Acting Navy secretary blasts fired carrier captain as ‘too naive or too stupid’ in address to crew

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SAN DIEGO — Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly defended his decision to fire the captain of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, saying in an address to the ship’s crew Monday that the ousted captain was either “too naive or too stupid” to be the commander of an aircraft carrier.

In a profane, meandering 15-minute speech over the ship’s 1MC public address system, the acting secretary chastised the crew for cheering Capt. Brett Crozier on his way out last week, blamed China for the novel coronavirus and lamented that Crozier’s actions resulted in negative press coverage and controversy in Washington, D.C.

On March 29, Crozier, then the commanding officer of the San Diego-based carrier Theodore Roosevelt, sent a four-page letter to Pacific Fleet commanders outlining the seriousness of a COVID-19 outbreak on the ship. The Roosevelt had pulled into Guam days earlier after several sailors on board tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

In the letter, Crozier said that unless the Navy moved the majority of the crew off the ship, they would not be able to contain the virus and sailors would die. The letter became international news when it was published by the San Francisco Chronicle two days later.

On Thursday, Modly announced at a Pentagon press briefing that he was firing Crozier due to a loss of confidence in the captain’s ability to command. As Crozier later left the ship many aboard cheered and chanted his name.

Modly, in Guam on Monday visiting the carrier pierside, addressed the crew via the 1MC, a public address system that can be heard in every space on board the ship. Modly defended his decision to fire Crozier, saying the captain betrayed the crew and the Navy.

“It was a betrayal of trust,” Modly said,”with me, with his chain of command, with you … ”

Modly blamed Crozier for sending his letter via unclassified email to more than 20 people, saying the captain was “too naive or too stupid” for the job.

“If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out into the public, in this day and 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.

In an audio recording published by Task & Purpose, a sailor can be heard reacting to that comment, yelling “what the f—?”

Modly then suggested Crozier might have violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice if he leaked the letter on purpose. He went on to complain about media attention and controversy.

“It was betrayal — and I can tell you one other thing,” Modly told about 4,000 sailors on board, “because he did that, he put it in the public’s forum and it’s now become a big controversy in Washington, D.C. and across the country. … There is never a situation where you should consider the media a part of your chain of command.”

In a statement Monday, Modly said he spoke from the heart.

“I have not listened to a recording of my remarks since speaking to the crew, so I cannot verify if the transcript is accurate,” Modly said.

“The spoken words were from the heart, and meant for them. I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis.

“Anyone who has served on a Navy ship would understand. I ask, but don’t expect, that people read them in their entirety.”

During his address to the crew, Modly said the news media has a political agenda that includes embarrassing the Navy and its sailors.

“The media has an agenda and the agenda that they have depends on which side of the political aisle they sit,” Modly said. “They use it to divide us and use it to embarrass the Navy. They use it to embarrass you.”

Later in his speech, Modly said that Navy commanders should not use the media instead of the chain of command.

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

Modly also pushed back against Crozier assertion in his letter that the nation was not at war.

“Let me tell you something, the only reason we are dealing with (COVID-19) right now is a big authoritative regime called China was not forthcoming about what was happening with this virus,” Modly said.

“They put the world at risk to protect themselves and protect their reputations. We don’t do that in the Navy.”

Modly also responded to comments former Vice President Joe Biden made Sunday on ABC News suggesting Modly’s decision to fire Crozier was “close to criminal.”

“I assure you it was not,” Modly said. “I understand the facts and those facts show that what your captain did was very, very wrong in a moment when we expected him to be the calming force on a turbulent sea.”

Modly told the crew he knows his decision is not popular among them, but they should know how the letter affected the local population of Guam, many of whom weren’t happy the Navy might house affected sailors on the island.

“So think about that when you cheer the man off the ship who exposed you to that,” Modly said.

Modly acknowledged the crew’s anger at him.

“I understand you may be angry with me for the rest of your lives,” Modly said.

“Being angry is not your duty. Your duty is to each other, to this ship and to the nation that built it for you to protect them. Even in the midst of unexpected crisis, it is the mission of this ship that matters. Our adversaries are watching, and that is why we are here.”

Modly concluded his talk by thanking the sailors and promising to provide answers to some of their questions later in the week.

“Go Navy,” he said.


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