Lawmakers Slam SecNav Modly, Pentagon Silent After Speech On USS Roosevelt

Lawmakers Slam SecNav Modly, Pentagon Silent After Speech On USS Roosevelt

Thomas Modly, acting Secretary of the Navy, receives a briefing aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford.

WASHINGTON: Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly rejected criticism of his speech to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, declaring “I stand by every word I said,” which included criticizing sailors for cheering for the captain he fired, and calling the skipper “stupid.”

Rep. Elaine Luria, a former Navy officer and member of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a stinging statement: “TR Sailors are on the frontlines of this pandemic and of our nation’s defense in the Pacific,” while “Modly’s remarks to the crew show that he is in no way fit to lead our Navy through this trying time. Secretary Esper should immediately fire him.” 

Several other House Democrats, including Rep. Ted Lieu, Rep. Filemón Vela, Rep. Gil Cisneros, and Rep. Jason Crow, along with Independent Rep. Justin Amash called for Modly’s dismissal. Lieu and Vela are both members of the HASC. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Marine Corps veteran and Democrat, accused Modly of “spiteful ass covering” in firing the ship’s captain, adding, “Acting Secretary Modly should no longer be allowed to resign. President Trump or Secretary Esper should fire him.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also called for his firing on Twitter.

The emerging controversy is the latest in a long line of actions by Modly over the past four months that have raised eyebrows within the Navy. Separately, Sen. Tim Kaine said his comments were “inappropriate and beneath the office of the Secretary of the Navy.”

At the Pentagon, DoD spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said he had not spoken with Defense Secretary Mark Esper about Modly’s comments today, and declined to comment on whether Esper still had confidence in Modly. 

The Navy is conducting an investigation into the matter, led by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke, but it’s unclear when it will wrap up. 

Modly’s firing of Capt. Brett Crozier came after he said he lost confidence in Crozier’s ability to lead after Crozier wrote a memo last week with Navy leadership to move quickly to help his crew as the virus moved through his crew. There are currently 173 confirmed cases of coronavirus among the crew of about 5,000, with over 60 percent of the crew tested.

The ship struggled with the outbreak in the weeks after a port visit to Vietnam, had no test kits aboard, and had to fly any samples to shore to have the tests completed, a situation Breaking Defense was the first to report. The ship pulled into port in Guam late last week; about 1,900 sailors have left the ship since.

Speaking to sailors from the bridge of the Roosevelt while pierside in Guam, Modly blasted Crozier for putting sailors at increased risk after sending his memo pleading for help to a relatively wide distribution within the Navy. He called Crozier “stupid,” and the memo a “a betrayal of trust with me, with his chain of command, with you.”

A recording of Modly’s comments leaked to Task & Purpose caught some sailors heckling the top Navy official. When Modly called the fired captain “stupid,” one sailor yelled “what the f*ck?” At another point, another yelled: “he was trying to help us!” When Modly said Crozier’s letter left some sailors demoralized, another shouted “no, they weren’t!” 

Videos were released last week showing Roosevelt sailors cheering Capt. Croizier departed the ship after being relieved and seemed to rankle Modly.

“So think about that when you cheer the man off the ship who exposed you to that,” Modly said. “I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him. But you’re not required to love him.”

Farwell Sir it’s been a pleasure #WEARETRSTRONG #MYCO #TR

Posted by Michael Washington on Friday, April 3, 2020

The Roosevelt episode puts both Modly and the Navy in an awkward position, as officials will be forced to answer questions over the secretary’s response. The Navy is waiting for the confirmation hearing for the White House nominee to replace Modly in the top job,  Amb. Kenneth Braithewaite. 

The secretary moved the episode squarely into the realm of politics and the roiling political culture wars, pushing back against former VP Joe Biden who had criticized him over the weekend, and telling sailors the media is not to be trusted. 

Having entered the job in November on an acting basis after President Trump clashed with his predecessor, Richard Spencer, over the handling of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes, Modly is no doubt very well aware of the political sensitivities of the job. Esper fired Spencer in late November, just hours after Spencer told reporters that he felt safe in the job. That hard lesson hangs over the Crozier case,

Over the weekend, Modly told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius his decision to move on Crozier was partly due to political considerations: “’I didn’t want to get into a decision where the president would feel that he had to intervene because the Navy couldn’t be decisive,’” Modly told me in a telephone call from Hawaii at about 1 a.m. Sunday, Washington time. He continued: ‘If I were president, and I saw a commanding officer of a ship exercising such poor judgment, I would be asking why the leadership of the Navy wasn’t taking action itself.’”

Hitting a favorite theme of the president’s, Modly said “the media has an agenda and the agenda that they have depends on which side of the political aisle they sit and I’m sorry that’s the way the country is now but it’s the truth and they use it to divide us and use it to embarrass the Navy. They use it to embarass you.” 

The inclusion of politics, and political rivals of the president, could add fuel to grumbling from inside the service that Modly has been angling for another job within the administration.

Since taking over in November, Modly has driven hard and publicly taken ownership of several hot-button issues, including plans for future aircraft carriers, fixing the troublesome USS Gerald R. Ford, and pushing back against Pentagon war games he felt didn’t accurately reflect reality.  

Last month, Breaking Defense reported Modly was launching a study on the future of the Navy’s aircraft carrier fleet, even as the Secretary of Defense, dissatisfied with current Navy plans, conducts his own assessment of the entire fleet structure. The secretary’s Future Carrier 2030 Task Force will spend six months studying how carriers stack up against new generations of stealthy submarines and long-range precision weapons being fielded by China and Russia. It comes at a fraught time for the fleet, as Defense Secretary Mark Esper has taken personal ownership over the service’s force planning while publicly lambasting the Navy’s deployment model as broken.

Modly has also expressed frustration with a series of Pentagon-run war games that he believes skew the outcomes in unrealistic ways. He told two reporters in his office last month that war gamers should not have added a phantom 12th aircraft carrier to the mix, an extra ship the Navy won’t have until the 2060s. 

“My view on that is, if we’re not ever really going to get to 12, why are we wargaming around 12,” Modly told two reporters in his office. “Why are we not war gaming around what we most likely will have, and then figure out how we manage risk in those areas?”

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