Navy Will Not Reinstate Captain Fired for Raising COVID-19 Concern

June 20, 2020 Updated: June 20, 2020

The U.S. Navy will not be reinstating Capt. Brett Crozier as the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s commanding officer after he was relieved for breaching protocol when asking Navy officials to pull crew off the ship amid an outbreak of the CCP virus that occurred in late March.

Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations and the Navy’s top officer, announced the decision following an in-depth command investigation by Adm. Robert Burke into circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, that struck personnel aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Gilday had in April recommended that Crozier be reinstated after a preliminary investigation. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper did not sign off on Gilday’s recommendation and instead sought a deeper investigation.

The command investigation (pdf) found that Crozier failed to effectively curb the CCP virus outbreak or properly communicate the escalating situation to senior commanders.

“Had I known then what I know today, I would have not made that recommendation to reinstate Capt. Crozier. Moreover, if Capt. Crozier were still in command today, I would be relieving him,” Gilday told a Pentagon news conference.

Captain Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, speaks at sea
Capt. Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, on the ship’s flight deck in the eastern Pacific Ocean on Dec. 19, 2019. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Huynh/Handout via Reuters)

Gilday also announced on Friday that Crozier’s boss at the time, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, the carrier strike group commander, will have his promotion for a second star be “delayed pending further examination.”

The investigation noted that the ship’s slow response to the virus was not Crozier’s fault alone and that Baker also failed to take decisive actions to address the problem. Both Crozier and Baker “fell well short” of expectations, Gilday told reporters, referring to the investigation.

Gilday said Friday that in several instances he believes Crozier put the crew’s comfort ahead of its safety. He said the commanders were slow to move the sailors off the ship and released sailors from quarantine in one area of the ship too quickly.

In a letter dated Friday, June 19 (pdf), Gilday noted that Crozier would not be eligible for another command position either at sea or ashore and would be reassigned. The letter also noted that Crozier’s “deep experience and strong history of performance should be positively considered in future assignments to key Navy positions.”

The Pentagon in a statement to The Epoch Times said that Esper believes that Burke’s investigation has been “thorough and fair,” and he “supports the Navy’s decisions based on their findings.”

“We are proud of the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt and am glad that they are back at sea in the western Pacific projecting American power,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman added.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, said Friday that the panel is launching its own investigation to better understand the situation.

Vietnam Port Visit

More than 1,000 sailors eventually became infected and one sailor died from the outbreak.

The investigation concluded that the likely source of the infection was from a port visit in Vietnam in March, a country the U.S. government considered low-risk at the time.

“On March 8, the Vietnamese government notified CSG-9 that sailors may have been exposed to COVID-19 during a stay at the Vanda Hotel in Da Nang, because two British citizens who had been guests of that hotel had tested positive for COVID-19,” reads the report.

Crozier in late March sent a letter to U.S. Navy officials asking them to pull most of the crew off the ship, adding that adopting proper isolation measures aboard was impossible. The letter leaked to the media the following day, on March 31.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier said in the memo, in which he implied that sailors would die unless the crew was taken off and the ship disinfected.

The Navy later announced that they had already been taking measures to evacuate the carrier—and that Crozier had been fired.

Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced on April 2 that Crozier would be removed from command of the vessel. Modly said that the letter, which was sent via non-secure unclassified email outside of the chain of command, had “raised alarm bells unnecessarily,” and “created the impression that the Navy was not responding to his questions.”

Modly later resigned on April 7, after he apologized for “any pain” that may have been caused by a speech he made following the firing of Crozier. Modly was replaced by Army Undersecretary James McPherson.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt ultimately spent weeks in port in Guam, where crew members rotated ashore for quarantine.

The carrier returned to operations at sea with a reduced crew on June 4, following about two weeks of training at sea.

Sailors have continued to fly back to the ship from Guam after they have completed two weeks of quarantine or recovered from the virus.

Allen Zhong, Simon Veazey, Reuters, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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