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Navy secretary's resignation in order, reconsider carrier captain's case

In 1898, a couple of months short of his 40th birthday, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, a future president and leader of the famed Rough Riders of the U.S. Army Fifth Corps, saw his men who had succeeded in battle in the Spanish-American War succumbing to the Malaria and yellow fever of a Cuban summer.

Frustrated with the lack of response by his superiors to the pleas to evacuate and treat the men, Roosevelt wrote an alarming letter to his commanding officer. It found its way into the press and the story was widely circulated by newspapers. The military brass was not happy, and neither was President William McKinley. But the men of the Fifth Corps were hastily recalled to Long Island, N.Y.

How ironic, then, that the recent captain of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt finds himself removed from his position for acting, like the ship's namesake, in the greater interest of the sailors under his command.

Removing Capt. Brett E. Crozier from his command, effectively ending what had been a stellar career, was excessive. But even entertaining the argument that it may have been appropriate; it was, at the very least, premature.

And based on what has happened since, it should be reconsidered.

On Tuesday, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly, who made the decision to fire the captain, himself resigned.

A fresh review of Captain Crozier's punishment is called for.

In a four-page letter emailed March 30 to his commanders, but also distributed to upwards of three dozen military people and sent as unclassified, Crozier expressed alarm about the COVID-19 infections spreading among crewmembers and the failure of the command structure to remove the sick and quarantine others at the port in Guam.

"We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors," wrote Crozier.

The next day the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the letter. As was the case with Roosevelt, the higher-ups were not happy. But also, as with Roosevelt, the letter got results. The Navy began removing sailors.

For speaking up for his sailors, for exposing Navy incompetence in initially handling the matter, Crozier became a scapegoat. As of Tuesday, 230 crew members of the Roosevelt had tested positive. Among them is Crozier.

It was not enough for Modly to simply fire the captain, however. He wanted to humiliate him in front of his former crew, a crew that had chanted Crozier's name as he left the ship. Modly's behavior made him unfit for the position. He did the right thing in recognizing that and stepping aside.

On Monday, Modly took an eight-hour flight to Guam to address the remaining crew of the stricken aircraft carrier. He belittled the fired captain in a profane laced, self-centered address, which featured the word "I" some 50 times. The Navy secretary did nothing to reassure the crew, but instead whined why he was right and the criticism he had received unfair.

Modly said the captain was "too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer" if he thought the press would not get the letter.

Most inappropriately, Modly accused the captain of "betrayal," which suggests disloyalty. One can disagree with the captain's actions, but he did not betray his country or his sailors.

After hearing the Modly address Monday, Rep. Joe Courtney of eastern Connecticut's 2nd District joined several other Democratic lawmakers in calling for Modly to step down. We were ready to do likewise when news of Modly's resignation broke.

Interviewed prior to Modly's resignation Tuesday, Courtney was still seething.

"He trashes this guy on the (ship) squawk box while he's still in quarantine. It was just, who does that? And to me it showed such incredibly insensitive poor judgment on a personal level. The (captain) had been removed already and it was just total piling on."

Indeed it was. Now it is time to take a second look at Modly's decision to remove the captain.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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