Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Friday other United States Navy ships in the Pacific may now be on higher alert due to the ex-commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s leaked memo describing a coronavirus outbreak on the ship.
Adversaries may be looking to take advantage of the knowledge that one of the U.S.’s warships in the region may be crippled, he said in an interview with Hugh Hewitt.
“My responsibilities extend beyond just that individual officer. And they go to the safety of that crew, our national security objectives, all the other ships that are out there in the Pacific that are now perhaps on higher standard of alert because our adversaries in the region think that one of our warships might be crippled, which it’s not,” he said.
“But that sows seeds of doubt. I mean, as I said, loose lips sink ships, and that’s what happens. And this officer should have known better,” he added.
Modly said China is a “big concern for us.”
“We may not be at war in a traditional sense, but we are in a major crisis both globally with this pandemic, but also with respect to authoritarian regimes who want to take us down, and they’re actively trying to do that. And so we have to be on guard and on alert,” he said.
“We’re always on a very high alert, particularly in that part of the world with respect to what the [People’s Republic of China] is doing, and the things they have been doing over the last many years. So obviously, it’s a big concern for us, and that sort of heightens the sort of sensitivity that we all had to the situation on the TR.”
Modly fired the ex-commander, Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, on Thursday after he wrote a memo detailing a coronavirus outbreak on the Roosevelt and warning Navy leaders that living conditions on and off the ship where it is docked in Guam were not in line with Centers for Disease Control and Navy guidelines for social distancing and quarantining.
Crozier’s memo first surfaced on Monday in the San Francisco Chronicle — which Modly mentioned was Crozier’s “hometown paper.” Crozier is a native of Santa Rosa in the California Bay Area.
Modly also noted in a press conference on Thursday that Crozier’s memo was cc’ed to more than 20 other people instead of just his superiors and was submitted via unsecured and unclassified email.
Modly said Crozier also did not discuss with his direct superior, Carrier Strike Group Commander Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, the issues outlined in his memo before sending it, despite Baker being deployed on the ship with Crozier and living right down the hall from Crozier.
The acting Navy Secretary said Crozier also wrote and distributed the memo despite being given a direct line to him if he ever needed it.
Modly told Hewitt that part of the rationale of firing Crozier was him allowing for his concerns to be made public, which violated operational security.
“It’s been a long time since I was in the Navy on active duty, but one of the first things I learned as a midshipman was this phrase that I think became popular in World War II, which is, ‘loose lips sink ships,’” he said.
We have to be careful with the information we share and how we share it. It’s certainly not a reason for us not to share information through proper chains of command and to be transparent about challenges that we’re facing, particularly in crises. But that’s not what happened in this instance. And that’s the reason why I took the actions that I did yesterday.
The Chronicle report claimed that between 150 and 200 sailors were infected with coronavirus, but the Navy has said that is not accurate.
Modly said 140 sailors have tested positive for coronavirus, with 95 of those symptomatic, 42 asymptomatic, and none hospitalized.
“Not one person has been hospitalized, not one person in ICU, and not one person on a ventilator,” he added.
He also said in addition to not speaking directly to his superior and communicating his concerns in a way that would leak to media, the memo caused distress to sailors’ families and, he did not speak to his senior enlisted officers on board the ships either.
Modly said these actions led him to lose confidence in Crozier’s ability to manage through the crisis.
“I just think maybe in the midst of the crisis, you know, sometimes this happens. People get overwhelmed. And I just can’t have a commanding officer who gets overwhelmed and uses that type of judgment in the middle of a crisis,” he said.
He added, “this is not an indictment of his entire career. He’s had an absolutely incredible career. I’m envious of it. He’s done some amazing things.”
“But at this particular time, I needed a [commanding officer] there that could help manage us through this crisis,” he explained. “And I just didn’t think based on those actions that I could do that.”
Modly said firing Crozier was the “hardest thing” he’s ever had to do, since he knew that Crozier had the best interests of his crew in mind.
“I know that he loves this crew. I know that the crew loves and respects him. But that’s not an excuse for exercising the judgment that he did. So it was very, very difficult for me,” he said.
Videos of the crew clapping and cheering for Crozier as he off-boarded his ship surfaced on the internet Friday morning.
BREAKING: US Navy sailors on aircraft carrier in Guam break out in cheers thanking Captain Crozier and chanting his name after he was fired from his positing for protecting them pic.twitter.com/UPmaqnmApq
— Jack M. Posobiec, IWO (@JackPosobiec) April 3, 2020
Modly said Rear Adm. Carlos Sardiello, the former commanding officer of the Roosevelt, is taking command of the ship and is on his way to Guam, where the ship is currently docked as it seeks to handle the outbreak.
Crozier posted on the carrier’s Facebook page after his memo became public but before he was relieved:
Family and Friends of TR,
Thank you for your continued support of your Sailors, our ship, and the Navy. The TR Team is working with the great folks at Naval Base Guam to get Sailors off the ship and into facilities on base to help spread the crew out. We have also gotten our Wi-Fi set up on the pier, giving your Sailors the ability to get outside, stretch their legs, and contact their loved ones. It’s an all-hands, all-day effort, but your Sailors are doing what is required to keep them and the ship as healthy, clean, and sanitized as possible. Your Sailors are in good spirits and are facing this new challenge with a level of professionalism that I have come to expect from such an amazing and resilient team.
CAPT Brett E. Crozier
USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71)