It started with a letter, it ended with a letter — SECNAV's final remarks

Elizabeth Howe
April 08, 2020 - 10:31 am
Former SECNAV in Singapore


The former Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly resigned yesterday after his handling of a COVID-19 outbreak onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt resulted in an uproar across the country. 

Modly was criticized over his dismissal of the USS TR's Capt. Brett Crozier after the captain wrote a letter pleading for assistance in the carrier's fight against COVID-19 on board. Modly subsequently made a controversial speech to sailors onboard the USS TR, calling Crozier "too stupid" to command the vessel.

Captain of USS Theodore Roosevelt who pleaded for coronavirus help relieved of duty

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While Modly later apologized for his remarks to sailors aboard the USS TR, members of Congress continued to call for his dismissal or resignation. 

Tuesday morning they got just that. 

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he accepted Modly's resignation Tuesday morning and with the approval of the president, appointed Army Undersecretary Jim McPherson as acting Secretary of the Navy. McPherson previously served in the Navy. 

“He resigned on his own accord, putting the Navy and the Sailors above self so that the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, and the Navy as an institution, can move forward,” Esper said in an official statement.

Before officially leaving his position, Modly wrote one last letter to the fleet. 

"You are justified in being angry with me about that," Modly said regarding his remarks aboard the USS TR and their consequences. "There is no excuse, but perhaps a glimpse of understanding, and hopefully empathy."

"The crew deserved a lot more empathy and a lot less lecturing—I lost sight of that at the time and I am deeply sorry for some of the words and for how they were spread across the media landscape like a wildfire," Modly said.

This "sorry" is the only one in the five-page letter, but Modly also expressed "regret" and "terrible sadness" for the way the situation transpired.

"I have always tried to do the right thing for all of you. Always. I never cared about the title, I cared about the relationships. I trust you all know that and that you know how terribly sad I am right now that I disappointed you by not keeping our ship out of harm’s way. It’s my fault. I own it." 

Twice, Modly wrote "I own it

"I love you all," the letter closes. "Know that every second of every minute of every hour of every day of my time leading you has been an honor and a privilege, and I (am) grateful for your friendship, mentorship, and willingness to listen and act on my behalf. You know what to do. Take the helm. It’s your ship now. Don’t ever, ever, ever give it up. And forever, Beat Army!"

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