191215-N-KB540-3097 PACIFIC OCEAN (Dec. 19, 2019) Capt. Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), gives remarks during an all-hands call on the ship’s flight deck Dec. 15, 2019. Theodore Roosevelt is underway conducting routine training in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alexander Williams)
UPDATE: Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly has resigned his position. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has accepted his resignation, and replaced him with Under Secretary of the Army James McPherson as the new acting Navy Secretary.
Captain Brett Crozier was relieved of his position as the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after his four-page memo to U.S. Navy officials requesting action to aid the warship was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. The San Francisco Chronicle acquired the document through an anonymous source and published it in an exclusive article on March 31, causing the story to be picked up by media outlets across the United States and around the world.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt docked at the Guam Naval Base on March 27 for a scheduled port visit. Prior to their arrival, three sailors had tested positive for COVID-19. As of today, there are 173 confirmed cases of COVID-19 aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, possibly including Crozier.
“I can tell you with great certainty, there’s going to be more. They’ll probably be in the hundreds,” said Thomas B. Modly, acting Secretary of the Navy.
Here are the facts so far:
The USS Theodore Roosevelt is a Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier, and is home to over 4,000 sailors. It docked in Guam last month for a scheduled port visit, amidst the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States is 386,571 at the time of publication. That includes 12,274 deaths and 21,316 recoveries. Worldwide, there have been more than 81,000 deaths.
Crozier was relieved of his command on April 2 after sending a four-page memo to more than 20 Naval personnel that detailed deteriorating conditions aboard the ship due to the coronavirus outbreak. He was replaced by Rear Admiral Stuart Baker.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors,” Crozier wrote in the memo, first made public by the San Francisco Chronicle. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”
Sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt gave a loud farewell to Crozier as he departed the warship after being relieved of his command. The video depicts a crew that supports Crozier.
Approximately 61 percent of the USS Roosevelt’s sailors have been tested for the virus, with 173 confirmed positive — possibly including Crozier himself. As of publication, none of them had yet required hospitalization.
Some of the sailors are asymptomatic, showing mild to moderate flu-like symptoms, while others have recovered from the effects of the virus.
Sailors are being off-loaded to hotels in the area of Guam to facilitate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to limit the spread of the virus and quarantine those infected. Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly stated, “We already have nearly 1,000 personnel off the ship right now. And in the next couple of days, we expect to have about 2,700 of them off the ship.”
It is not possible for all of the sailors to be removed from the ship due to mandatory staffing to maintain its critical functions, which include the warship’s armament and the nuclear reactor that powers the warship.
In a surprise address aboard the USS Roosevelt in Guam on April 5, Modly explained the decision to remove Crozier in audio released by Paul Szoldra of Task & Purpose: “[Crozier’s leaked memo] unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our sailors and Marines with no plan to address those concerns. It raised concerns about the operational capabilities and operational security of that ship that could have emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage, and it undermined the chain of command, who had been moving and adjusting as rapidly as possible to get him the help he needed.”
Modly went on to disparage Crozier, saying, “If he didn’t think, it was my opinion that if he didn’t think that information wasn’t going to get out into the public in this information age that we live in, that he was a) too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this. The alternate is that he did it on purpose, and that’s a serious violation of the uniform code of military justice, which you are all familiar with.”
During the same address to the warship, Modly referred to Crozier’s actions as a “betrayal” to him and the U.S. Navy’s chain of command.
Crozier is still actively serving in the U.S. Navy with his current rank of captain; his next duty station is yet to be released.
On Monday, Modly apologized to the U.S. Navy and Crozier after his remarks incurred a backlash from lawmakers, service members, and their families. “Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think and always believed him to be the opposite,” Modly said in a statement. “I also want to apologize directly to Captain Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of the Theodore Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused,” he added.
During a press conference on Monday, President Donald Trump said that he will investigate the issue. “I’ve heard very good things about the gentleman, both gentlemen,” Trump said. “I may just get involved … you have two good people, and they’re arguing. And I’m good, believe it or not, at settling arguments.”
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.