Within the past week, the U.S. Navy has seen an extensive amount of support for one single sailor, Captain Brett Crozier. In case you missed the latest news, Captain Crozier was removed from his position as commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the midst of an ongoing scheduled deployment currently operating in the seventh fleet.
Now the acting SECNAV, Thomas Modly, has not only dug his own grave once by firing the captain essentially for asking for help fighting coronavirus on his ship, but has now shown an even uglier side of him in a 14-minute speech delivered over the 1MC aboard the docked carrier to those who had not been isolated off the ship.
In the speech, instead of speaking encouraging words to sailors who are going through trying times, Modly tries to discreetly defame Captain Crozier. Modly starts by automatically accusing the captain of sending his infamous letter to well over 20 individuals, while at the same time referring to him as "naive" and "stupid" for not expecting that email to be leaked to the media. This message was sent prior to the ship docking in Guam, via either his internet that he, as a commanding officer, is entitled to have, or through secure email.
Modly continues on by saying that the captain "betrayed" not only him but the chain of command above him and his sailors aboard the Theodore Roosevelt by improperly asking for help. Through the next few sentences, Modly accuses Crozier of going straight to the media, which is, as far as I know, incorrect. I've seen no evidence, no hard proof that Captain Crozier sent his letter to his superiors while CC'ing the San Francisco Times. Unless screenshots or other proof of evidence comes to the surface, this is an anger-based statement that has no support.
Throughout the next few minutes of his speech, Modly transitions his indiscreet anger from the captain to the sailors who were still yet to be taken off the ship into isolation. He starts by saying that America is under the assumption that if anyone in the world can — in his words — "keep their shit together in something like this," then it would undeniably be the U.S. Navy.
He then bluntly says: "That's your duty: not to complain.
Sailors, in Modly's eyes, are expected to do their job without failure and without complaints. His expectation at first is understandable and reasonable. However, in a time of crisis, complaints are going to rise. Captain Crozier was right, even if Modly wholeheartedly disagrees, that the United States of America is NOT at war and that we don't need sailors dying due to an illness that can be prevented. Sailors who knowingly walk around a ship that has been contaminated will not only complain but not perform their jobs at the level that is required due to fear of falling ill like their shipmates have.
Sailors could die, some not because of the sickness, but because they will not be in the mindset they need to be, especially when they are on the flight deck, which is undeniably one of the most dangerous places to be. Sailors have a right to complain, especially when they are at risk of becoming infected with a disease with a death toll that is rising every day.
Nearing the conclusion of his speech, Modly asks the crew to think twice about the fact that they cheered Captain Crozier during his departure. He tells them that "it's good that you love him. But you're not required to love him."
This, this right here, is Modly's way of asking sailors to turn their backs on the man who risked everything he had worked for them.
In what way Modly thought this would help his own situation is still in question. The sailors aboard the Theodore Roosevelt will never turn their backs on Captain Crozier and will hold him in the highest regard for what he did. No amount of begging from the SECNAV will change that, no matter how much Modly pushes.
Modly then gives the advice to the remaining sailors that they should practice "servant leadership" consisting of loving the people that serve underneath him. That exact description is what Captain Crozier was to those below him, and yet he was removed in a matter of days. How can Modly ask the crew to do this knowing that he removed their beloved leader only days prior?
In the finale of his speech to the crew, Modly promises he will get them the help that they need and that his decision had no positivity in it for himself. He reminds the crew that no matter what, the carrier and its mission are the utmost important priorities of their lives at the moment and that they will be OK.
Modly has, for the second time, given a sense of hopelessness to sailors, not only aboard the Theodore Roosevelt but to sailors around the world — active and veterans.
He has told them that they should not complain and that doing the right thing, even if it goes beyond the boundaries of what is expected, will end badly.
Does the SECNAV expect sailors to want to serve in a navy that is not respected by those sitting comfortably in Washington?
Is he aware of how his own actions will affect retention rates, leading to the "nonexistent" navy he referred to earlier in his speech?
Modly has made it clear that this is no longer about the safety of the crew but about the image of himself and the Navy.
Understandably, the Navy needs to be feared by countries around the world in order to keep America sleeping soundly at night. But there has to BE a navy that chooses to put their lives on the line in order to protect America. And Modly's conduct makes it less likely that people will want to be part of our naval forces.