Washington/Arlington: The Navy won’t return the ousted captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt to the aircraft carrier that was hit hard by the coronavirus, after an investigation that brought sharp criticism to top officials for not acting fast enough to get ahead of the outbreak.
Captain Brett Crozier will retain his rank but won’t return to the carrier or another command, Navy Admiral Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday. In addition, the commander of the Roosevelt strike group, Rear Admiral Stuart Baker, is having his promotion put on hold for now.
“I will not reassign Captain Brett Crozier as the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, nor will he be eligible for future command,” Gilday said. “It is my belief that both Admiral Baker and Captain Crozier fell well short of what we expect of those in command.”
Crozier was dismissed by then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly on April 2 for writing an impassioned memo beseeching the service to do more to remedy the increasingly dire situation aboard the carrier. The memo promptly leaked, and Modly said Crozier failed to keep his concerns within the chain of command.
Gilday said the investigation showed Crozier didn’t intend for the memo to leak, but in a scathing review he said neither Crozier nor Baker acted quickly enough to contain the outbreak once it was clear they had a problem.
“They were slow egressing sailors off the ship, and they failed to move sailors to available safer environments quickly,” Gilday said.
The report follows an in-depth review into the events surrounding the outbreak of Covid-19 after an earlier, narrower probe by the Navy. Gilday had initially recommended that Crozier be reinstated, but a decision was delayed for more review. That deeper investigation persuaded Gilday to change his mind, he said.
Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said that Defense Secretary Mark Esper backed the report’s findings, and the Navy chief said he didn’t discuss the issue with anyone at the White House. President Donald Trump has sent mixed messages about his view of what Crozier did.
Two Democratic lawmakers questioned the Navy’s shifting conclusions.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to take hold, there was no formal training in place and the military was responding – like the rest of the world – without clearly defined safety precautions,” Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said in a statement. “The Navy’s decision now seems to apply a retroactive standard and after-the-fact procedures and practices to justify Captain Crozier’s firing.”
The carrier set sail from Guam after about two months in port and is now near the Philippines. The crew underwent training exercises in social distancing and mitigation procedures and the ship is operating under a newly implemented Covid-19 standard operating procedure, the Navy said.
In Crozier’s memo, which leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, he said, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.” Crozier’s main request — that the vast majority of the crew be taken off the ship so the spread of the virus could be slowed and the ship cleaned — has now been fulfilled.
The Navy said all of the Roosevelt’s crew members had been tested for Covid-19, with more than 1,000 positive cases. One sailor from the Roosevelt died after receiving treatment in intensive care on Guam, according to the Navy.
The Navy has reported 2,850 Covid-19 cases so far, out of 8,824 for the U.S. military as a whole, according to the Pentagon.
The Roosevelt wasn’t the only vessel that had to return to port after an outbreak. The Navy said in April that the USS Kidd was doing so because 18 sailors on the destroyer tested positive for the coronavirus, with more expected. In an apparent reference to the Navy’s response to the outbreak on the Roosevelt, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said at the time that the Navy, “using lessons learned from other cases,” responded quickly and flew a specialized medical evaluation team onto the Kidd to conduct testing.
Modly resigned on April 7 after controversy over his decision to oust Crozier was compounded by his trip to the carrier where he denounced the former captain to his crew. Audio recordings surfaced of Modly saying that Crozier was “too naive or too stupid” to lead the ship.
Trump told reporters at a White House briefing on April 7 that he “had no role” in Modly’s resignation and that the secretary “did that just to end that problem.”
Trump has said previously that Crozier didn’t deserve to have his previously exemplary career ended but also that “I don’t think the captain should have been writing letters. He’s not Ernest Hemingway.”
The Roosevelt episode has underscored broader turmoil in the Navy’s leadership and its relations with Trump. Modly had served as acting secretary since November. His predecessor as Navy secretary, Richard Spencer, was fired amid a Pentagon dust-up over Trump’s insistence that a Navy SEAL acquitted of murder should be allowed to keep a Trident decoration signifying his service.-Bloomberg