Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has his temperature read before boarding the hospital ship USNS Mercy in Los Angeles. Navy photo

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has apologized for calling the fired captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt “stupid” in an address Monday to the San Diego-based ship’s crew.

During his address over the ship’s public address system, Modly said Capt. Brett Crozier was either “too naive or too stupid” or willfully leaked a letter pleading for help with a coronavirus outbreak.

The secretary’s remarks came just days after hundreds of crew members gathered on the hanger deck cheered Crozier and chanted his name as he left the ship in Guam.

“If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out into the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naive or too stupid to be a commander of a ship like this,” said Modly in remarks verified by multiple media outlets.

“The alternative is that he did this on purpose,” said Modly, which he added would violate military law.

Later Monday evening, after House Armed Services Committee leaders called on him to resign, Modly apologized to the Navy for his comment.

“Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve 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 apologized directly to Crozier for “any pain my remarks may have caused.”

Crozier, who reportedly has coronavirus now, had pleaded in the letter for the Navy to arrange shore housing on Guam for uninfected members of the crew to halt the spread of the virus in the close quarters of the giant warship.

“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,” he wrote.

The letter was obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, after which Crozier was relieved of duty and is now assigned to a headquarters post in San Diego.

In a statement issued by the Pentagon, Modly defended his remarks by saying, “I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis.”

Updated at 7:20 p.m. April 6, 2020

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.