In leaked speech to sailors, Navy secretary blasted fired carrier captain, railed at media, and blamed China for coronavirus

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Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, December 3, 2019. Alex Brandon/AP
  • Acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly made an impassioned speech to sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, days after he dismissed its commanding officer over a leaked letter.
  • Modly, who visited the ship in Guam on Monday, made an all-hands call to the carrier’s crew. Business Insider obtained a copy of the call and confirmed its authenticity.
  • “He was either A: too naive, or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly said of Capt. Brett Crozier. “The alternative is that he did this on purpose.”
  • Modly also suggested the news media were too partisan to be trusted and said China was to blame for the coronavirus.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly made an impassioned speech to the roughly 4,800 sailors aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt days after he dismissed its commanding officer for losing confidence.

Modly, who visited the ship in Guam on Monday, made an all-hands call using the carrier’s announcement system, addressing the crew that recently lost its commander, Capt. Brett Crozier.

Crozier was fired on Thursday, after he emailed an urgent plea to over 20 colleagues outlining the ongoing coronavirus outbreak aboard his ship. In his four-page letter, Crozier asked for a “political solution” and “immediate and decisive action” as his crew dealt with the coronavirus outbreak.

The letter was eventually leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published it. It was not immediately clear how the letter was leaked, and the Defence Department has launched an investigation.

Brett Crozier Theodore Roosevelt
Capt. Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, addresses the crew during an all-hands call on the ship’s flight deck, November 14, 2019. US Navy/MCS 3rd Class Nicholas Huynh

According to Modly, Crozier violated military protocols, circumventing the chain of command by sending the letter to a group of people. Modly said that while he did not how the letter got to the media, there was a “proper way” for Crozier to handle his concerns.

In his speech aboard the carrier, Modly outlined his reasons for Crozier’s firing and expressed continued support for the crew. Modly also criticised Crozier’s decision to send the letter by comparing it to China’s obfuscation over the coronavirus, with which China “put the world at risk to protect themselves and to protect their reputations,” Modly said.

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

“Imagine if every other CO [commanding officer] also believed the media was a proper channel to air grievances with their chain of command under difficult circumstances,” Modly added. “We would no longer have a Navy. Not long after that, we would no longer have a country.”

Modly, who also served in the US Navy as a helicopter pilot, described Crozier’s actions as “a betrayal” and a “big controversy” that created “a martyr CO.” He also said crew members should not go to the news media because those companies had a political agenda.

“I’m sorry that’s the way the country is now, but it’s the truth, and so they use it to divide us they use it to embarrass the Navy,” Modly said. “They use it to embarrass you.”

In this Dec. 15, 2019, photo U.S.Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, 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 while conducting routine training in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. U.S. defence leaders are backing the Navy's decision to fire the ship captain who sought help for his coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier, even as videos showed his sailors cheering him as he walked off the vessel. Videos went viral on social media Friday, April 3, 2020, showing hundreds of sailors gathered on the ship chanting and applauding Navy Capt. Brett Crozier as he walked down the ramp, turned, saluted, waved and got into a waiting car. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kaylianna Genier via AP)
US Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, then commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, addresses the crew in an all-hands call, December 15, 2019. Associated Press

Modly stressed that the crew members ought to stay the course and that they still had a duty to perform amid the coronavirus outbreak on and off the ship.

“That’s your duty. Not to complain. Everyone’s scared about this thing,” Modly said. “But I’ll tell you something, if this ship was in combat and there were hypersonic missiles coming at it, you’d be pretty f—ing scared too. But you do your jobs. And that’s what I expect you to do.”

More than 150 service members aboard the carrier have tested positive for the coronavirus. Crozier also tested positive,The New York Times reported Sunday. Around 2,700 crew members are expected to be evacuated in the coming days to curb the coronavirus’ spread.

Videos of Crozier leaving the USS Theodore Roosevelt on April 3 showed the crew cheering and chanting his name.

“I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him,” Modly said in his speech. “But you’re not required to love him.”

In a statement on Monday, Modly said “the spoken words were from the heart, and meant for” the sailors aboard the ship.

“I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis,” Modly said. “Anyone who has serve on a Navy ship would understand. I ask, but don’t expect, that people read them in their entirety.”