Thomas Modly

Thomas Modly
Thomas B. Modly.jpg
Acting United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
November 24, 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
33rd United States Under Secretary of the Navy
In office
December 4, 2017 – November 24, 2019
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byThomas P. Dee (acting)
Succeeded byGregory J. Slavonic (acting)
Personal details
Born (1960-12-15) December 15, 1960 (age 60)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
EducationUnited States Naval Academy (BS)
Georgetown University (MA)
Harvard University (MBA)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1983–1990

Thomas B. Modly (born December 15, 1960) is an American businessman and government official who served as acting United States Secretary of the Navy from November 24, 2019, to April 7, 2020.[1][2] Modly's resignation occurred in the wake of firing and berating Brett Crozier, the captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, for allegedly going outside his chain of command in calling for help to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak onboard. Later, Modly traveled to the ship at port in Guam, where he addressed the crew in a manner that was perceived as disrespectful. He was subsequently widely criticized, and soon resigned.

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, Ohio,[1] graduating from Shaker Heights High School in 1979.[7] He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy class of 1983,[8] 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.[9] He has held various leadership positions at Iconixx, Oxford Associates, and UNC Inc.,[10] and taught political science at the United States Air Force Academy.[11]

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.[12]


USS Theodore Roosevelt in October 2019

Captain Brett Crozier was captain of the US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, deployed in the Pacific. On March 24, 2020, after two weeks at sea, three members of the crew tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, eight more sailors were infected, and within a few days it was "dozens."

Crozier sent a letter to 10 people: Crozier's immediate superior, Rear Admiral Stuart P. Baker, plus two other admirals of U.S. forces in the Pacific, with copies to seven other Navy captains,[13] but not including Acting Secretary Modly or Modly's chief of staff.[14] 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] The letter was then leaked to the press.

On April 2, 2020, while serving as Acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly dismissed Captain Crozier from command of the Theodore Roosevelt. Modly said he had lost confidence in Crozier's judgment because he claimed the letter 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 also said he acted to prevent a 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 and ridiculed Crozier,[22][23] 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."[24]

In other parts of Modly's speech, he told the sailors: "you're not required to love" Crozier, and that the only thing they should expect from their leaders is to "treat you fairly and put the mission of the ship first".[25] Modly also used his speech to criticize the media, future Democratic Nominee Joe Biden, and China.[26][27]

While giving the speech, which The New York Times described as a "tirade",[28] Modly was heckled by some of the sailors.[29] Modly spent 30 minutes on the ship and left; the round trip taken by Modly took 50 hours[30] and was estimated to have cost taxpayers more than $243,000.[28][31] Due to his trip to the Theodore Roosevelt, Modly himself was quarantined.[32] Modly's comments were quickly leaked to the media first as a transcript and then as an audio recording.[33]

When questioned about his comments to the crew, Modly said he stood "by every word", including profanity that he said he used for emphasis.[34][35] 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."[29]

When the audio of his speech was released, Modly resigned the next day.[36]

Reaction to firing

Congressmen Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) called on the Department 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.[37] 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.[29] On April 7, Modly apologized for his comments and resigned from his position.[38]

Personal life

Modly is married to Robyn Modly; the couple have four children together.[39][40]


  1. ^ a b "Thomas B. Modly > U.S. Department of Defense > Biography". 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. ^ LaGrone, Sam; Eckstein, Megan (November 24, 2019). "SECNAV Richard V. Spencer Removed Over Gallagher Deal With White House; Modly Now Acting SECNAV". USNI News. United States Naval Institute.
  5. ^ "United States Navy biographies". United States Department of the Navy. November 25, 2019. Archived from the original on April 7, 2020. 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. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "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.
  9. ^ "President Donald J. Trump Announces Intent to Nominate Personnel to Key Administration Posts". September 2, 2017. Retrieved October 4, 2017 – via National Archives. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  10. ^ Martin, Nichols (September 6, 2017). "President Trump to Nominate Thomas Modly for Navy Undersecretary Post". Executive Gov. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  11. ^ Eckstein, Megan (September 11, 2017). "SOCOM's James Geurts Nominated to Serve as Navy Acquisition Chief; Modly Nominated as Under Secretary". USNI News. United States Naval Institute. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  12. ^ "PN891 - Nomination of Thomas B. Modly for Department of Defense, 115th Congress (2017-2018)". November 16, 2017. Retrieved February 17, 2020.
  13. ^ Lamothe, Dan; Boburg, Shawn (April 17, 2020). "How an outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt became a defining moment for the U.S. military". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020. Retrieved April 18, 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. ^ Welna, David (April 2, 2020). "USS Roosevelt Commander Removed After Criticizing Handling Of Coronavirus Outbreak". Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  16. ^ Kube, Courtney; Gains, Mosheh (April 2, 2020). "Navy relieves captain who raised alarm about COVID-19 on ship". NBC News. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  17. ^ Vanden Brook, Tom (April 2, 2020). "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 (April 3, 2020). "US Navy fires the captain of the aircraft carrier stricken by a coronavirus outbreak". Business Insider. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  19. ^ Kenney, Caitlin M. (April 2, 2020). "Captain of USS Roosevelt relieved of command after letter about coronavirus outbreak was leaked". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  20. ^ a b Schmitt, Eric; Cooper, Helene; Gibbons-Neff, Thomas (April 7, 2020). "How a Ship's Coronavirus Outbreak Became a Moral Crisis for the Military". The New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  21. ^ Jeff, Schogol (April 6, 2020). "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. ^ Stewart, Phil; Ali, Idrees (April 6, 2020). "Trump says may jump into Navy furor after captain ridiculed in speech". Reuters.
  23. ^ Ali, Idrees (April 8, 2020). McCool, Grant (ed.). "Ex-U.S. Navy secretary's Guam trip to ridicule commander cost taxpayers $243,000: officials". Reuters.
  24. ^ "Transcript: Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly addresses USS Theodore Roosevelt crew about 'stupid' ousted captain". CNN. April 6, 2020. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  25. ^ Becket, Stefan (April 6, 2020). "Acting Navy secretary rips ousted captain of aircraft carrier facing coronavirus outbreak". CBS News. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  26. ^ Ismay, John; Ziezulewicz, Geoff (April 13, 2020). "Acting Navy Secretary Slams Fired Captain as 'Stupid'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 18, 2020. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  27. ^ Welna, David (April 6, 2020). "Acting Navy Secretary Lashes Out On Virus-Plagued Ship At Commander He Fired". NPR. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Peniston, Bradley. "Inside the Wild Final Week of the Acting Navy Secretary". Defense One. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Simkin, J. D. (April 16, 2020). "COVID-19 outbreak on Theodore Roosevelt sparked by flight crews, officials believe". Navy Times. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  33. ^ Larter, David (April 6, 2020). "Modly apologizes for remarks as key lawmakers call for his resignation". Defense News. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ Jim Sciutto, Barbara Starr, Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne, CNN (April 7, 2020). "Acting secretary of the Navy resigns after calling ousted aircraft carrier captain 'stupid'". maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  37. ^ Lieu, Ted W.; Gallego, Ruben (April 6, 2020). "Reps Lieu and Gallego Call for Navy Secretary's Firing in Letter to DOD". Congressman Ted Lieu (Press release). Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ 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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  40. ^ 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
Succeeded by
Gregory J. Slavonic
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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