“Acting” secretary of the Navy is right. He’s acting as if he knows what he’s doing.
by Wade Rathke
New Orleans I’m way out of my lane when I start chiming in on how the military should work, and I’ll admit it, but only to a degree. I’m pretty clear that “chain of command” is not something that you wrap around your ankle like a weight until you hit the ocean floor. I think it means that you move your grievance up the ladder, one step at a time. We believe in that whether in our union contracts or our own workplace. On a daily basis that works well, but in an emergency, it’s time to yell from the roofbeams or crow’s nest to keep ourselves afloat in this conversation.
Nonetheless, one thing I am absolutely clear about is that I know a fool when I see one, and acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly is showing himself to be about the biggest horse’s butt we have seen in a long time in a period when we seem to be confronted with such nonsense on a daily and even hourly basis. I’m not saying that just because he fired Captain Brett Crozier, the commander of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, for sending an email and a four-page memo pleading for help in off-loading his crew being infected by the coronavirus. Yes, he overruled the enlisted and uniformed Navy admirals running the force who wanted to let an investigation run its course on whether Captain Crozier acted correctly. Yes, chain of command is more important to him that the lives of the sailors. Yes, certainly, he had the power as the civilian over the military to do the deed, and he did it.
We can disagree about that, and we do. Maybe we don’t know all the ins and outs here or whatever. Regardless, we can’t possibly disagree about how foolish and stupid Modly’s stunt was in response to his unbridled anger at seeing the videos of Crozier’s sailors cheering him as he walked the gangplank off of the ship.
He flies 8000 miles at government expense to Guam. He boards the Theodore Roosevelt and commandeers the ship’s loudspeaker system. In a profane fifteen-minute speech, captured on audio by some of the sailors, he rants about Crozier, calls him “stupid” and “naïve” and blisters the sailors for having supported their captain. His arrival wasn’t announced ahead of time, but the Navy brass had solicited questions from the crew and edited them for professionalism and so forth. He answered and addressed none of these questions in his spiel. He didn’t tour the ship or meet with any sailors. He left the ship after his tirade. Reportedly, sailors were lining up to say they would not reenlist. He seems to have jumped back on a plane and flown back to Washington. What a fool! Who does this?
All of this is a lesson in leadership. We can disagree on Crozier perhaps, though that’s hard for me to stomach, but there can’t be any disagreement about how absurd Modly’s actions have been in the aftermath. What could he have hoped he was accomplishing? Did he think he was quelling a mutiny, and if so, how might any of his actions have done anything but make the situation even worse?
“Acting” secretary of the Navy is right. He’s acting as if he knows what he’s doing, but proving to America and the world that he needs to be sent to dry land somewhere remotely and immediately and taken as far away from any chain of command over anything as soon as possible.