Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Tuesday accepted the resignation of Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, ending a controversy involving sailors contracting the novel coronavirus aboard an aircraft carrier in a harbor in Guam.
Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, a Santa Rosa native, was dismissed from duty by Modly on April 2 for alerting Navy officials about the spreading COVID-19 and calling for the quick evacuation of sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
In a letter to his superiors, Crozier called for the removal of more than 4,000 sailors after 150 of them had tested positive for the virus.
Senior Navy officials argued Crozier should have directed his concerns via a formal chain of command instead of sending them to more than two dozen people in a message that was leaked to the media, according to news reports.
During a visit to the aircraft carrier, Modly told sailors Crozier was “too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” according to news reports.
Representatives Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, earlier Tuesday asked Esper in a letter to immediately dismiss Modly for his criticism of Crozier.
In their letter, Huffman and Thompson said Modly “Recklessly attacked the character of Captain Brett Crozier in his remarks to the entire crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt on Monday, April 6.
“His decision to dismiss Captain Crozier before the completion of a thorough and transparent investigation followed by his remarks that Captain Crozier was ‘either too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer’ show an alarming lack of judgment and leadership by the head of the Department of Navy,” Huffman and Thompson wrote.
Esper said he is appointing Army Under Secretary Jim McPherson as Acting Secretary of the Navy, and an investigation regarding the USS Theodore Roosevelt is presently underway.
“Any further action regarding the former commanding officer Captain Brett Crozier will wait until that investigation is completed,” Esper said in his letter accepting Modly’s resignation.
“We must now put the needs of the Navy, including the crew of the Teddy Roosevelt, first and we must all move forward together,” Esper said.
Crozier recently tested positive for the coronavirus, according to news reports.