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Acting US Navy chief resigns over coronavirus uproar

Defense Secretary Mark Esper accepts Thomas Modly's resignation, claiming Modly's ‘care for the Sailors was genuine’

Michael Hernandez   | 07.04.2020
Acting US Navy chief resigns over coronavirus uproar


Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly submitted his resignation Tuesday amid calls for him to step down over his handling of the ouster of an aircraft carrier captain who raised the alarm over the spread of the novel coronavirus on board his ship.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he accepted Modly's resignation, claiming Modly's "care for the Sailors was genuine."

"I have the deepest respect for anyone who serves our country, and who places the greater good above all else," he said in a lengthy statement. "We must now put the needs of the Navy, including the crew of the Teddy Roosevelt, first, and we must all move forward together.” 

Army Undersecretary James McPherson has been tapped to succeed Modly as the acting Navy chief.

During a surprise visit to the USS Theodore Roosevelt on Monday, Modly berated former Capt. Brett Crozier, whom he ousted days earlier, telling the ship's crew their former leader is "too naive or too stupid" to remain in command if he thought a letter he sent to Navy leadership warning of the novel coronavirus outbreak on board the aircraft carrier would not leak to the press. 

Crozier departed the USS Theodore Roosevelt to raucous cheers from his crew last week after being fired by Modly.

Shortly after Modly's remarks stirred outrage, he issued an apology, saying he does not "think Captain Brett Crozier is naive or stupid."

"I think, and always believed him to be the opposite," he said in a statement. "I believe, precisely because he is not naive or stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it to the public domain in an attempt to draw public attention to the situation on his ship."

"I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused. I also want to directly apologize to Captain Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of the Theodore Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused," he added. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier Tuesday added her support to a growing chorus of predominantly Democratic voices seeking Modly's ouster, saying the acting Navy chief's "actions and words demonstrate his failure to prioritize the force protection of our troops."

"He showed a serious lack of the sound judgment and strong leadership needed during this time. Acting Secretary Modly must be removed from his position or resign," she said in a statement. 

The Theodore Roosevelt, which has a crew of over 4,000 sailors, has been docked in Guam since March 27 as the Pentagon tries to tamp down the COVID-19 outbreak on board the ship.

Before it arrived for the scheduled port visit, three sailors tested positive for the disease. Nearly three-quarters of the sailors on board have since been tested for the virus, with 230 confirmed to be infected, according to data released Tuesday by the Navy. No sailors have been hospitalized, it said.

In all, 1,999 sailors have been moved ashore with 1,232 being lodged at local hotels. 

"As testing continues, the ship will keep enough Sailors on board to sustain essential services and sanitize the ship in port," it said.

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