WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy’s top officer said keeping the force safe and healthy was his top priority after a wild six days that saw the downfall of the popular commanding officer of the Theodore Roosevelt and the resignation of the Acting Secretary of the Navy who fired him after a letter in which the CO raised concerns about the pace of the Navy’s aid to his crew leaked to the media.
In a fleet-wide message obtained by Defense News, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said all the Navy’s efforts must be dedicated to protecting health and safety, followed by ensuring the fleet is ready for operations.
“I have three priorities for us right now,” Gilday said. “First, our health and safety. Second, ongoing fleet operations and our support to the coronavirus effort. Third, continuing to generate the enormous amount of support required to keep #1 and #2 on track. I know much of that effort is behind the scenes and out of the limelight — but every bit of it is critical.”
The message comes in the wake of the stunning downfall of Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly after remarks denigrating the now-relieved captain of the outbreak-stricken carrier Theodore Roosevelt made to the crew over its public address system Monday became public. Over 24 hours, the scandal expanded to the point that President Donald Trump said he would get involved.
Within hours, Modly had apologized to the now-relieved Capt. Brett Crozier for suggesting he was “too stupid or too naïve to be the commanding officer of a ship like this,” adding that the alternative is did it on purpose. By Tuesday morning, Modly had submitted his resignation.
In his message to the fleet, Gilday credited the crew of Roosevelt for their actions to contain the outbreak of COVID-19 on their ship and said the crew is “making phenomenal progress, and providing lessons for the Navy and beyond.”
Gilday acknowledged that the Theodore Roosevelt affair had been a difficult one for the service but said he was moving forward.
“The events of the past week have been difficult for our Navy and our nation,” he said. “We will learn from them. But make no mistake, we are moving forward. The Navy has our orders and we are executing them.”
The Navy is currently conducting an investigation on CNO’s orders led by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Vice Adm. Robert Burke into the events surrounding the outbreak on the ship and Crozier’s letter and will be completed soon, according to his spokesman, Cmdr. Nate Christensen.
“The inquiry remains in progress and is expected to be completed soon,” Christensen said in a statement. “It will take time for the report to be reviewed and endorsed by the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Gilday."
Several lawyers who specialize in military law who spoke to Defense News and questioned whether the Navy should be investigating itself since the actions to remove Crozier came from the top of the service.
"The investigation has to be conducted either up or over, meaning its got to be conducted by the [Defense Department’s Inspector General],” said Rob Bracknell, a former Marine attorney. ... “You have DoD IG conducting investigations on two-stars [admirals] all the time, and this clearly trumps that in importance. So, if I were Secretary of Defense, I’d have the DoD IG look into this and it should include the SECNAV’s conduct.”