April 6, 2020

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Why the Acting Secretary of the Navy Should Be Fired

Why the Acting Secretary of the Navy Should Be Fired

Last week, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly fired the commanding officer of the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT. I wrote about it here. I supported that decision, but today I am asking President Trump to fire Thomas Modly.

Modley fired Captain Brett Crozier after Crozier’s letter to a wide distribution list appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. That five-page letter asked the Navy to move 4,000 sailors from the USS Roosevelt to hotels in Guam to be isolated to protect them from Coronavirus, which was spreading on board the aircraft carrier.

Several factors required that Crozier be relieved of command. Among them, his letter seemed under-classified, meaning, the letter disclosed classified information related to force and nuclear reactor readiness but Crozier failed to mark the letter as Confidential or Secret. Crozier treated the contents of the letter as unclassified. Commanding officers are required to know security regulations.

Further, the letter’s distribution was wider than necessary and violated protocol for correspondence. Crozier broadcast the letter to multiple recipients in parallel as carbon-copy recipients. Instead, information of this sensitivity should have been addressed to the Secretary of the Navy via each officer between Crozier and Modly, starting with Crozier’s flag officer who was on board the Roosevelt at the time. This breach of standard correspondence protocol alone was enough to justify Modly’s action. I completely support the Navy’s decision to relieve the captain based on what we now know.

If only Modly had stopped there.

Instead, Modly flew to Guam, boarded the Roosevelt, seized the 1MC (ship’s general announcing system), denigrated Captain Crozier, and publicly rebuked the crew for cheering Crozier off the ship.

In his ship-wide announcement, which he reasonably should have known would reach the press, Modly called Crozier “naive” or “stupid.” He criticized the sailors of the Roosevelt for cheering for their departing captain. He injected politics into the equation. And, most pathetically of all, he complained that Crozier’s letter caused a disruption in Washington, DC.

I can assure you that telling sailors what kinds of behavior upset the suits in Washington will only encourage them to do it more.

A true leader would have transmitted his displeasure with crew’s behavior down through the chain of command. In the process, he would have asked a responsible, mature colleague to temper any emotions in this statement.

He would have focused on the crew — their illnesses, their disrupted deployment, and the upheaval they have to deal with. And he would have explained that their former captain’s love of his crew went too far, violating regulations. He might have dropped in an example from history of a commanding officer letting his attachment to the troops cloud his judgment. (There are many.)

If a true leader had made the trip to Guam, his words to the crew would have been understanding and encouraging. He would have apologized on behalf of the president and the Navy for the embarrassing and difficult situation the crew is in. He would have acknowledged that, back in Washington, people can’t always see what conditions are like on the front lines. He would have assured them this untimely change of command, and the confusion it undoubtedly caused, will be supported with every form of assistance required, and that he would personally see to it.

A real leader would have asked the crew to help him and the on-coming captain to make the transition as painless as possible. He would have reminded the sailors that they are assigned to one of the Navy’s elite ships because they are among best of their generation walking the planet. He would have told them that it is is honor to serve them as their Secretary of the Navy, and that any accolades he might receive in the job will be owed exclusively to their valiant service.

That’s how a leader handles these situations. Instead, Modly whined to the sailors for making his privileged life uncomfortable.

By his immature, petulant, and irresponsible actions, Thomas Modly demonstrated the worst characteristics of a bad manager and a complete lack of leadership qualities.

If Crozier’s letter set a bad example for his subordinates, Modly’s obnoxious behavior on board the Roosevelt set a bad example for leaders in every walk of life.

Americans who send our sons and daughters to the Navy expect and deserve that the senior military officers and the civilians appointed over them will demonstrate the highest standards of conduct, discipline, and courage twenty-four hours a day. This sad episode indicates that the United States Navy suffers from a serious lack of those qualities at the top and a serious lack of professionalism in its senior officer ranks. Every Navy officer, past and present, should demand a thorough examination of both the Navy’s civilian leadership and its entire officer corps, particularly at the command and prospective command levels.

I ask President Trump to fire Thomas Modly immediately.