- Navy leaders have recommended that Capt. Brett Crozier, former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, be reinstated, The New York Times first reported and multiple other outlets confirmed.
- Secretary of Defense Mark Esper received the recommendation but has not yet made a final decision on Crozier’s fate.
- Crozier was relieved of his command in early April after a letter he wrote warning about a worsening coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt leaked to the media.
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US Navy leaders recommended the reinstatement of Capt. Brett Crozier, the former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt who was fired over a leaked coronavirus warning, The New York Times reported Friday afternoon.
The recommendation was delivered by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and acting Secretary of the Navy James McPherson to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who has reportedly requested more time to make his decision on the former carrier captain.
Gilday and McPherson, according to The Times, determined last week that Crozier should not have been removed from his position as captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Their recommendation was presented to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley on Tuesday and Esper on Friday.
Following the reports on the Navy’s decision, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that “this afternoon, Secretary Esper received a verbal update from the acting Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations on the Navy’s preliminary inquiry into the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.”
“After the Secretary receives a written copy of the completed inquiry, he intends to thoroughly review the report and will meet again with Navy leadership to discuss next steps. He remains focused on and committed to restoring the full health of the crew and getting the ship at sea again soon.”
Lawmakers have weighed in on the decision, urging Esper to reinstate Crozier. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith wrote Friday, “During this time of crisis, Captain Crozier is exactly what our Sailors need: a leader who inspires confidence … Captain Crozier should be reinstated to his command immediately.”
The saga of the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the coronavirus outbreak aboard the carrier has been an unusual ride, one that has seen a ship captain relieved of his command, hundreds of sailors fall ill, and the resignation of an acting Navy secretary.
The Navy revealed that there had been a coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt on March 24. The number of sailors who tested positive quickly multiplied, growing rapidly from just three to a few dozen in a matter of days.
The carrier was forced into port in Guam, where it has been sidelined for a month.
On March 30, Crozier sent an email to three admirals in his chain of command and copied seven Navy captains, The Washington Post reported.
He said in the email: “I believe if there is ever a time to ask for help it is now regardless of the impact on my career.”
Attached to the email was a four-page letter warning that the situation aboard the carrier was worsening and urging the Navy to quickly evacuate the crew. “Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote.
That letter leaked to The San Francisco Chronicle and was published in full on March 31.
Two days later, then-acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly announced he had decided to relieve Crozier of his command.
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Modly did not directly accuse Crozier of leaking the letter but said he allowed it to be distributed outside the chain of command, making it susceptible to a leak. He said the captain “demonstrated extremely poor judgment in the middle of a crisis.”
The acting secretary later revealed to The Washington Post that he moved swiftly to fire Crozier, even as other military leaders recommended first conducting an investigation, because he was concerned that President Donald Trump might feel the need to intervene.
An investigation, which informed the recommendation of Navy leaders, was launched after the captain was relieved of his command.
The day after Modly’s announcement, videos of captain leaving the ship surfaced online. The videos showed his crew cheering and chanting his name.
On April 6, Modly, who flew out to Guam at a cost of $243,000 to taxpayers, spoke to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. In a profanity-laced speech, he sharply criticized Crozier for perceived failings and expressed frustration with the crew’s love for their captain.
After transcripts and audio recordings of the speech leaked to the media, Modly issued a statement saying he stood by every word. Later that day, he issued a follow-up statement apologizing to the Navy, Crozier, and the carrier crew.
Modly resigned on April 7, submitting his resignation to the secretary of defense.
As the Navy continued its investigation into Crozier’s actions, it has also continued its battle the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
The aircraft carrier is mostly empty at the moment, as roughly 88% of the crew of roughly 4,800 sailors has been moved ashore. As of Friday, a total of 856 sailors aboard the aircraft carrier had tested positive for the coronavirus. A number of sailors have been hospitalized, and one sailor assigned to the carrier has died.
Update: This article has been updated with comment from the Department of Defense, as well as congressional leaders.