Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Friday that firing Capt. Brett Cozier, who penned a letter published by the San Francisco Chronicle seeking help for a coronavirus outbreak aboard his ship was the “hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do.”

“I know that in my heart and in the heart and mind of this particular officer, every single thing that he was doing was [with] the best interests of the crew in mind, for their lives and their safety,” Modly said in an interview. “I know that he loves this crew. I know that the crew loves and respects him. But that’s not an excuse for exercising the judgment that he did,” Modly said. “So it was very, very difficult for me. I had wished that I would never have to make a decision like this.”

Crozier’s firing came after he wrote a scathing letter to Navy leaders criticizing their handling of the coronavirus outbreak on his ship, the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

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“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Crozier wrote. “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.”

“Due to a warship’s inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this,” he added. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”

Crozier received a momentous farewell from his crew. The crew cheered and applauded their ousted captain, breaking from traditional military behavior in a video that has since gone viral.

Sending the letter broke navy protocol, but not the law.

Modly’s decision to fire Crozier, was based in the fact that he did not follow the proper chain of command in reporting his concerns. He also blamed Crozier for sending the letter over “non-secure, unclassified email,” despite it not containing any classified information.

“This is not an indictment of his entire career,” Modly said of ousting Crozier. “He’s had an absolutely incredible career. I’m envious of it. He’s done some amazing things. But at this particular time, I needed a CO there that could help manage us through this crisis, and I just didn’t think — based on those actions — that [he] could do that.”

Modly said Friday that Crozier is being reassigned rather than discharged.

About 140 people on the ship have tested positive for COVID-19, Modly said Friday. Of that, 42 are asymptomatic and 95 are expressing “largely mild to moderate flu-like symptoms.”