U.S. Navy upholds sack of captain over COVID-19 outbreak on ship

U.S. warship commander Brett Crozier tests positive for COVID-19

Captain Brett Crozier

 

In a surprising reversal, the Navy has decided not to reinstate the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt and has halted the promotion of the rear admiral in his direct chain of command because of their handling of the COVID-19  outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier.

The outbreak aboard the ship sidelined the Roosevelt in Guam for more than two months and left a quarter of the 5,000 sailors aboard infected with the virus, including one who died.

Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, announced Friday that Capt. Brett Crozier will not be reinstated to his command and that the promotion of Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, the carrier’s strike group commander who also served on the Roosevelt, to become two-star admiral would be placed on hold.

Gilday decided on the actions after reviewing a broader investigation into the circumstances of the virus’ spread aboard the ship and the chain of command’s response.

The decision to uphold Crozier’s firing is a dramatic reversal from Gilday’s earlier recommendation in late April to take the unprecedented step of reinstating him to his command.

At a Pentagon news conference on Friday, Gilday said he had changed his opinion about reinstating Crozier after a broad investigation brought to light shortcomings about his decisions as the virus spread on the ship.

“It is my belief that both Adm. Baker and Capt. Crozier fell well short of what we expect of those in command,” Gilday told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. “Had I known then what I know today, I would have not made that recommendation to reinstate Capt. Crozier. If Capt. Crozier were still in command today, I would be relieving him.”

“They did not do enough soon enough to fulfill their primary obligation,” said Gilday. “And they did not effectively carry out our guidelines to prevent spread of the virus.”

Gilday said they were both slow in getting the sailors off the ship and into safer environments after the carrier arrived in Guam for a scheduled port call.

The Navy’s top admiral said Crozier had exercised questionable judgment in releasing some sailors from quarantine on the ship, which may have increased the spread of the virus aboard the carrier.

“When obstacles arose, both failed to tackle the problem head on and to take charge, and in a number of instances they placed crew comfort in front of crew safety,” said Gilday.

Crozier was relieved of command in March shortly after the carrier had arrived in Guam after the first cases of the coronavirus were discovered aboard the ship. Crozier wrote and then sent a letter — allegedly around his chain of command — asking for more Navy assistance to stem an outbreak on his ship.

The letter was eventually leaked and published by a newspaper. The resulting controversy led to a series of events that resulted in Crozier’s firing by Thomas Modly, the acting secretary of the Navy.

Modly resigned days later, after he made disparaging remarks about Crozier to the ship’s crew, labeling him as “too stupid or too naive” to think that the letter would not have become public.