Navy Captain Dismissed Over Virus Outbreak Fears Denied Reinstatement

U.S. Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), addresses the crew during an all-hands call on the ship’s flight deck while conducting routine operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean on Nov. 15, 2019. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Huynh via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Department of the Navy will not reinstate Captain Brett Crozier, who lost his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after raising concerns about a coronavirus outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier.

Admiral Mike Gilday told reporters Friday that an investigation revealed an “almost paralysis” among the command team, including Crozier, as the threat of an outbreak of Covid-19 aboard the carrier grew.

In addition to the decision on Crozier, Rear Admiral Stuart Baker, who leads the Theodore Roosevelt’s strike group, will have his promotion delayed as a result of the investigation.

“I found both from a standpoint of planning and execution that they fell well short,” Gilday told reporters Friday.

Crozier was relieved of his post in April after the leak of a 4-page memo he sent to Navy brass, warning of a worsening outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Video of his departure from the ship showed sailors cheering and chanting his name.

Afterward, then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly went aboard the ship and called Crozier “too naïve or too stupid” to lead the crew. Shortly thereafter Modly stepped down from his position.  

Gilday, the chief of naval operations, recommended that Croizier be reinstated following an initial probe into the events, but General Mark Milley, who serves as the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked for a more detailed investigation.

Explaining the difference between his initial suggestion and the announcement Friday, Gilday said the preliminary investigation was narrowly focused on Crozier’s memo, while the new probe went back farther, finding more faults in Crozier’s response to the outbreak. 

“Had I known then what I know today, I would have relieved him back then,” Gilday said.

He said the full investigation revealed no evidence Crozier leaked the memo or intended for it to leak, but that he was not proactive even as the Navy worked to support him and his crew.

“This is all about what Crozier failed to do in his span of control,” Gilday said.  

Gilday told reporters Crozier did not respond quickly enough to the outbreak aboard his ship while the ship was sailing to Guam, nor did he institute social-distancing recommendations as guidelines recommended. Gilday specifically pointed to the video of the sailors sending him off as an example of the lack of social distancing aboard the ship.  

In addition, Gilday said Crozier put “comfort in front of safety” by lifting quarantine on part of the ship and by not sending sailors to temporary bed space in Guam while the Navy worked to secure hotel rooms on the island.

Based on the recommendation, Crozier will not be able to hold command again but will otherwise not face additional punishment.

Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services’ Committee, said the committee will continue its investigation into the Covid-19 outbreak aboard the Theodore Roosevelt and that the Navy’s findings shows blame should be spread more broadly than just on Crozier.

“Everyone up and down the chain of command had a role to play in the inadequate response — including then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Modly,” Smith said in a statement Friday. “The department’s civilian leadership portrayed Captain Crozier’s decision-making aboard the Roosevelt as the critical weakness in the Navy’s response, but the truth is the civilian leadership was also to blame.”

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