Navy head says sacked captain put crew 'at risk' with coronavirus memo

‘Loose lips sink ships’: Navy chief Thomas Modly says sacked Theodore Roosevelt captain put his crew ‘at risk’ with leaked coronavirus letter because ‘our adversaries in the region think that one of our warships might be crippled’

  • Acting US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said on Friday Capt. Brett Crozier went outside chain of command
  • Modly on Thursday fired Crozier, relieving him of command of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt 
  • Sailors from the Roosevelt posted video on social media showing massive salute to ousted commander  
  • Crozier was fired days after he penned letter to Navy leaders calling for immediate evacuation of Roosevelt 
  • Modly said decision was driven by fact he shared letter with at least 20 others before it was leaked to press 
  • The secretary insisted that he was not accusing Crozier of leaking the letter to the press himself
  • However, US officials told Reuters that the Navy did believe he was responsible for the leak 
  • The USS Roosevelt was docked in Guam last week after 25 crew members tested positive for COVID-19 
  • ‘About 140’ sailors on the nuclear aircraft carrier have since tested positive, according to Modly
  • Modly said 95 have ‘mild to moderate flu-like symptoms’ while 42 are asymptomatic. Zero are hospitalized 
  • Navy is in the process of evacuating 2,700 sailors from the ship in addition to the 1,000 already evacuated
  • Locals in Guam have expressed anger over hosting infected sailors at their hotels
  • Between 180 and 500 sailors on Friday were moved to several hotels, where they will remain in quarantine 

The acting secretary of the United States Navy has defended his decision to fire the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt saying he put the crew ‘at risk’ by sending a letter demanding they be quarantined after an outbreak of coronavirus.   

Thomas Modly said America’s enemies might think the aircraft carrier was ‘crippled’ after a letter written by its captain Brett Crozier was leaked.

It came as videos emerged of Captain Crozier being given a rowdy farewell by his crew who were chanting his name as he left the warship.    

Modly, who served in the US Navy as a helicopter pilot before becoming a managing director at consultants PwC, was backed Friday by the Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who ‘supported’ his decision, and by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.  

Gen. Milley said if the Navy secretary had lost trust in Crozier ‘Then that’s it. It’s target down and we’re moving on to the next task’.   

He was also backed by Rear Admiral John Menoni, the region’s US Navy commander, who disagreed with Crozier’s assertion that all but 10 percent of the ship’s crew could be removed from the vessel if necessary.  

Modly became acting secretary in November after Richard Spencer was sacked because wanted to demote and strip shamed Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher of his Trident pin – against President Trump’s wishes. 

When he was at PwC, Modley earned at least $700,000 a year and helped the firm profit from Nato contracts and the rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Modly said on Friday: ‘One of the first things I learned as a midshipman was this phrase that I think became popular in World War II, which is loose lips sink ships.  

‘I had wished that I would never have to make a decision like this, but my responsibilities extend beyond just that individual officer. 

‘And they go to the safety of that crew, our national security objectives, all the other ships that are out there in the Pacific that are now perhaps on higher standard of alert because our adversaries in the region think that one of our warships might be crippled, which it’s not.’ 

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly (left) said on Friday that he made the decision to fire Captain Brett Crozier (right) because he went outside the chain of command by writing a letter that leaked to the press

Crozier’s letter demanded that the Navy evacuate the USS Theodore Roosevelt after several soldiers became infected with coronavirus. The ship, which was deployed to the Pacific Ocean, was forced to divert to Guam, where it docked earlier this week. The ship is seen above at Naval Base Guam in Sumay on Friday

Crozier was fired four days after he penned a scathing letter to Navy leaders calling for stronger action to address the COVID-19 outbreak he said was threatening his sailors lives.   

Navy sources told Foreign Policy on Friday that Crozier was given Modly’s personal cell phone number on Monday.

The sources claim Modly was encouraged to ‘call us any time day or night’ if he had any concerns. 

Modly said: ‘I just can’t have a commanding officer who gets overwhelmed and uses that type of judgment in the middle of a crisis. 

‘And this is not an indictment of his entire career. He’s had an absolutely incredible career. I’m envious of it. He’s done some amazing things. 

‘But at this particular time, I needed a CO there that could help manage us through this crisis. And I just didn’t think based on those actions that I could do that.’ 

Video posted to social media on Thursday shows hundreds of sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt bidding a raucous farewell and saluting their fired commander, Captain Brett Crozier

The sailors chanted ‘Captain, Crozier! Captain Crozier’ and clapped as he left the ship, which was docked in Guam on Thursday

Crozier is seen above disembarking the ship in Guam for the last time after he was fired over a letter he wrote asking the Navy high command to evacuate the ship due to an outbreak of the coronavirus on board

Modly said that Crozier ‘put the spotlight on the Navy in a negative light when all the things he was asking for we’re surging for him.’

The acting secretary said that it was ‘sort of most disappointing’ to him that the letter from Crozier leaked to the press after he had ‘set up a direct line’ to the captain.

Crozier should’ve went to Modly directly ‘if he felt anything wasn’t going well and he needed help.

‘And he did not do that.’  

But the Navy’s claims are being treated with skepticism by at least one parent of a sailor on board the Roosevelt, who told Foreign Policy that hundreds of troops were being quarantined and checked for high temperatures and that the military was not doing enough to keep them safe at the time the letter was sent.

‘It felt like a lot of politics to me and not enough action,’ the mother of a Roosevelt sailor told Foreign Policy.

‘I believe that the Crozier memo expedited the whole thing.’

The mother added: ‘When I hear the secretary of the Navy say that [the captain] made a bad judgment call I don’t necessarily agree.

‘This was not a man who made bad judgment calls.’

Modly told Hewitt that Crozier should have reported his concerns directly to his immediate superior, Rear Admiral Michael E. Boyle, who assumed command of the Carrier Strike Group Twelve, which includes the USS Roosevelt, last year.

The above image is a handout photo from Wednesday showing medical staff on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt taking a swab sample for COVID-19 testing

‘He instead of going to that particular admiral’s cabin and sitting down and talking with him about his concerns and coming up with a strategy with him on how to address them, he decided to send an email and copy that email to a large list of other people who were not in the chain of command, and sent it up also through the chain of command skipping people in the chain of command,’ Modly said.

‘And that, to me, just represented just extremely poor judgment, because once you do that in this digital era, you know that there is no way that you can control where that information’s going to go.’

Crozier on Thursday was given a rousing salute by his now-former crew as he left the aircraft carrier for the last time after being fired.   

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier docked in the Pacific island of Guam, where hundreds of sailors suspected of being exposed to the coronavirus will be quarantined in several hotels.

Up to 500 sailors are expected to be housed in seven different hotels by the end of Friday while quarantined and plans are in place to send even more sailors that are being evacuated from the ship.  

Security is put in place to receive between 180 and 500 sailors suspected of having been exposed to coronavirus at several hotels in Guam, including the Sheraton Laguna (pictured above on Friday). Plans are in place to have more sailors from the USS Roosevelt occupy hotel rooms in the coming days

As of Friday, ‘about 140’ sailors on the USS Roosevelt had tested positive for COVID-19 and around 1,300 had been screened for the disease, with about half of those results still pending, officials said. 

Modly told Hewitt that 95 sailors were showing ‘mild to moderate flu-like symptoms’ and 42 were asymptomatic. 

None of the sailors who have tested positive have required hospitalization, according to Modly. 

About 1,000 sailors, or 20 percent, have already been removed from the ship and another 2,700 were expected to be removed by the weekend as officials scrambled to secure enough hotel rooms to house them near US Naval Base Guam.  

Local islanders, meanwhile, are unhappy about plans to house soldiers possibly infected with coronavirus in hotels.

‘I am disturbed by the reckless double-standard of potentially placing potentially exposed military personnel in local hotels,’ Senator Sabina Flores Perez wrote in a letter to Guam’s governor, Lou Leon Guerrero. 

‘If sailors are placed in our hotels, we will be exposing lower-wage employees to greater risk, many of whom are older and have limited or no health benefits for themselves and their families.’

The senator continued: ‘Our medical facilities are strained, and we have yet to experience the peak of this outbreak, at which point the island will find itself in an even more compromising situation.’ 

Guam, which relies on tourism, has seen its hotels remain empty as flights to and from the island have been grounded due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Crozier was relieved of his command of the coronavirus-stricken nuclear aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt on Thursday, four days after his plea for help from Navy leaders went public

The first group of sailors will be housed at a beachfront Sheraton hotel which offers rooms for $200 a night, according to The Guam Daily Post.

To allay concerns of locals over the possible spread of coronavirus, the military has pledged that sailors would not be allowed out of their hotels during quarantine. 

‘I know my decision to allow the restricted housing of sailors who have tested negative for COVID-19 off base has left a few of you uneasy,’ the governor, Guerrero, said. 

‘This decision was not made in haste.’ 

The Roosevelt was on a scheduled deployment to the Pacific Ocean when it was forced to divert to Guam, a US-held territory in the Western Pacific republic of Micronesia, due to the on-board outbreak of COVID-19.

Captain Daniel Keeler, the ship’s executive officer, is now serving as acting commander.

Captain Carlos Sardiello, Crozier’s predecessor who stepped down in November, is making preparations to travel to Guam to once again assume full-time command of the ship, according to Stars and Stripes. 

Joe Biden, the former vice president and the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, criticized the Trump administration and the military for showing ‘poor judgment’ in relieving Crozier of his command.

Biden said the military was wrong to remove the captain of an aircraft carrier who sought stronger measures to control a coronavirus outbreak on board.

‘Donald Trump’s Acting Navy Secretary shot the messenger – a commanding officer who was faithful to both his national security mission and his duty to care for his sailors, and who rightly focused attention on a broader concern about how to maintain military readiness during this pandemic,’ Biden said in a statement to Reuters.

‘And the Navy sent a chilling message to the rest of the fleet about speaking truth to power. The poor judgment here belongs to the Trump Administration, not a courageous officer trying to protect his sailors.’

The US Navy on Thursday relieved Crozier, the captain of the coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt, days after his plea for help for his sailors went public. 

Modly announced on Thursday afternoon that Crozier had been relieved of his command of the nuclear aircraft carrier, four days after he penned a scathing letter to Navy leaders calling for stronger action to address the COVID-19 outbreak he said was unnecessarily threatening his sailors lives. 

Modly said that the decision was driven by the fact that Crozier shared his letter with at least 20 people before it was leaked in the media on Tuesday.  

The secretary insisted that he was not accusing Crozier of leaking the letter himself.

But he did say that the people Crozier shared the letter with included ones ‘outside the chain of command’.

Modly said the decision to send the letter ‘raised alarm bells unnecessarily’ and accused Crozier of ‘extremely poor judgment’ and creating a ‘little bit of a panic’ on the ship.

He also accused Crozier of undermining the effectiveness of one of the United States’ most important strategic assets in the Pacific. 

The Roosevelt is nuclear-powered but it is not known if nuclear weapons are aboard. It is operating in the Pacific where China is the primary naval threat to the US. 

Acting US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly accused Crozier of undermining the effectiveness of one of the United States’ most important strategic assets in the Pacific. The USS Theodore Roosevelt is pictured docked in Guam on Friday

Plans are in place to remove a total of 2,700 sailors from the USS Roosevelt by the weekend as officials scramble to secure enough hotel rooms to house them near US Naval Base Guam. Around 1,000 sailors had been removed as of Friday

Modly said: ‘It [sending the letter] raised concerns about the operational capabilities of that ship… that could have emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage.

‘For these reasons I lost confidence in his ability to lead that warship.  

‘We should expect more from commanding officer of our aircraft carriers.  

‘Captain Crozier allowed the complexity of the COVID outbreak on ship to overwhelm his professionalism.

‘Relieving him of command was in the best interest of the US Navy and the nation.’ 

Modly said that Admiral Robert Burke, vice chief of naval operations, will conduct an investigation into the matter to determine why there was a breakdown in the chain of command. 

There was considerable backlash to the Navy’s decision to fire Crozier. An online petition titled ‘Reinstate Captain Crozier as Commanding Officer’ garnered more than 64,000 signatures on 

Several pro-Crozier memes have popped up on social media site Reddit critical of the Navy’s decision.  

Modly said hundreds of sailors would eventually test positive but insisted that none of them would need hospitalization. 

He also accused Crozier of creating panic by suggesting sailors would die. 

And he insisted that the Department of Defense was already taking the necessary action to protect the sailors of the USS Roosevelt before Crozier sent his letter.  

The USS Roosevelt was forced to dock in Guam last week after 25 sailors on board tested positive for coronavirus. As of Friday, 140 crew members have tested positive and about 1,000 have been evacuated from the ship (seen in port Friday)

The USS Roosevelt was in the middle of a deployment to the Philippine and South China Seas when the Navy ordered it to cease sail on March 26 after at least 25 crew members tested positive.

In his four-page letter to Navy leaders, Crozier warned that the outbreak was ‘ongoing and accelerating’ and called for the immediate evacuation and isolation of 90 percent of the USS Roosevelt crew. 

‘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,’ the captain wrote.  

Crozier’s extraordinary plea was made public on Tuesday – putting the Pentagon on the defensive about whether it was doing enough to keep the USS Roosevelt’s crew safe as lawmakers and families of military members express concerns that other ships could be vulnerable to outbreaks. 

Modly had previously said Crozier would ‘absolutely not’ face retaliation for writing the letter – but indicated that he would be punished if officials found that he was the one who leaked it.  

‘The fact that he wrote the letter up to his chain of command to express his concerns would absolutely not result in any type of retaliation,’ Modly told reporters on Wednesday.

Asked repeatedly about how the letter came to light publicly, he said: ‘I don’t know who leaked the letter to the media. 

‘That would be something that would violate the principles of good order and discipline, if he [Crozier] were responsible for that. But I don’t know that.’ 


At a briefing on the island on Thursday, Rear Admiral John Menoni, the region’s US Navy commander, insisted that the vessel, despite the outbreak, ‘is not incapacitated’ and ‘could go to sea tomorrow if conditions required’.  

He and other officials, including Modly, publicly disagreed with Crozier’s assertion that all but 10 percent of the ship’s crew could be removed from the vessel if necessary – determining that 1,000 members would need to remain on board.

‘This ship has weapons on it. It has munitions on it… It requires a certain number of people on that ship to maintain the safety and security of the ship,’ Modly said. 

In his letter Crozier emphasized the ship’s ‘inherent limitations of space’ as he insisted that some 4,000 sailors be removed.  

‘None of the berthing aboard a warship is appropriate for quarantine or isolation,’ Crozier wrote. 

‘Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed US nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. 

‘This is a necessary risk.’  

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