Defense Secretary Mark Esper accepted Modly's resignation Tuesday, just one day after the acting Navy Secretary apologized for calling the skipper of a COVID-stricken US Navy aircraft carrier 'naive' and 'stupid.'
The skipper, Capt. Brett Crozier, wrote an impassioned memo emailed to superiors on March 30 - which leaked to the press - describing an "accelerating" crisis as coronavirus swept through the ship. Crozier - who himself has contracted the virus - received a round of applause from crewmembers as he departed the ship.
According to Esper, Modly submitted his resignation "on his own accord, putting the Navy and the Sailors above self so that the U.S.S. Roosevelt, and the navy as an institution, can move forward."
Esper is appointing Army Undersecretary Jim McPherson as acting Navy secretary, succeeding Modly.
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The saga of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt now docked at Guam continues, as CNN reports Tuesday that at least 230 sailors have now tested positive for Covid-19.
CNN said further that over 70% of the crew has now been tested, after last week the Navy said it plans to test all of the some 5,000 crew members. Currently only 2,000 have been moved ashore and into emergency makeshift quarantine facilities at a Guam Navy base. This despite the Navy last Friday saying it planned to move closer to 3,000 ashore.
There's also been continued political fallout over the Navy controversially sacking USS Roosevelt commander Capt. Brett Crozier (himself recently testing positive for the virus) for penning a letter sent via unclassified communications - and subsequently leaked. Crozier had urged the Navy's top brass to temporarily put 'military and battle readiness' on hold in order to get an urgent handle on the crisis. If the Navy focuses on being battle ready, it will lead to “losses to the virus,” Crozier had said.
Capt. Crozier was relieved of command last Thursday, and upon disembarking the ship received a hero's ovation by hundreds of sailors gathered on the deck. Despite his 'sacrificial' move to put his crew's health first and foremost, which gained him broad support among enlisted ranks, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly blasted Crozier's actions as "stupid" in a controversial speech made aboard the carrier.
"If he didn't think, in my opinion, that this information wasn't going to get out to the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this," Modly said in the speech, a recording of which was also leaked.
He shortly after doubled-down when asked about the controversy: "I stand by every word I said," he said initially.
Military news reports said a fierce reaction from the crew could be heard immediately during Modly's address aboard the USS Roosevelt: "Members of Modly's audience — purportedly the crew aboard the USS TR — can be heard voicing their own opinions throughout the recording. Notably, immediately following Modly's comment referring to Crozier as 'stupid,' one person, can be clearly heard asking, "What the f----?".
"Let me be clear," Modly said. "I do not think Capt. Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite. We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Capt. Crozier is smart and passionate ... I believe, precisely because he is not naive and stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it into the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship."
Modly also apologized to the captain, his family and the entire crew of the TR "for any pain my remarks may have caused."
The Navy has been the hardest hit branch among America's armed forces, with at least 431 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Monday, more than any other branch.
Watch this video of the send off of Captain Crozier, commander of the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt who was fired yesterday for sounding the alarm to protect his sailors. Tells you everything you need to know about the type of #leader he is. pic.twitter.com/z9q3pTJpgZ— Amber Smith (@AmberSmithUSA) April 3, 2020
Meanwhile, President Trump has said he plans to "get involved" in the Crozier and Modly incident, which has proven an embarrassment for the Pentagon amid leaks and counter-leaks, underscoring division in commanders' response to the virus crisis.