The Pentagon leadership crisis over a US aircraft carrier has intensified after the acting navy secretary called the ship’s ousted captain “too naive or too stupid” to be in command.
There were calls from Congress and former officers for Thomas Modly to resign after an audio recording surfaced of a speech he gave to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, in which he denigrated the commander he had fired for having circulated a memo calling for more help for his crew, who had been stricken by a coronavirus outbreak onboard.
In the recording, published by the Task & Purpose military news website, heckling can be heard from the crew during the speech, which was otherwise greeted with silence.
Modly justified his decision to relieve Capt Brett Crozier of command last week, on the grounds that his four-page memo requesting more help for his crew, and asking for them to be moved on shore at Guam, had been circulated to more than 40 people. It was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, but Modly did not accuse Crozier of the leak.
“If he didn’t think that information was going to get out into the public in this information age that we live in, then he was a too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly said.
At that point, someone (presumably a crew member) can be heard yelling “What the fuck?” Crozier was a popular captain and video circulated on Friday of the crew massing on the deck of the Roosevelt to cheer and chant the captain’s name as he left the ship, walking down the gangplank to a waiting car.
Modly criticised the crew for cheering, saying that they should think of the people of Guam, who were concerned about being infected by sick sailors brought ashore. He attacked the media, which he said was seeking to embarrass the navy, and accused Crozier of betrayal.
“It was a betrayal of trust with [sic] me, with his chain of command, with you, with the 800 to 1,000 people who are your shipmates on shore right now busting their asses every day to do what they need to do to … to get you guys off here, get you safe, get you healthy, get you clean,” he said.
“Everyone’s scared about this thing. But I tell you something – if this ship was in combat and there were hypersonic missiles coming at it, you’d be pretty fucking scared too,” he said, to a shout of “Whoa!” from the crew. “But you do your jobs.”
So far, according to the Pentagon, 61% of the Roosevelt crew has been tested for Covid-19, and 173 members have tested positive. Two thousand sailors, just under half the crew, have been moved ashore on Guam, though none have been hospitalised as yet.
At least four Democratic members of Congress and an independent, Justin Lamash, called for Modly’s immediate resignation.
“Modly should be removed unceremoniously for these shocking remarks – especially after failing to protect sailors’ safety & health. He has betrayed their trust,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said on Twitter, calling for a Pentagon investigation.
David Lapan, a former Pentagon spokesman and ex-marine, tweeted: “These remarks to sailors are unbefitting a senior leader and will only increase divisiveness in the ranks. He has failed as a leader & should resign.”
After the recording of his speech was published, Modly issued a statement saying he had not listened to the recording but that “the spoken words were from the heart”.
“I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis,” he said.
Modly became acting secretary in November after the former navy secretary Richard Spencer was fired for dissenting from Donald Trump’s attempt to exonerate a navy seal, Eddie Gallagher, who had been accused of war crimes and was demoted after being found guilty of posing with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter.