The Navy is upholding the decision to fire Capt. Brett Crozier, who was canned for taking issue with the coronavirus outbreak on his ship, according to reports Friday.
The move is an about-face for the Navy, which recommended in April that Crozier be reinstated.
Crozier was fired in March after begging Navy brass to quarantine his entire 5,000-member crew on the USS Theodore Roosevelt in an effort to contain the spread. At the time, more than 100 sailors had tested positive for COVID-19, though that number ballooned to at least 840 the next month.
The spread of the coronavirus aboard the carrier while on deployment in the Pacific in March exploded into one of the biggest military leadership crises of recent years. More than 1,000 members of the crew eventually became infected, and one sailor died. The ship was sidelined for weeks at Guam but recently returned to duty.
The veteran captain was dismissed by Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who, in a leaked speech, ripped Crozier’s leadership and called him “too naive or too stupid” to be in command.
The decision by Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, to hold both Crozier and his boss, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, accountable is a confirmation of concerns expressed by top Pentagon officials who demanded a deeper investigation last month when the initial probe recommended Crozier’s reinstatement as the ship’s captain. The official described the findings to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss a report not yet made public.
The investigation, done by Adm. Robert Burke and endorsed Friday by Gilday, defends the abrupt turnaround on Crozier, saying that the more detailed probe uncovered poor decisions he made that failed to stem the outbreak or properly communicate the escalating crisis to senior commanders. It also concludes that the ship’s slow response to the virus was not just his fault, and that Baker also failed to take decisive actions to address the problem.
Based on the findings, Crozier and Baker would be able to remain in the Navy and move on to other jobs at their current rank, but the admonishments are likely promotion-enders for both men. Crozier’s firing upset the carrier’s crew, and he received an ovation as he walked off the ship.
In late April, after a preliminary review, Gilday recommended that Crozier be returned to command the Roosevelt. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pressed for a delay and a wider investigation of the coronavirus crisis on the ship, suggesting the need for deeper scrutiny of actions and decisions by senior admirals in the Pacific, a region critical to America’s national security interests.
The COVID-19 outbreak on the Roosevelt was the most extensive and concentrated spread of the virus across the US military. It eventually sent all of the 4,800 crew members ashore for weeks of quarantine, in a systematic progression that kept enough sailors on the ship to keep it secure and running.
When the coronavirus outbreak was discovered on the Roosevelt, Crozier sent an email to several commanders pleading for more urgent Navy action, including the removal of nearly all sailors from the ship to protect their health. That email was leaked to media, and Modly accused Crozier of bad judgment and directed that he be relieved of command April 2.
Days later, amid an uproar of his handling of the matter, Modly resigned and was replaced as Navy secretary by James McPherson. Braithwaite’s nomination to be secretary was still pending at the time. He took over earlier this month after he was confirmed by the Senate. In the report Friday, Gilday concluded that Crozier did not intentionally leak the email.
The Roosevelt, meanwhile, spent weeks in port in Guam, as crew members rotated ashore for quarantine and isolation at the military base and in hotels around the island. After about two weeks of training at sea, the carrier returned to operations with a reduced crew on June 4. Sailors have continued to fly back to the ship from Guam after they have recovered from the virus or completed two weeks of quarantine.
On Thursday, two of the ship’s aviators ejected from their F/A-18 fighter jet while conducting a training flight and were rescued in the Philippine Sea and found to be in good condition. The incident is under investigation and it’s not clear whether the crew’s long layoff in Guam or rapid return to sea played any role in the crash.
With the Associated Press