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Navy secretary defends firing San Diego-based carrier's captain in address to ship's crew

Capt. Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt was fired over his publicized concerns regarding the Navy's response to a COVID-19 outbreak aboard his ship.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2019, file photo, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly testifies during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee about about ongoing reports of substandard housing conditions in Washington, on Capitol Hill. Modly says the captain of the COVID-stricken aircraft carrier who was fired last week had betrayed his service and may have been “too naive or too stupid” to be commanding officer of the ship. Officials are confirming that Modly made the comments Sunday, April 5, 2020, to the ship's crew in Guam. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

SAN DIEGO — Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who fired the commanding officer of a San Diego-based aircraft carrier over his publicized concerns regarding the Navy's response to a COVID-19 outbreak aboard his ship, said in a leaked address to the crew that he believed the captain either purposefully sent his letter to unauthorized parties or must have been "too naive or too stupid" to realize the import of his actions.

In a recording published Monday by the military publication Task & Purpose, Modly defended his decision to fire Capt. Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt to the ship's crew, a decision which has garnered considerable controversy since Crozier's letter was published in the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets last week. Crozier was fired three days after the letter was published.

The captain and more than 100 sailors aboard the ship have tested positive for COVID-19.

Modly insisted the Navy had taken Crozier's concerns to heart and was mobilizing efforts to help the ship's crew when the letter appeared in news articles, revealing "sensitive information about the material condition of a naval warship."

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Modly said he believes Crozier copied his email to more than 20 other people on purpose, knowing it would be leaked to news outlets and the general public.

"If he didn't think that information was going to get out into the public in this information age that we live in, then he was a) either too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this," Modly said, prompting one sailor on the recording to remark, "What the f---."

Modly continued, "The alternative is that he did it on purpose, and that's a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

In a Pentagon news conference last week announcing Crozier's firing, Modly said he had no information to suggest Crozier directly leaked the letter. However, he did note that the letter was first publicized in Crozier's "hometown paper." Crozier is a Santa Rosa native.

In his letter, Crozier said the crew had undertaken some measures to slow the virus' spread, including moving a small percentage of the crew off- ship, increasing cleaning of the ship and attempting social distancing wherever possible.

However, he warned, "The current strategy will only slow the spread. The current plan in execution on TR will not achieve virus eradication on any timeline."

Modly said the Navy responded to the outbreak by immediately working to move most of the sailors off the ship, yet Crozier's letter made it appear otherwise. The secretary said last week that Crozier "raised alarm bells unnecessarily" and "demonstrated extremely poor judgment in the middle of a crisis."

In his address to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Modly said the captain's actions had wide-ranging implications for other Naval commanding officers.

"Imagine if every other CO also believed that the media was a proper channel to air grievances with their chain of command under difficult circumstances," the secretary said. "We would no longer have a Navy, and not longer after that, we would no longer have a country."

In videos posted to social media last week, the ship's sailors gathered en masse to give Crozier a warm farewell as he departed the ship, applauding him and chanting his name, who, according to several close associates, has since tested positive for COVID-19.

Modly acknowledged the crew's love for their commanding officer.

"I understand you may be angry with me for the rest of your lives. I guarantee you won't be alone," Modly said. "But being angry is not your duty. Your duty is to each other and to this ship and to the nation that built it for you to protect them. Even in an unexpected crisis, it is the mission of this ship that matters."

He also promised the crew, "I will get you the help you need. You have my personal word on it."

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View all News 8 coverage of coronavirus / COVID-19  
 
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BACKGROUND 

According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) is a family of viruses that is spreadable from person to person. Coronavirus is believed to have been first detected in a seafood market in Wuhan, China in December 2019. If someone is sick with coronavirus, the symptoms they may show include mild to severe respiratory illness, cough, and difficulty breathing.  

Currently, there is no vaccine, however, the CDC suggests the following precautions, as with any other respiratory illness:  

Know how it spreads  

  • There is no vaccine  

  • The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus 

  • It is thought to spread mainly from person-person between people in close contact 

  • And believed to be spread by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes 

Protect yourself 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds 

  • If soap and water aren't available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol 

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick 

  • Put distance between yourselves and others 

Protect others 

  • Stay home when you are sick 

  • Wear a facemask if you are sick 

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash 

  • If you don't have tissue, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow 

  • Immediately wash your hands after coughing and sneezing  

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe 

You can find information on disinfecting and cleaning on the CDC's How to Protect Yourself page. 

The California Department of Public Health has issued guidance on the use of cloth face coverings to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.  

The County of San Diego has made face coverings mandatory for those working with the public including grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and similar businesses. 

While officials say these face coverings are not a substitute for practices like social distancing and handwashing, there is evidence to suggest that the use of cloth face coverings by the public during a pandemic could help reduce disease transmission. Officials do not recommend the public use N-95 or surgical masks which are needed by health care workers and first responders.