Ex-Navy secretary may have exaggerated his reasoning for firing an aircraft carrier captain during its coronavirus outbreak

Former acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly
  • Former Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly may have exaggerated his complaint against the former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Brett Crozier, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
  • Modly removed Crozier fron his command on April 2 after a letter he wrote warning about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak aboard the carrier leaked to the media.
  • The former acting Navy secretary said at the time that the email was "copied to 20 or 30 other people."
  • But Crozier, according to The Post, copied the message to only seven other people, all of whom were US Navy captains.
  • In his email, Crozier appeared to be aware that sending it could jeopardize his career.
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Former Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly may have exaggerated his main complaint against former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Brett Crozier, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Crozier was relieved of his command on April 2 after a four-page letter he wrote warning about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak aboard the carrier leaked to the media. In the letter, he called on the Navy to take decisive action to prevent sailors from dying.Advertisement

Talking to the press at the Pentagon after he announced his decision to relieve Crozier of his command, Modly accused the captain of sending the letter out "over non-secure, unclassified email." He said that the captain should not have sent a "blast-out email to anybody who he knows about the situation."

The former acting Navy secretary added the email was "copied to 20 or 30 other people."

Asked specifically if Crozier was being "relieved because he CC'd too many people," Modly replied, "To me, that demonstrated extremely poor judgment in the middle of a crisis."
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Brett Crozier Theodore Roosevelt
But the email, to which the captain's four-page letter was attached, appears to have been sent to only 10 people in total, The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the email, reported Thursday.It was sent to Crozier's immediate boss, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, US Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino, and Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, who oversees all Pacific naval air forces. Crozier, according to The Post, then copied the message to just seven other people, all of whom were fellow US Navy captains.Advertisement

It is unclear whether or not Crozier distributed his warnings beyond the email The Post obtained or whether or not Modly may have been referring to the continued distribution of the email after Crozier sent it. The ship has senior officers who can play a role in responding to the outbreak, including a senior medical officer who runs the medical bay, but it is not clear whom was CC'd.

In the email, Crozier wrote that "our current efforts to contain the virus and treat the symptoms while pierside ... are inadequate."

"It is with utmost respect that I write to you requesting assistance," Crozier wrote. "I consider all of you incredible leaders and I'd gladly follow you into battle whenever needed."Advertisement

While Modly's complaint appears to have been exaggerated, Navy officials told the Post they considered Crozier's actions unconventional, if not inappropriate. The Navy, at the direction of the secretary of defense, has been investigating the situation.

In his email, Crozier appeared to acknowledge that sending its contents may jeopardize his tenure aboard the aircraft carrier: "I fully realize that I bear responsibility for not demanding more decisive action the moment we pulled in, but at this point my only priority is the continued well-being of the crew and embarked staff," Crozier said, according to The Post.

"I believe if there is ever a time to ask for help it is now regardless of the impact on my career," he added.Advertisement

A few days after Crozier was relieved of his command, Modly, at the cost of $243,000, flew out to the USS Theodore Roosevelt to speak with the crew.

Leaked audio of the speech revealed Modly bashing Crozier, at one point suggesting that either wanted the letter to leak or that he is "too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer." Modly, after initially stating that he stood by his remarks, apologized for his comments. He resigned from his position on April 7, the following day.

A total of 655 sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the coronavirus.Advertisement

Six are in the hospital, with one in intensive care. One sailor who tested positive late last month died of related complications after he was found unresponsive and taken to an ICU facility on Guam, where the carrier has been in port for weeks dealing with the outbreak.

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