Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly formally resigned on Tuesday, following massive uproar from lawmakers and the public after audio and a transcript of a 15 minute speech he made on the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s public address system on Monday was leaked to the media. In the speech, he excoriated the former captain of the Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier, describing him as “too naive or too stupid” for the post, and acting out of malice and potentially violating the Uniformed Code of Military Justice in the process. Captain Crozier was relieved of his post on 2nd April, after an email he wrote on 30th March, urging the evacuation of 90 percent of the ship’s crew following a coronavirus outbreak onboard was leaked to the media.
Modly initially defended his remarks later that day, stating that he stood by every word he said, “even, regrettably, some profanity that may have been used for emphasis.” Similarly, he responded to a letter by Tweed Roosevelt, great-grandson of the ship’s namesake, in the New York Times and a since-deleted letter on the US Navy’s website. In it, Modly wrote that while he did not doubt Captain Crozier’s love for his crew, the captain’s letter created an “atmosphere of crisis” that warranted his dismissal. Hours later, he apologized for the contents of the speech after being ordered to do so by Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, stating “I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive or stupid”.
The circumstances surrounding Captain Crozier’s relief have resulted in the rallying of his ship’s crew behind him, with his departure from the USS Theodore Roosevelt witnessed by hundreds of sailors cheering his name. Similarly, former Navy officers have questioned the rationale for the abrupt dismissal of the captain, noting the speed and the lack of an investigation. Others, however, claim that the email did warrant his dismissal given the break from standard procedure that occured.
The row over the relief of Captain Crozier is an unfortunate microcosm of the US federal government’s efforts to combat the Coronavirus pandemic, with confusion and rapid reversals of position abounding. Popular sentiment rallying behind him, however, will likely be of little consolation for Captain Crozier, who has tested positive for the coronavirus following his removal from the Theodore Roosevelt.
Modly will be replaced by the current Army undersecretary, Jim McPherson, as the acting Secretary of the Navy. Modly has spent just over four months as the acting Secretary, replacing Richard Spencer, who resigned over presidential interference in the Eddie Gallagher case. The current US ambassador to Norway, Kenneth Braithwaite, was nominated by President Trump as the next Secretary of the Navy, and is awaiting Senate confirmation.