The Navy's top civilian leader addressed the crew of a carrier days after firing their beloved commanding officer, slamming the captain as "too naïve or too stupid" to serve as their leader, according to a recording of the speech obtained by Military.com.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly visited the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt after relieving Capt. Brett Crozier of command. The ship is sidelined in Guam as thousands of sailors are offloaded as novel coronavirus cases spread among the crew.
Crozier wrote a letter to Navy leaders last week pleading for help in dealing with the situation. Modly on Thursday relieved Crozier of command a day after saying the commander wasn't in the wrong for asking for help from his chain of command.
But Crozier copied too many people on his email, Modly said, a move he told the crew led to his relief.
"If he didn't think ... that this information wasn't going to get out into the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this," Modly said in the recorded speech. A transcript of the speech was posted on the social media site Reddit.
In the recording, people can be heard loudly exclaiming with expletives in response to Modly's statement.
Modly in a statement said he hasn't listened to the recordings that have emerged of his speech, but said his 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," he said. "Anyone who has served on a Navy ship would understand. I ask, but don't expect, that people read them in their entirety."
There are nearly 5,000 crew members on the Theodore Roosevelt. CNN reported that Modly addressed the crew from the ship's loud-speaker system.
He told the crew members that Crozier not only betrayed him by sending a copy of his letter outside the chain of command, but his sailors as well. That has led to widespread media coverage about a "martyr CO," Modly said of the former commanding officer.
Modly went even further as to suggest that Crozier violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice if he sent the information to people outside his command on purpose.
"One of the things about [Crozier's] email that bothered me the most was saying that we are not at war, that we aren't technically at war," Modly added. "But let me tell you something: The only reason we are dealing with this right now is a big authoritarian regime called China was not forthcoming about what was happening with this virus and they put the world at risk to protect themselves and to protect their reputations.
"We don't do that in the Navy."
Modly also cautioned the crew against engaging with the media, which he said "has an agenda."
"There is ... no situation where you go to the media," he said. "... 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 so they use it to divide us and use it to embarrass the Navy. They use it to embarrass you."
Navy officials did not respond to questions about whether Modly's comments about Crozier possibly violating the UCMJ raised concerns about unlawful command influence. They also did not answer questions about whether the secretary's comments implying Crozier was "stupid" were inappropriate given that he's now battling the same illness he warned was spreading quickly among his crew.
Modly told the crew that he "cannot control or attempt to change whatever anger you have with me for relieving your beloved CO." He also responded to former Vice President Joe Biden's claims that the firing decision was "criminal."
"I assure you it was not," Modly said. "Because I understand the facts, and those facts show that what your captain did was very, very wrong in a moment when we expected him to be the calming force on a turbulent sea."
After Crozier's relief, videos emerged on social media of the captain walking off the ship. The videos showed hundreds of sailors gathering to see him off, cheering "Captain Crozier, Captain Crozier." One person said that was how a crew sends off their greatest commanding officer of all time.
Modly in his speech said he understands why sailors might be angry with him for the rest of their lives. But he then appeared to challenge the crew to rethink their feelings for Crozier. The captain "lost sight" of his mission, Modly told them, and that put them at "great risk."
"Crew of the Teddy Roosevelt, you are under no obligation to love your leadership, only to respect it," he said. "... You are under no obligation to expect anything from your leaders other than they will treat you fairly and put the mission of the ship first."