Thomas Modly

Thomas Modly
Thomas B. Modly.jpg
Acting United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
November 25, 2019 – April 7, 2020
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byRichard V. Spencer
Succeeded byJames McPherson (acting)
In office
July 15, 2019 – July 31, 2019
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byRichard V. Spencer
Succeeded byRichard V. Spencer
United States Under Secretary of the Navy
In office
December 4, 2017 – November 24, 2019
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byThomas P. Dee (acting)
Personal details
EducationUnited States Naval Academy (BS)
Georgetown University (MA)
Harvard University (MBA)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy

Thomas B. Modly is an American businessman and government official who served as acting United States Secretary of the Navy from November 25, 2019 to April 7, 2020.[1][2] After firing and berating Brett Crozier, the captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, for going outside his chain of command in calling for help to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak onboard, Modly traveled to the ship at port in Guam. There, he addressed the crew in a manner that was perceived as being disrespectful. He was subsequently widely criticized and resigned the following day.

Modly, who was confirmed as the United States Under Secretary of the Navy on December 4, 2017, also temporarily performed the duties of the Secretary of the Navy while Richard V. Spencer was acting Secretary of Defense and acting Deputy Secretary of Defense from July 15, 2019, to July 31, 2019.[3][4][5][6]


Modly was raised in Cleveland,[7] Ohio, graduating from Shaker Heights High School in 1979.[8] He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy class of 1983,[9] Georgetown University, and Harvard Business School. He served on active duty in the United States Navy as a helicopter pilot and spent seven years as a U.S. Navy officer.[10] He has held various leadership positions at Iconixx, Oxford Associates, and UNC Inc.,[11] and taught political science at the United States Air Force Academy.[12]

Modly served as the managing director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers global government and public services sector and as the firm's global government defense network leader. He has served as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Financial Management and as the first executive director of the Defense Business Board.

He was nominated as Under Secretary of the Navy by President Donald Trump in September 2017 and was confirmed by the Senate two months later.[13]


USS Theodore Roosevelt in October 2019

On April 2, 2020, while serving as Acting Secretary of the Navy, Modly dismissed Captain Brett Crozier from command of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Modly said he had lost confidence in Crozier's judgment after the captain attached a letter (addressed to no one) to an unclassified email headed "Dear Fellow Naval Aviators," with wide distribution but not including Modly or his chief of staff,[14] and it was leaked to the press. The letter criticized the Navy's management of a COVID-19 outbreak onboard the Theodore Roosevelt,[15] and recommended decisive action to deal with it.[16][17][18][19] Modly's decision to immediately relieve Crozier of command went against the advice of Admiral Michael M. Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, who argued that usual Navy procedures would require an investigation before such an action.[20] Modly later said he acted to prevent repetition of a 2019 incident in which "the Navy Department got crossways with the president" after Trump's intervention in the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. "I put myself in the president's shoes," Modly stated. "I considered how the president felt like he needed to get involved in Navy decisions. I didn't want that to happen again."[14] The situation has been described as highlighting "a growing divide between senior uniformed commanders and their civilian bosses".[20]

On April 6, Modly flew to Guam and made a speech[21] to the Theodore Roosevelt′s crew over the ship's PA system. In it he criticized Crozier, saying "if he didn't think that information was going to get out into the public...then he was [either] too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this [or] he did this on purpose."[22] While giving the speech, which The New York Times described as a "tirade",[23] Modly was heckled by some of the sailors,[24] one of whom described him as "whiny, upset, irritated, [and] condescending".[25] When questioned about his comments to the crew, Modly said he stood "by every word", including the profanity that he said he used for emphasis.[26][27] He later apologized for his comments, saying "I believe, precisely because [Crozier] is not naive or 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."[24] Modly spent 30 minutes on the ship—the trip cost taxpayers more than $243,000.[23][28]

Congressmen Ted W. Lieu (D-CA) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) called on the Dept. of Defense Inspector General to investigate whether Acting Secretary Modly had acted inappropriately in relieving Crozier of his command. The following week they sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper calling for Modly to be fired because of his comments to sailors aboard the Theodore Roosevelt and his decision to relieve Crozier.[29] Several other Democratic members of Congress, including Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, joined in the call for Modly's resignation or removal.[24] On April 7, Modly resigned from his position.[30]

Personal life

Modly is married to Robyn Modly; the couple have four children together.[31][32]


  1. ^ "Thomas B. Modly – Acting Secretary of the Navy". United States Department of Defense. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  2. ^ McLeary, Paul (April 7, 2020). "Army's McPherson To Be New Navy Leader; Modly Submits Resignation". Breaking Defense. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  3. ^ Werner, Ben (July 15, 2019). "Esper Officially Nominated to Lead Pentagon; SECNAV Spencer Now Acting SECDEF". USNI News. United States Naval Institute. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  4. ^ SECNAV Richard V. Spencer Removed Over Gallagher Deal With White House; Modly Now Acting SECNAV
  5. ^ "United States Navy biographies". United States Department of the Navy. November 25, 2019. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  6. ^ "United States Navy biography (Under Secretary of the Navy)". United States Department of the Navy. November 25, 2019. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  7. ^ Thomas B. Modly bio at US Dept of Defense
  8. ^ Eaton, Sabrina (April 7, 2020). "Cleveland-area native Thomas Modly resigns as acting Navy secretary amid coronavirus firing flap". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved April 8, 2020.
  9. ^ "Acting Secretary of the Navy-Under Secretary of the Navy, Thomas B. Modly Call Sign 'Modes'". Naval Helicopter Association Historical Society. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  10. ^ "President Donald J. Trump Announces Intent to Nominate Personnel to Key Administration Posts". The White House. September 2, 2017. Retrieved October 4, 2017. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  11. ^ Martin, Nichols (September 6, 2017). "President Trump to Nominate Thomas Modly for Navy Undersecretary Post". Executive Gov. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  12. ^ Eckstein, Megan (September 11, 2017). "SOCOM's James Geurts Nominated to Serve as Navy Acquisition Chief; Modly Nominated as Under Secretary". Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  13. ^ "PN891 - Nomination of Thomas B. Modly for Department of Defense, 115th Congress (2017-2018)". November 16, 2017. Retrieved February 17, 2020.
  14. ^ a b Ignatius, David (April 5, 2020). "Acting Navy chief fired Crozier for 'panicking' — and before Trump could intervene". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  15. ^ "USS Roosevelt Commander Removed After Criticizing Handling Of Coronavirus Outbreak". April 2, 2020. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  16. ^ "Navy relieves captain who raised alarm about COVID-19 on ship". NBC News. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  17. ^ Vanden Brook, Tom. "Navy fires USS Theodore Roosevelt captain days after he pleaded for help for sailors with coronavirus". USA TODAY. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  18. ^ Pickrell, Ryan. "US Navy fires the captain of the aircraft carrier stricken by a coronavirus outbreak". Business Insider. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  19. ^ "Captain of USS Roosevelt relieved of command after letter about coronavirus outbreak was leaked". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  20. ^ a b "How a Ship's Coronavirus Outbreak Became a Moral Crisis for the Military". The New York Times. April 7, 2020. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  21. ^ Schogol, Jeff. "Acting Navy Secretary blasts USS Roosevelt captain as 'too naive or too stupid' in leaked speech to ship's crew". Task & Purpose. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  22. ^ "Transcript: Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly addresses USS Theodore Roosevelt crew about 'stupid' ousted captain". CNN. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  23. ^ a b Cooper, Helene; Schmitt, Eric; Gibbons-Neff, Thomas (April 7, 2020). "Acting Navy Secretary Resigns After Outcry Over Criticism of Virus-Stricken Crew". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 9, 2020.
  24. ^ a b c Borger, Julian (April 7, 2020). "US navy official apologises for calling captain behind coronavirus memo 'naive or stupid'". The Guardian. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  25. ^ Ismay, John; Ziezulewicz, Geoff (April 6, 2020). "Acting Navy Secretary Slams Fired Captain as 'Stupid'". The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  26. ^ O'Brien, Connor; Seligman, Lara (April 6, 2020). "Acting Navy secretary: 'I stand by every word I said' after leak of carrier speech". Politico. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  27. ^ Starr, Barbara; Perez, Evan; Browne, Ryan (April 6, 2020). "Acting Navy secretary blasts ousted aircraft carrier captain as 'stupid' in address to ship's crew". CNN. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  28. ^ Lamothe, Dan (April 8, 2020). "Trip to Guam at center of top Navy official's resignation cost taxpayers over $243,000". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 9, 2020.
  29. ^ "Reps Lieu and Gallego Call for Navy Secretary's Firing in Letter to DOD". Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  30. ^ Bennett, John T. (April 7, 2020). "Navy Secretary resigns after calling fired captain behind coronavirus letter 'stupid' and 'naive'". The Independent. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  31. ^ Petty Officer 1st Class Langer; Devin (January 31, 2020). "Oahu Military Family Readiness Provides Resources to Meet Service Members Needs". Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  32. ^ Modly, Thomas B. (June 11, 2019). "Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly Remarks at The Patuxent Partnership". CHIPS. United States Department of the Navy. Retrieved April 7, 2020.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas P. Dee
United States Under Secretary of the Navy
Preceded by
Richard V. Spencer
United States Secretary of the Navy

Succeeded by
Richard V. Spencer
United States Secretary of the Navy

Succeeded by
James McPherson


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