WASHINGTON – The acting Navy secretary disparaged the former captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, calling him “too naive or too stupid” to command the aircraft carrier stricken with COVID-19.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who last week fired Capt. Brett Crozier for sending a letter to Navy officials urgently seeking help before one of his sailors died from the coronavirus, made the remarks April 5 to members of the Roosevelt’s crew. A Defense official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed Monday that a transcript of Modly’s remarks was accurate.
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers are calling for wider testing aboard ships. Several other ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, have had sailors test positive for the disease, according to Defense and Capitol Hill sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Modly also berated the media, telling sailors that all journalists are biased and sought to embarrass them. The San Francisco Chronicle first reported Crozier’s letter, which leaked after he had sent it to several Navy officials. Modly fired Crozier, he told reporters last week, because Crozier had panicked and he had lost confidence in him.
Modly also asserted in his speech to the crew that Crozier might have violated military law by intentionally leaking sensitive military information, which would subject him to possible court-martial.
Modly, in a statement, acknowledged addressing the crew and using vulgarity. He took responsibility for his speech but said he could not recall the details.
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“I have not listened to a recording of my remarks since speaking to the crew so I cannot verify if the transcript is accurate,” Modly said. “The spoken words were from the heart, and meant for them. I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis. Anyone who has served on a Navy ship would understand. I ask, but don’t expect, that people read them in their entirety.”
Modly’s speech immediately drew fire from Capitol Hill.
“Based on the transcript I’ve read, Secretary Modly’s comments were completely inappropriate and beneath the office of the Secretary of the Navy,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the Armed Services Committee. “It’s deeply disappointing that he would deliver a speech on board a U.S. aircraft carrier suggesting that Capt. Crozier might be ‘stupid’ and bashing the media for trying to report the truth. These dedicated sailors deserve better from their leadership.”
More than 150 sailors among the 4,800-member crew of the Roosevelt have tested positive for COVID-19. Crozier is one of them, according to The New York Times. The Navy has tested 61% of the crew and evacuated nearly 2,000 of them, placing them in quarantine in Guam, where the ship is docked.
. The Roosevelt is the only coronavirus-stricken ship deployed – Guam is not its home port. The other ships have not left their home ports. The affected sailors from the other ships have been isolated.
However, testing for COVID-19 has been limited to larger ships, and the Navy does not know how many smaller vessels at sea might be affected, said Sen. Richard Bluementhal, D-Conn. and also a member of the Armed Services Committee. The Defense official agreed that testing is limited but said deployed ships have had limited or no contact with the outside world and are considered low risk.
Also Monday, Rep. Jackie Speier, who chairs the Armed Services Committee panel on personnel, pressed Defense Secretary Mark Esper for more protective equipment for troops and wider testing.
“Protecting them while performing their mission, as well as having the best test equipment available deployed to as many locations and ships as possible, is critical to ensure our service members are tested quickly and appropriate action is taken,” Speier wrote to Esper. “I believe the Navy’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt was woefully inadequate in order to prevent further spread of the virus, putting sailors’ lives at risk.”
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