Former Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Natalie M. Byers


Acting Navy secretary resigns

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned after audio surfaced of him calling the now-ex-commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt “stupid” in front of crew members. Army Undersecretary Jim McPherson will be the new acting Navy secretary until a permanent one is confirmed, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced via memo April 7.

The resignation comes after Modly apologized for the way he handled and fired Capt. Brett Crozier following an outbreak of COVID-19 on the Roosevelt earlier this month. Modly said his decision was a preemptive move before the White House could get involved, the Washington Post reported.

Modly flew to Guam to address the crew after firing Crozier for sending a letter outside of the chain of command asking for help for his crew as COVID-19 inspections spread on the ship.

Modly said at an April 2 news briefing that Crozier’s letter “raised concerns about the operational capabilities and operational security of that ship that could have emboldened our adversaries” and “undermined the chain of command, who had been moving and adjusting as rapidly as possible to get him the help he needed.”

The sudden firing brought questions from members of Congress. The House Armed Services Committee sent out a joint statement April 2 calling Crozier’s firing “a destabilizing move that will likely put our service members at greater risk and jeopardize our fleet’s readiness.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an April 2 statement the “incident raises critical questions about the Navy’s strategy to combat COVID-19 within the ranks and onboard ships and submarines” including whether the Navy should be doing more.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) called for Modly’s resignation April 6, saying in a statement that he “no longer” had confidence in his ability to lead and that Modly had a “tone-deaf approach more focused on personal ego than one of the calm, steady leadership we so desperately need in this crisis.”

Smith told reporters April 7 that while he was “sympathetic” to Esper and Modly’s deference to President Donald Trump as being the head of the command chain, he worried “about the impact that it’s having on their decision-making.”

Smith said Modly’s speech to the crew mimicked one Trump would make and was “not what he would have expected from the Thomas Modly I know.”

“That’s not leadership, and that’s what really really troubles me,” Smith said, adding that Modly would have trouble getting Navy service members’ confidence again.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the House Armed Services Committee ranking Republican, said Modly’s resignation “should allow the country to put this episode behind us and allow sailors to focus on the very important missions at hand.”

Modly’s resignation is the latest Navy leadership churn in recent months. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer resigned in November 2019 after he made comments criticizing the White House for intervening in the discipline of a Navy SEAL commando suspected of war crimes. Modly, then Navy undersecretary, became the acting secretary.

This article first appeared on FCW, a partner site of Defense Systems. 

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

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