12:30 P.M., Tuesday, April 7, Update: Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned Tuesday, according to two officials, just hours after he had publicly apologized for a profanity-laced upbraiding of the officer he fired as captain of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt, the Associated Press reported.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter before an official announcement.
Modly’s designated replacement will be James McPherson, a Navy veteran who is currently serving undersecretary of the Army. He was confirmed in that position by the Senate last month. Prior to that, he was the Army’s general counsel.
The original story
An apology from Acting Naval Secretary Thomas Modley didn’t satisfy Rep. TJ Cox whose district includes Naval Air Station Lemoore.
The first-term Fresno Democrat called for Modley to “step down” Monday night after Modley was forced to apologize for a profanity-laced broadside directed at the fired commander of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.
During his diatribe, Modley called Capt. Brett E. Crozier “too naive or too stupid.”
That was too much even for blunt-talking President Donald Trump who called Modley’s comments “rough.”
“Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly’s slander of Capt. Crozier, calling him ‘too naïve or too stupid,’ which was then followed by further vitriol directed to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, leaves no doubt who should actually be relieved of their position.” — Rep. TJ Cox (D-Fresno)
Two NAS Lemoore Jet Fighter Squadrons on Board
At least 173 sailors aboard the ship had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday, and about 2,000 of the 4,865 crew members had been taken off the ship to be tested.
Close to 800 NAS Lemoore-based personnel are on-board the ship, attached to two strike F/A-18E fighter squadrons from the base. The Roosevelt departed San Diego on Jan. 17 and is now docked in Guam.
“When we send our young people to serve in the military, we trust the President and leadership of the Armed Forces to do everything in their power to keep them safe,” Cox said in a statement released Monday night. “The firing of Capt. Crozier, for taking steps to stop COVID-19 from infecting the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, sends a clear message to our military leaders: ‘Don’t do anything, including protecting your soldiers, that shows this administration in a bad light.
“Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly’s slander of Capt. Crozier, calling him ‘too naïve or too stupid,’ which was then followed by further vitriol directed to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, leaves no doubt who should actually be relieved of their position.”
Modly had relieved Crozier of command of the ship last week, saying he had lost confidence in him for having shown “extremely poor judgment” in widely distributing a memo pleading for an accelerated evacuation of the crew members to protect their health.
A picture of what leadership looks like. This helps illustrate why Capt. Crozier is so beloved by his (former) crew. https://t.co/ZuJT5rGnAX
— James Hohmann (@jameshohmann) April 7, 2020
Sailors Applaud Captain and Chant His Name
Videos went viral on social media Friday, showing hundreds of sailors gathered on the ship chanting and applauding Crozier as he walked down the ramp, turned, saluted, waved and got into a waiting car.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly abruptly fired Crozier on Thursday, saying the commander created a panic by widely distributing a memo detailing the escalating virus outbreak on his ship and pleading his leadership for help. Modly said Crozier “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” in the middle of a crisis.
Modley Chews Out Sailors, Too
On Sunday, Modly flew to Guam to address sailors on the aircraft carrier. He reprimanded them, saying they were overlooking their most basic duty to defend U.S. interests.
“So think about that when you cheer the man off the ship who exposed you to that,” he said. “I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him. But you’re not required to love him.”
Late Monday, Modly backtracked.
“I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused,” he wrote. “I also want to apologize directly to Capt. Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of the Theodore Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused.”
Defense Secretary Ordered an Apology
Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s staff told Modly he must apologize, the Associated Press reported, citing a person familiar with the conversation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday that he might get involved, agreeing that Modly’s criticism of Crozier was “a rough statement.”
Trump said Crozier had a good career prior to this incident, adding, “I don’t want to destroy somebody for having a bad day.”
Cox called Modley’s decision to remove Crozier “an overreaction.”
“While it is critical to operate within one’s chain of command, removing a respected commander of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the middle of a major medical emergency is an overreaction, and more importantly, does a disservice to the women and men serving aboard,” Cox said.
“As a member of Congress who represents constituents currently deployed aboard the USS Roosevelt and Naval Air Station Lemoore, the largest master jet base in America, I know our sailors deserve better. The acting secretary should step down.”
Roosevelt’s Great-Grandson Calls Crozier a ‘Hero’
On Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called the Trump administration’s handling of the case as “close to criminal.”
“The idea that this man stood up and said what had to be said, got it out that his troops, his Navy personnel were in danger,” Biden said. “I think he should have a commendation rather than be fired.”
Tweed Roosevelt, the great-grandson of former President Theodore Roosevelt, called Crozier a “hero.”
(Associated Press contributed to this report.)