Acting SECNAV Thomas  B. Modly

Statement on the Dismissal of CO Brett Crozier Aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71)

delivered 2 April 2020, The Pentagon

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you again for your diligence and your courage in keeping the American people informed as all -- as we all deal with the profound ramifications and rapid developments associated with this virus [SARS-CoV-2] crisis.

I -- I am here today to inform you that today at my direction, the Commanding Officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier, was relieved of command by a Carrier Strike Group Commander, Rear Admiral Stuart Baker.

The Executive Officer, Captain Dan Keeler, has assumed command temporarily until such time as Rear Admiral Select Carlos Sardiello arrives in Guam to assume command. Rear Admiral Select Sardiello is the former Commanding Officer of the Theodore Roosevelt so he's extremely well-acquainted with the ship, many members of its crew, and the operations and the capabilities of the ship itself. He is the best person in the Navy right now to take command under these unusual circumstances.

As the Secretary of the Navy, I could not be more proud of our men and women serving as part of the Navy and Marine Corps team, right now. I can assure you that no one cares more than I do about their safety and welfare. I myself have a son in uniform right now who's currently serving on active duty in Korea flying missions every day -- and one of -- one of the nations that was one of the first ones [in the world] to have a significant spike in the coronavirus case[s]. I understand, both as a parent and a veteran, how critical our support lines are for the health and well-being of our people, especially now in the midst of this global pandemic.

But there's a larger strategic context, one full of national security imperatives, of which all of our commanders must all be aware of [sic] today. While we may not be at war in a traditional sense, neither are we truly at peace. Authoritarian regimes are on the rise. Many nations are reaching, in many ways, to reduce our capacity to accomplish our own strategic national goals. This is actively happening every day. It's been a long time since the Navy and Marine Corps team has faced this broad array of capable, global strategic challengers. A more agile and a more resilient mentality is necessary, up and down the chain of command.

Perhaps more so now than in -- in the recent past, we require our commanders, with judgment, maturity, and leadership composure under pressure, to understand the ramifications of their actions within that larger dynamic strategic context. We all understand and cherish our responsibilities, and frankly our love, for all of our people in uniform, but to allow those emotions to color our judgment when communicating the current operational picture can, at best, create unnecessary confusion and at worst provide an incomplete picture of American combat readiness to our adversaries.

When the commanding officer of the USS "Teddy" [Theodore] Roosevelt decided to write his letter on the 30th of March 2020 that outlined his concerns for his crew in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department of the Navy had already mobilized significant resources for days in response to his previous requests. On the same da[te] marked on his letter, my Chief of Staff called the CO directly, at my direction, to ensure he had all the resources necessary for the health and safety of his crew.

The CO told my Chief of Staff that he was receiving those resources and he was fully aware of the Navyís response, only asking that he wished the crew could be evacuated faster. My Chief of Staff ensured that the CO knew that he had an open line to me at any time for him to call. He even called the -- He even called the CO again the day later to follow up, and at no time did the CO relay the various levels of alarm that I, along with the rest of the world, learned from his letter when it was published by the CO's hometown newspaper two days later.1

Once I read the letter, I immediately called the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gilday, and the Commander at U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Aquilino. Admiral Gilday had just read the letter that morning as well, and Admiral Aquilino had just received it the day before (and of course we're dealing with time zone changes). We had a teleconference within minutes of me reading that letter of the article, including with the Commander of the Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Bill Merz, Admiral Aquilino, Admiral Gilday, the Department of the Navyís Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Bruce Gillingham, and others.

That evening, we held another teleconference with the entire chain of command.

The next day, I spoke directly with the CO of the Teddy [Theodore] Roosevelt, and this morning I've spoken to the Teddy [Theodore] Roosevelt's Carrier Strike Group Commander, Rear Admiral Stuart Baker. Rear Admiral Baker did not know about the letter before it was sent to him via email from the commanding officer. It's important to understand that the Strike Group Commander, the COís immediate boss, is embarked on the Theodore Roosevelt with him, right down the passageway. The letter was sent over non-secure, unclassified email even though -- even though the ship possesses some of the most sophisticated communications and [encryption] equipment in the Fleet.

And it wasn't just sent up the chain of command. It was sent and copied to a broad array of other people. It was sent outside of the chain of command at the same time the rest of the Navy was fully responding. Worse, the Captainís actions made his Sailors, their families, and many in the public believe that his letter was the only reason help from our larger Navy family was forthcoming, which was hardly the case.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly briefs the press on the dismissal of Captain Brett Crozier. Photo by Lisa Ferdinando. 2 April 2020. Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs.

Command is a sacred trust that must be continually earned, both from Sailors and Marines -- from the Sailors and the Marines that one leads, and from the institution [which] grants that special and honored privilege.

As I learned more about the events of the past week on board the [USS] Teddy [Theodore] Roosevelt, including my personal conversations with the Strike Group Commander, Commander, Seventh Fleet, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and the Chief of Naval Operations, and Captain Crozier and myself, I could reach no other conclusion [than] that Captain Crozier had allowed the complexity of his challenge with the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally, when acting professionally was what was needed most at the time. We do, and we should, expect more from the commanding officer of our aircraft carriers.

I did not come to this decision lightly. I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interests of the safety and well-being of his crew.

Unfortunately, it did the opposite:

It unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our Sailors and Marines with no plan to address those concerns.

It raised concerns about the operational capabilities and operational security of that ship that could have emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage.

And it undermined the chain of command who had been moving and adjusting as rapidly as possible to get him the help he needed.

For these reasons, I lost confidence is -- in his ability to continue to lead that warship, as it fights through this virus, to get the crew healthy and so that it [can] continue to meet its important national security requirements. In my judgment, relieving of -- of him of command was in the best interests of the United States Navy and the nation in this time when the nation needs the Navy to be strong and confident in the face of -- of adversity.

The responsibility for this decision rests with me. I expect no congratulations for it, and it gives me no pleasure in making it. Captain Crozier is an honorable man, who, despite this uncharacteristic lapse of judgment, has dedicated himself throughout a lifetime of incredible service to our nation -- and he should be proud of that, as we all are.

Pursuant to this action, and with my full support, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gilday, has directed the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Robert Burke, to conduct an investigation into the circumstances and the climate across the entire Pacific Fleet to help determine what may have contributed to this breakdown in the chain of command. We must ensure we can count on the right judgment, professionalism, composure, and leadership from our commanding officers everywhere in our Navy and our Marine Corps team, but especially in the Western Pacific. I have no indication that there is a broader problem in this regard, but we have an obligation to calmly and evenly investigate it, nonetheless.

To our commanding officers -- and this is an important message to our commanding officers -- it would be a mistake to view this decision as somehow not supportive of your duty to report problems, request help, protect your crews, challenge assumptions as you see fit.

This -- This decision is not one of retribution. It is about confidence. It is not an indictment of character, but rather of judgment. While I do take issue with the validity of some of the points in Captain Crozier's letter, he was absolutely correct in raising them.

It was the way in which he did it --

- by not working through and with his Strike Group Commander to develop a strategy to resolve the problems he raised;
- by not sending the letter to and through his chain of command;
- and [by sending it] to people outside his chain of command;
- by not protecting the sensitive nature of the information contained within the letter appropriately;
- and lastly, by not reaching out to me directly to voice his concerns after that avenue had been clearly provided to him through my team -- that was unacceptable to me.

Let me be clear to all the commanding officers out there: You all have a duty to be transparent with your respective chains of command, even if you fear they might disagree with you. This duty requires courage, but it also requires a respect for that chain of command, and a respect for the sensitivity of the information you decide to share and the manner in which you choose to share it.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I would like to send a message to the crew of the [USS] Theodore Roosevelt and their families back here at home.

Capt. Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), gives remarks during an all-hands call on the shipís flight deck 15 Dec. 2019. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alexander Williams.

I am entirely convinced that your commanding officer loves you, and that he had you at the center of his heart and mind in every decision that he has made. I also know that you have great affection and love for him as well. But it is my responsibility to ensure that his love and concern for you is matched, if not exceeded by, his sober and professional judgment under pressure.

You deserve that throughout all the dangerous activities for which you train so diligently, but most importantly, for all those situations which are unpredictable and are hard to plan for.

Itís important because you are the TR. You are the Big Stick,2 and what happens onboard the TR matters far beyond the physical limits of your hull. Your shipmates across the fleet need to know -- need to know for you that you'll be be strong and ready; and most especially right now they need to know that you're going to be courageous in the face of adversity.

The nation needs to know that the Big Stick is undaunted and unstoppable -- and that you will stay that way as long as the Navy helps you through this COVID-19 challenge.

Our adversaries need to know this as well. They respect and fear the Big Stick, and they should.

We will not allow anything to diminish that respect and fear as you, and the rest of our nation, fights through this virus. As I stated, we are not at war by traditional measures, but neither are we at peace. The nation you defend is in a fight right now for our economic, personal, and political security, and you are on the front lines of that fight in so many ways.

You can offer comfort to your fellow citizens who are struggling and fearful here at home by standing the watch, and working your way through this pandemic with courage and optimism, and set the example for the nation. We have an obligation to ensure you have everything you need as fast as we can get it there, and you have my commitment that that's what we will do and we're not going to let you down.

The nation you have sworn to defend is in a fight, and the nations and bad actors around the world who wish us harm should understand that the Big Stick is in the neighborhood and that her crew is standing the watch.

Aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 1 fly in formation over the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during an airpower demonstration March 22, 2015. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Brown/Released

1 The San Francisco Chronicle. See the original Chronicle exclusive with accompanying letter

2 Nickname of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and a reference to the foreign policy ("Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far") advocated by her namesake

See also: Havy Times story on Lt. Col. Teddy Roosevelt's wartime ("round-robin") letter of similar thrust to Major-General William R. Shafter which similarly found its way outside his chain of command to the Associated Press. Relevant highlight: "To keep us here, in the opinion of every officer commanding a division or a brigade, will simply involve the destruction of thousands. There is no possible reason for not shipping practically the entire command North at once...Quarantine against malarial fever is much like quarantining against the toothache. All of us are certain that as soon as the authorities at Washington fully appreciate the condition of the army, we shall be sent home. If we are kept here it will in all human possibility mean an appalling disaster, for the surgeons here estimate that over half the army, if kept here during the sickly season, will die."

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