crew the morning of April 6.

Capt. Brett Crozier was fired April 2 following publication of an internal Navy memo that begged the Navy to do more after the novel coronavirus broke out on the ship. Crozier, who is now onshore in Guam, has since tested positive for the virus.

In his address, Modly told the crew that their former commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in command or that he intentionally leaked to the media a memo in which he warned about coronavirus spreading aboard the aircraft carrier and urged action to save his sailors.

The acting secretary accused Crozier of committing a “betrayal” and creating a “big controversy” in Washington by disseminating the warning so widely.

“It was a betrayal. And I can tell you one other thing: because he did that he put it in the public’s forum and it is now a big controversy in Washington, DC,” Modly said, according to a transcript of remarks Modly made to the crew.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly speaks at a Pentagon press briefing, Washington, D.C., April 2, 2020. (DOD photograph by Lisa Ferdinando)

“If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out to the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly said. “The alternative is that he did this on purpose.”

Modly went on to say it was a “betrayal of trust, with me, with his chain of command.”

In his memo written last week, Crozier wrote to Navy leadership alerting them to the challenges of trying to contain the disease aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and to urgently request sailors be allowed to quarantine off the ship.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset: our Sailors,” Crozier wrote in a memo that three US defense officials confirmed to CNN.

As of April 6, 173 of the ship’s crew have now tested positive for coronavirus and 61 percent of the crew have been tested, according to a Navy official. Approximately 2,000 have been evacuated from the ship and moved ashore.

The Navy had set a goal of moving 2,700 sailors ashore in Guam by April 3 and has fallen several days behind schedule.

Several senior military officials, speaking anonymously, recommended against Modly’s decision to fire Crozier before an investigation into the matter was complete and in the midst of an evacuation.

Crozier’s popularity with the Roosevelt’s crew was evident as multiple videos were posted online of the sailors giving him a loud send off, clapping and chanting his name as he left the ship for the final time.

The USS Roosevelt at sea. (Courtesy photograph)

In his address to the crew, Modly acknowledged Crozier’s popularity with the crew in his remarks to the sailors. “I cannot control or attempt to change whatever anger you have with me for relieving your beloved CO,” Modly said, using the slang for commanding officer. “I understand you may be angry with me for the rest of your lives.”

In his April 2 Pentagon press briefing, Modly announced that the ship’s executive officer, Capt. Dan Keeler, had assumed temporary command. Rear Adm. Select Carlos Sardiello will assume permament command upon his arrive on board the Roosevelt.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper defended Modly’s decision during appearances on the Sunday talk shows April 5. Esper appeared on CNN’s State of the Union, and ABC’s This Week.
In the interviews, Esper said Modly made a “very tough decision.”

“It was based on his view that he had lost faith and confidence I the captain, based on his actions. It was supported by Navy leadership,” Esper said.

The Pentagon chief, however, declined to say specifically whether he agreed with Modly’s assessment, saying there is “an investigation ongoing.”

Still, the Pentagon chief declined to explicitly say he agreed with Modly’s assessment, “This could ultimately come to my desk,” he said. “I think Secretary Modly laid out very reasonably, very deliberately the reasons why. And I think, when all those facts come to bear, we will have a chance to understand why Secretary Modly did what he did.”

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