Modly Out After Stupidly Calling Captain ‘Stupid’

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 01: Thomas B. Modly, Under Secretary of the Navy, stands on the field before the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on May 1, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Yesterday, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly flew to Guam to personally tell the crew of the Teddy Roosevelt that the captain he had fired for raising a stink about the out-of-control spread of COVID-19 aboard the carrier was “stupid.”

Less than 24 hours after the news broke, Modly has rightly resigned his post for embarrassing himself, the Navy, and the United States of America.

CNN (“Acting secretary of the Navy has submitted his resignation after calling ousted aircraft carrier captain ‘stupid‘”):

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has submitted his resignation a day after leaked audio revealed he called the ousted commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt “stupid” in an address to the ship’s crew, according to a US official and a former senior military official.
The Navy and Department of Defense did not respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, Modly told the crew of the Roosevelt that their former commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in command or that he intentionally leaked a memo to the media, in which Crozier warned about coronavirus spreading aboard the aircraft carrier and urged action to save his sailors, according to remarks obtained by CNN.

Late Monday night, Modly apologized in a statement for calling Crozier “stupid” in his earlier remarks.

“Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite,” Modly said in his statement. “We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate. I believe, precisely because he is not naive and stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it into the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship. I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused.”

Modly was naive or stupid to think his remarks would not be made public. Those options are not mutually exclusive.

More importantly, they were not becoming of a leader of American servicemen and women, much less a service secretary, acting or otherwise. One hopes his resignation is accepted. One wishes he had been fired before being given the chance.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    I would be mildly surprised if it ended so cleanly. It would be a significant reduction in the usual Trumpian shit show

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    I feel sorry for Modly. He was just trying to be a good toady!

  3. CSK says:

    I wonder how Cult45 will rationalize this. They were lauding Modly as a hero on and RedState the other day.

  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    When it comes to stupid, it takes one to know one.

    Crozier and anyone who cares can take comfort in knowing that whenever Modly’s name comes up, he’ll be remembered as the toady who got fired because he was an over enthusiastic toady. Better yet, when Modly dies, the second paragraph of his obituary will be a recollection of this incident.

    Wonderful way to be remembered.

  5. Kathy says:

    I swear I laughed when I read this post’s headline 😀

  6. Mu Yixiao says:

    Okay… who had “< 24 hrs" in the pool?

  7. inhumans99 says:

    I just want to say I am impressed that James kept his anger in check and did not personally fly down to D.C. to throttle Modly for being such a schmuck. I would not want to meet an angry James Joyner in a dark alley…lol!

    I want to feel bad for Modly, but yeesh…someone who got himself a fancy title/promotion and just let it go to his head. Pride goeth before the fall and all that jazz.

    ETA: Fixed funny typo…originally spelled out the dudes name as Moldy.

  8. Bill says:


    I want to feel bad for Modly, but yeesh…someone who got himself a fancy title/promotion and just let it go to his head. Pride goeth before the fall and all that jazz.


    I think this should OTB comment of the day.

    inhumans99: Are you aware of what ‘head’ is a term for in the navy?

  9. inhumans99 says:


    I am, but I did not intentionally try to use the word that way. There is a story to tell, my non-military mother (Sicilian but grew up in Turkey) who volunteered for USO in Turkey met my military dad in Turkey and my dad says that she even had clearance to eat with the sailors on a battleship (which is weird to picture my mother doing this even when she was younger).

    I always wondered why, her father was an exec for Rolls Royce (I believe) and they make engines for the military, yes? Maybe that had something to do with her going through background checks and being able to set foot on one of the U.S. Navy’s ships. Anyway, this thread involves the Navy so I just thought I would go off on a tangent there.

  10. Mike says:

    Every member of that ship should email Modly w instructions for filing unemployment as soon as he is officially gone. 6,000 emails would be helpful.

  11. Tyrell says:

    When I think about the USN, these figures from my school days come to mind:
    Jones, Farragut, Welles (Father Neptune), Porter, Nimitz, Halsey, Rickover.
    An uncle who was in the Navy took me around Norfolk back in the 1960’s. An amazing place. He was always telling us about Admiral Halsey.
    “When you are in command, command” (Halsey)

  12. fledermaus says:

    Who knew working towards der fuhrer could be so complicated?

  13. Jim Brown 32 says:

    At the end of the day he’s out…but he should have been fired. November can’t come fast enough.

  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    I just read a little bit of Modly’s bio, and it provides some interest. He was a helicopter pilot for the Navy, and served as an officer of the Navy for seven years. And he also has taught political science at the US Air Force Academy. He has also served in businesses as an executive. This is not his first role in the Navy Department.

    From the Washington Post:

    Modly explained that his predecessor, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, “lost his job because the Navy Department got crossways with the president” in the Gallagher case. “I didn’t want that to happen again.”

    From the horse’s mouth.

  15. DrDaveT says:

    If only embarrassing yourself, your agency, and your country had consequences in the parts of this administration outside the military.

  16. Mike says:

    Speechwriter for Kushner. Perfect job for him.

  17. Moosebreath says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    “From the horse’s mouth.”

    I think you have the wrong end of the equine digestive system.

  18. mattbernius says:

    So sadly predictable. Only the best people:

    Trump distances himself from his own former acting Navy secretary Thomas Modley after his resignation: “I’ve heard — I don’t know him — he was a very good man. … I don’t know him. I didn’t speak to him.”

    (originally I posted this on the won’t place)

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I think from now on this will be called, “Pulling a Modly.”

  20. Scott says:

    Unfortunately, DoD is going to face more crises and embarrassments. Defense Secretary Esper is still their and he hasn’t covered himself in glory much either. These people need to understand the power they have and use it appropriately. Maybe they just don’t understand the organizations they supposedly run. Apparently, they don’t.

  21. Kingdaddy says:

    During his now-infamous speech to the crew, not once did Modly express any sympathy or concern for Captain Crozier, whom we all know has contracted COVID-19. He did have a lot to say about the chain of command and press protocol, and he is familiar with some four-letter words.

  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    Were you expecting empathy? From a Trumpie?

  23. Kingdaddy says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Nope. It’s just worth noting as another sign of how far we have fallen.