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Ex-USS Cole commander on USS Theodore Roosevelt controversy: ‘There was a failure in the chain of command’

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There was a failure in the chain of command in the U.S. Navy throughout the Pacific area regarding the case of the dismissal of Capt. Brett Crozier, former USS Cole Commander Kirk Lippold said Tuesday.

In an interview on the “Fox News Rundown Podcast” with host Dave Anthony, Lippold said that he was “absolutely shocked” by the decision for the USS Theodore Roosevelt to dock in Vietnam in the first place, leading to the dismissal.

Crozier was relieved of his post after he circulated a memo to Navy leaders last week – then obtained by news media – in which he urged speedy action to evacuate the ship of nearly 5,000 sailors as the coronavirus began to escalate. Approximately 155 crew members aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for COVID-19.


Lippold said he thought actions taken by the Navy against Crozier were an “overreaction,” but that all of the facts are still not known.

“The Pacific commander, Admiral Davidson, ordered that ship into Vietnam for a port visit in a peacetime environment, knowing full well and having the intelligence, capacity, and capability resident in his command to know the jeopardy that he was putting that ship in,” he stated.

“Yet, he said, ‘let’s put it there anyway.’ Obviously, it had to do with our relationship with Vietnam: try to develop them as a bulwark against China expansion throughout the region,” Lippold noted. “But, nonetheless, it was an unnecessary risk.”

After Crozier’s letter became public, then-Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly flew to the ship, then at port in Guam, and delivered a speech to the crew in which he lambasted Crozier, saying he was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in charge of an aircraft carrier — or perhaps leaked the letter intentionally.

“So think about that when you cheer the man off the ship who exposed you to that,” Modly added. “I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him. But you’re not required to love him.”

However, audio of the speech leaked to the public and Modly issued a public apology on Monday.

“Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid,” he said, referring to his speech aboard the Roosevelt on Sunday. “I think, and always believed him to be the opposite. We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate.”

On Tuesday, Modly resigned.

Lippold told Anthony that whoever did the risk management analysis on the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s course of action had “clearly failed.”

“And there was no pushback down the chain of command from the Pacific fleet commander — from the Seventh Fleet commander,” he remarked. “And, I think, what a lot of people also don’t realize is embarked on that aircraft carrier onboard Theodore Roosevelt – literally doors down from the captain – is a one or two-star admiral who is the carrier strike group commander.”


“Where’s he in this process?” asked Lippold. “He’s considered what we call the ‘senior officer presently afloat,’ or SOPA.”

“He clearly should have been far more engaged than what he was, and there was obviously a failure in command leadership through the entire admiral ranks in this case,” he concluded.

Fox News’ Gregg Re, Jennifer Griffin, Andrew O’Reilly, Lucas Tomlinson, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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