The US Navy announced on Friday that it was upholding the relief of Captain Brett Crozier, former captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The announcement is a reversal of the conclusions of the initial investigation of his firing in April, which came after an email he wrote urging the evacuation of the crew of the aircraft carrier following a coronavirus outbreak onboard was leaked to the press.
In a live-streamed Pentagon press briefing alongside Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite, Admiral Michael Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, stated:
“I will not reassign Captain Brett Crozier as the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, nor will he be eligible for future command. Captain Crozier will be reassigned.”
Gilday said that the determination to uphold the relief of Crozier was not due to the sending of the email or its subsequent leaking, but rather due to what Crozier did not do during the crisis, which included adherence to guidelines on handling patients, enforcing social distancing measures and communicating clearly with his chain of command. He added that had he known what he knew today, he would not have made the initial recommendation to reinstate Crozier, saying that “if Captain Crozier were still in command today, I would be relieving him. ”
Additionally, Rear Admiral Stuart P. Baker, commanding officer of Carrier Strike Group 9, who was aboard the Theodore Roosevelt at the time of the outbreak, will be censured for poor judgment. His scheduled promotion to two-star rank will be withheld while a further review is carried out.
Gilday stated that the investigation had not been able to identify patient zero of the outbreak aboard the Theodore Roosevelt, owing to the possibility of asymptomatic spread. However, the Navy was able to rule out carrier onboard delivery flights as the vector for the coronavirus.
In response to reporter questions, Gilday defended the decision for the Theodore Roosevelt to make a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam in March, stating that the CDC had advised them that Vietnamese authorities were being truthful about the severity of the outbreak there. He noted that 39 sailors initially quarantined, after it was discovered they had been in the same hotel as confirmed coronavirus cases tested negative for the coronavirus, and that the USS Bunker Hill that was pierside during the same port call never had any coronavirus cases.
Gilday denied that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had spurred the deeper investigation, saying that Esper had not approved or disapproved of the conclusions made by the initial investigation that recommended the reinstatement of Crozier.
While the conclusions of this second probe are likely to be final, the saga of Crozier’s dismissal seems far from over. The saga has already resulted in the resignation of former acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, and while the Theodore Roosevelt has since returned to sea after 10 weeks sidelined in Guam, an F/A-18F crew from the carrier had to eject over the Phillipine Sea on 18 June. While the crew was successfully rescued and are in “good condition”, it is not currently known what resulted in the ejection taking place.