Ousted Navy secretary takes responsibility for Theodore Roosevelt fiasco: ‘It’s my fault. I own it’
"I know what I have to do save the ship."
One of the final things that acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly did before he resigned on Tuesday was to take ownership of the disastrous chain of events that led to his ouster, according to a memo obtained by Task & Purpose.
In a memo sent around the Department of the Navy on Tuesday, Modly apologized for what he described as a lack of situational awareness and letting his emotions get the better of him when he picked up the intercom of the USS Theodore Roosevelt the previous day and berated thousands of sailors for roughly 15 minutes.
“I brought incoming fire onto our team and I am convinced that the fire will continue unrelentingly until the target is gone,” Modly wrote in SECNAV Vector 19, the last in a series of messages, called Vectors, which he wrote each week to the entire force.
The document was obtained by Task & Purpose ahead of its being posted to the Navy Live blog, which typically publishes the messages every Friday.
Modly, who came into the job after his predecessor was forced out for going against President Trump during the Eddie Gallagher affair, faced intense pressure to resign over his handling of the situation on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier which quickly went from having three COVID-19 cases to hundreds among a crew of nearly 5,000 sailors after a port visit to Vietnam in early March.
Modly traveled nearly 8,000 miles to Guam to speak over the ship's intercom on Monday, chastising sailors who enthusiastically cheered for their captain, Capt. Brett Crozier, as he departed the ship. In his remarks, Modly said Crozier was either “too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer” of their ship since a letter he wrote to Navy leadership subsequently leaked to the press.
“The crew deserved a lot more empathy and a lot less lecturing,” Modly wrote in the Tuesday memo. “I lost sight of that at the time and I am deeply sorry for some of the words and for how they were spread across the media landscape like a wildfire. I had hoped to transmit a message of love, and duty, and mission, and courage in the face of adversity. Those words are in there, but they are now lost, because of me, and I will regret that for the rest of my life. But, I am not a football head coach, or a master chief, or even the ship’s own CO, I am the Secretary of the Navy and you, and they, should expect more out of me. I own it.”
“I realize that I have consistently told each and every one of you 'Don’t Ever, Ever Give Up the Ship,'” Modley continued, explaining that he loved the Navy and Marine Corps, which he called “our ship.”
“You are all on my one big ship,” Modly wrote. “But the ramifications of mistakes, even simple ones, when someone is charged with protecting a ship that large and that important can be fatal. It is not just missiles that can take us down, words can do it too, if we aren’t careful with how and when we use them.”
He added: “My lack of situational awareness due to my emotions of the moment did the exact same thing to MY ship, as I would hold you accountable for as you lead yours. I brought incoming fire onto our team and I am convinced that the fire will continue unrelentingly until the target is gone. I know what I have to do save the ship. I have always tried to do the right thing for all of you. Always. I never cared about the title, I cared about the relationships. I trust you all know that and that you know how terribly sad I am right now that I disappointed you by not keeping our ship out of harm’s way. It’s my fault. I own it.”
Modly resigned on Tuesday, just one day after Task & Purpose published audio of his speech on the carrier. Initially, Modly said he stood “by every word” he told the crew but apologized later in the day at the urging of Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Esper accepted Modly's resignation on Tuesday morning. James McPherson, who was confirmed as undersecretary of the Army about two weeks ago, has been tapped to take Modly's place.
You can read the full Vector 19 below: