Acting US navy chief resigns amid coronavirus uproar

Thomas Modly fired the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt who widely distributed a letter calling for help with the Covid-19 outbreak on his ship.

Acting US navy secretary Thomas Modly has submitted his resignation
Acting US navy secretary Thomas Modly has submitted his resignation

The US navy’s acting secretary has resigned just hours after he had publicly apologised for criticising an officer he fired as captain of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Thomas Modly’s designated replacement will be James McPherson, a navy veteran who is currently serving as undersecretary of the US army.

He was confirmed in that position by the US Senate last month. Prior to that he was the army’s general counsel.

Mr Modly had created a combustible controversy by firing the Roosevelt’s skipper, Captain Brett E Crozier, last week, saying Mr Crozier had shown “extremely poor judgment” in widely distributing by email a letter calling for urgent help with the Covid-19 outbreak on his ship.

Captain Brett Crozier
Captain Brett Crozier (US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Huynh via AP)

Mr Modly then flew to the ship, at port in Guam, and delivered a speech to the crew in which he lambasted Mr Crozier, saying he was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in charge of an aircraft carrier.

On Monday night, at US defence secretary Mark Esper’s insistence, Mr Modly issued a public apology, but by then the calls among Democrats in the US Congress for his resignation were mounting. On Tuesday morning, House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi said Mr Modly must go.

Ms Pelosi said: “Sadly, acting secretary Modly’s actions and words demonstrate his failure to prioritise the force protection of our troops. He showed a serious lack of the sound judgment and strong leadership needed during this time. Acting secretary Modly must be removed from his position or resign.”

Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr Modly had fired Mr Crozier against the advice of navy military leaders.

“The new leadership of the navy must do better in leading and protecting sailors, Marines and their families in this unprecedented crisis,” Mr Reed said.

As of Tuesday, the Navy said 79% of the Roosevelt crew had been tested for coronavirus, and 230 of them were positive. About 2,000 of the 4,865 crew members had been taken off the ship.

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