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

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Former Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jake McClung
  • Former Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly may have exaggerated his rationale for removing the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
  • Modly removed Capt. Brett Crozier from his command of the aircraft carrier on April 2 after a letter Crozier wrote warning about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak aboard the ship leaked to the media.
  • Modly, who later resigned over the incident, 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 10 other people, all of them Navy members with the rank of captain or above.
  • 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 rationale for removing the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

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

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 nonsecure, unclassified email.” He said 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 whether 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.”

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

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; the 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 only seven other people, all of whom were fellow US Navy captains.

It is unclear whether Crozier distributed his warnings beyond the email The Post obtained or whether Modly may have been referring to the continued distribution of the email after Crozier sent it.

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.”

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 defence, has been investigating the situation.

In his email, Crozier appeared to acknowledge that sending its contents might jeopardize his tenure aboard the aircraft carrier.

“I fully realise 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.

Not only did this situation cost Crozier his job, but it also cost Modly his.

A few days after Crozier was relieved of his command, Modly, at the cost of $US243,000, 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 Crozier either wanted the letter to leak or was “too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer” had he not realised that it would. Modly initially stood by his remarks but later apologised for them. He resigned from his position April 7.

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

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.