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Missing in (re)action


Thomas Modly did not resign his post as Acting Under Secretary of the Navy. He was fired!

I was not present. I have no more information than most folks. But, I’ve had enough time in the military and the media to know a bit about comings and goings of civilian appointees and military thinking.

Modly is the cretin who used a Navy jet to fly halfway around the world. Navy spokesman said Modly’s aircraft was a Gulfstream which costs $6,946 per hour to operate. ($6,946 x 35 hours flight time equals $243,110). Nearly a quarter-million dollars.

Modly boarded the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Roosevelt in Guam, accessed the ship’s public address system and told the crew of more than 4,000 sailors their captain was “too naive and stupid” to command such a ship and fired that captain. Then, he flew halfway around the world again.

Just 24-hours later, former Acting Under Secretary of the Navy Modly was sitting on the curb outside the Pentagon with his personal possessions scattered about.

The current Secretary of Defense is Mike Esper, who previously was a defense contractor and congressional lobbyist. Under him, as advisors, are the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The makeup of the Joint Chiefs includes Army, USAF, National Guard Bureau, Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chief of Naval Operations.

That last seat is currently filled by Admiral Michael Gilday, a man of considerable years of honorable naval service. A man devoted to the chain of command from his office down to the lowest “swabby.” His record shows he’s the kind of guy you’d want in a very tough and demanding job.

My guess is you wouldn’t have wanted to have been in the same office with the admiral last week when he was told of Modly’s speech-making to hear his reaction.

Every commanding officer lives a career believing in his/her gut the most important job is concern for – and protection of – the troops. That’s a fundamental fact of command. Makes no difference the branch of service.

The chain of command starts with the President, then to the Secretary of Defense, then directly to field combatant commands. The Joint Chiefs are advisory but their chain of command flows from them to commanders within each branch, down to troops in the field.

Chain of command is the life blood of the military. It’s been so since before the Roman Legions.

But, there’s also a political side.

Guys like Esper and Modly come and go regularly. While members of the Joint Chiefs usually serve four-year terms, the consistency of military command outlives any presidential appointee. So, the Chiefs retain a lot of power within the Pentagon. There’s always been a considerable effort made to keep a balance between the transitions of civilians and the permanence of the military side. So, a wise Defense Secretary consults with the Chiefs regularly.

Based largely on published reaction by the crew of the Roosevelt and immediate reactions by the Chiefs, what Modly did was regarded as a threat to operations of a key naval ship. A ship already battling cases of Covid-19 as it sat in a distant port. Without a captain who had a record of accomplished command. Civilian Modly, acting in bone headed-ignorance, made a bad situation much worse.

What Captain Brett Crozier did was try to get the attention of the Acting Naval Secretary and the Joint Chiefs through the chain of command. There were active cases of Covid-19 aboard the Roosevelt and, if left unchecked, other crew members would be stricken and the Roosevelt would be unable to perform its mission. A threat to our national security and a distinct possibility in Crozier’s view.

When action wasn’t forthcoming, Crozier put his concerns in a letter to the higher-ups. Somehow, a copy of that letter was leaked. Publication of the letter, in former Acting Secretary Modly’s civilian mind, caused the dunderhead reaction that resulted in his quick exit.

Admittedly, much of this account is speculation. But, with nearly a decade of military experience, some dealing with generals and admirals, some years spent in the political environs of Washington D.C. and, with a significant amount of published military detail, the scenario of Modly’s exit from his post likely happened as written.

When an official holding a high political appointment is said to have “resigned” during such a debacle, it’s often an attempt to cover up the fact that the axe fell quickly on the offender.

Trump has used “acting” appointments to fill many high-level government jobs. He’s attempting to avoid a required congressional approval process while creating a cadre of mostly unqualified office holders who owe their continued employment to him. It’s a violation of laws and oversight which, so far, a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate has allowed to continue.

As you cast your vote seven months from now, keep the story of Captain Crozier in mind. His excellent naval career was ended by an idiotic presidential appointee who was placed in a position of great responsibility by someone who has also been proven to be supremely unqualified for great responsibility.

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