An aircraft carrier sidelined by a coronavirus outbreak. A promising captain fired for requesting help as infections spread among his 5,000 sailors. And a service leaderless once more, after the acting Navy secretary resigned Tuesday following an uproar over a profanity-laced address to the ship’s crew.
The Navy has weathered its share of crises, and in the past few months saw the previous Navy secretary forced out over his handling of a war crimes case, and the man selected to be its top admiral instead retire due to an improper professional relationship with a former staffer who was accused of making unwanted sexual advances to several women.
Yet the resignation of acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly leaves the service lurching in the middle of a devastating pandemic that has roiled global markets, upended everyday life and left tens of thousands dead around the world
It also projects the wrong image to America’s enemies and allies, as a cascading series of leadership changes calls into question the stability of America’s sea service.
“There is never a good time for a crisis in leadership, but having it in the middle of a pandemic is a particularly awful time,” said Ray Mabus, who served as Navy secretary under former President Barack Obama.
Lawmakers, national security experts and Navy veterans alike disavowed Modly’s extraordinary remarks to the crew of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt on Sunday. Modly had just fired Capt. Brett Crozier for blasting an email to Navy personnel asking for aid as the carrier was forced to dock in Guam, coronavirus running rampant through the ship’s decks.
In a speech to the crew that was later leaked to the media, Modly called Crozier’s actions “naïve” and “stupid.” The decision to give the address, as well as the abrupt move to fire Crozier before uniformed Navy officials had completed an investigation into the incident, crossed a critical line, upsetting the delicate balance between civilian and military control of the service, former officials said.