It’s a saga that has unfolded chapter by chapter in recent weeks, and this plot just certainly took an interesting twist.
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First, on March 27, Business Insider reported that the USS Roosevelt, actively deployed in the Pacific, had two confirmed cases of COVID-19. WATM interviewed a spouse who learned this news on Facebook (and whose husband has since tested positive for the illness). As a result, families were asking for information, reporting that they hadn’t heard anything and wanted updates on whether or not their family members were okay. Days later, the plot thickened when a letter written by the captain of the USS Roosevelt, Brett Crozier, was obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle and published in its entirety.
In the four-page letter to senior military leadership, Crozier asked for additional support, stating that only a small number of those infected had disembarked from the deployed carrier, in port in Guam. A majority of the crew remained onboard, where, as anyone who has spent time on a ship knows, social distancing isn’t just difficult; it is impossible. “Due to a warship’s inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this,” Crozier wrote in the letter. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”
Crozier asked that the majority of his crew be removed, asking for compliant quarantine rooms on Guam as soon as possible. “Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. … This is a necessary risk,” Crozier wrote. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care. …This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” he continued in the letter. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”
While the letter ultimately had the outcome Capt. Crozier intended — many of the crew were quarantined on Guam, it came at a high cost: Capt. Crozier was relieved of command.
Captain Brett Crozier.
He disembarked the carrier to the cheers of his ship, his sailors chanting “Captain Crozier! Captain Crozier!” Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Moldy defended his decision to relieve Crozier, in a press conference April 2. Modly said Crozier was removed because he didn’t follow chain of command protocol in how he handled the situation.
While Modly praised Capt. Crozier, he ultimately relieved him because the captain “allowed the complexity of the challenge of the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally.” You can read the full text of Modly’s statement, here.
But it didn’t end there.
Modly visited the carrier yesterday and gave a speech that contained both expletives and justifications for his decision. The full transcript of his remarks were leaked, which you can find here. But where Modly immediately came under scrutiny was for his strong criticism of Captain Crozier. “If he didn’t think—it was my opinion, that if he didn’t think,” Modly said, “that information was going to get out into the public, in this information age that we live in, then he was A, too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this…”
The backlash was immediate from citizens and lawmakers, many with military backgrounds.
Marine veteran Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said, “Modly should be removed unceremoniously for these shocking remarks — especially after failing to protect sailors’ safety health. He has betrayed their trust.”
Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran, wrote, “Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly’s remarks to the crew show that he is in no way fit to lead our Navy through this trying time. Secretary Esper should immediately fire him.”Today @RepRubenGallego and I requested @EsperDoD to fire Acting @SECNAV Modly. SECNAV is no longer fit to lead the best Navy in the world. Our letter is below.pic.twitter.com/7qTUidZFtI
While Modly issued an apology yesterday, today, he resigned in what surely won’t be the last chapter of this ongoing story.