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Cost of Navy secretary’s trip to Guam? $243,000, his job and isolation after coronavirus exposure

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly speaks at a press briefing with the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David H. Berger, and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy E. Black about the Marine Corps and COVID-19, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 26, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

Acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly’s trip last weekend to address sailors aboard the COVID-19-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt cost taxpayers more than $243,000 for the 35-hour round trip on a Gulfstream 550, according to a Navy official.

Modly’s profanity-laced speech to the sailors, during which he branded the fired captain of the ship as “naive” and “stupid” for seeking aid, prompted Modly to offer his resignation Tuesday.

Modly, who is in quarantine after visiting the Roosevelt, had his offer accepted by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Modly did not meet in person with Esper to offer his resignation, according to Jonathan Hoffman, chief spokesman for the Pentagon. Hoffman said he would not comment on Modly’s health status; his self-quarantine was confirmed by the Navy official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

A request for comment from Modly through the Navy was not immediately answered.

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Modly flew aboard the C-37B, a Gulfstream business jet modified for military use. The per-hour cost of flying it is $6,946.19 per hour, according to the Navy official who was not authorized to speak publicly. Flight time for the Guam trip was about 35 hours for a cost of $243,116.65.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who chairs the Armed Services Committee’s panel on personnel, blasted President Donald Trump and Pentagon leadership for allowing the trip.

“The president should turn his ire on the brain trust that allowed Modly to travel to Guam at the cost of nearly $250,000 – a trip that only made the situation aboard the USS Roosevelt exponentially worse while still failing to address the needs of the crew, and the fleet, to protect itself amid the COVID-19 outbreak,” she said.

Hoffman said he had not spoken to Esper about whether the cost of the trip was justified.

After transcripts and audio surfaced showing that Modly disparaged Capt. Brett Crozier, whom he had fired for sending a letter to Navy officials pleading for help, calls for his resignation mounted.

Modly initially stood by his comments – he said Crozier was “too naive or too stupid” to command an aircraft carrier. At Monday’s White House briefing, Trump said Crozier’s career should not have to end for what the president described as a mistake. Hours later, Modly issued a statement, apologizing to Crozier.

It was too little, too late. Calls for his resignation intensified, including by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Modly’s position became untenable.

It is unclear whether members of the crew aboard Modly’s plane have been quarantined as well. The Navy lists the crew as a pilot, co-pilot, crew chief, flight attendant and load master.

The Pentagon, when Jim Mattis was defense secretary, cracked down on the use of military aircraft by senior officials. A policy issued by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan sought to limit officials to one plane and one crew per trip to limit cost and burden on flight crews, who have mandated rest periods.

Esper named Army Undersecretary James McPherson to the post of acting Navy Secretary.

Wednesday, the Navy reported 286 cases positive for COVID-19 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which remains docked in Guam. The Navy has tested 93% of the crew and moved 2,329 sailors to shore to isolate them. The rest of the 4,800-member crew is on board to run nuclear reactors, guard weapons and disinfect the ship.

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© 2020 USA Today