Navy won't reinstate fired captain

The Navy will not reinstate the fired commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier following an investigation of leadership’s handling of a coronavirus outbreak onboard in March.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said on Friday that the service will uphold its firing of Capt. Brett Crozier, who was removed from his post after a letter he wrote pleading for help with the outbreak leaked to the media.

“He will not be reassigned nor will he be eligible for future command,” Gilday told reporters at the Pentagon. 

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The Navy will also place a hold on the promotion of Rear Adm. Stu Baker, the one-star commander of Carrier Strike Group 9 and the senior officer onboard the Roosevelt at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak, Gilday said.

Both men will be able to remain in the Navy though it’s likely the saga will put an end to their careers.

The Navy’s decision to stand by Crozier’s firing is an about face from April, when a preliminary investigation recommended that the captain be reinstated.

A wider investigation, started in April after the preliminary probe, then led Gilday to conclude that “Capt. Crozier and Adm. Baker fell well short of what we expect of those in command.”

“Had I known then what I know today, I would have not made that recommendation to reinstate Capt. Crozier,” Gilday said. “Moreover, if Capt. Crozier were still in command today, I would be relieving him.”

Top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement later on Thursday that Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite briefed Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperDuckworth to block military confirmations until Esper proves Vindman will be promoted House panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal House panel votes to ban Confederate flag at Pentagon property MORE on the finished investigation, which he believes “to have been thorough and fair and supports the Navy’s decisions based on their findings.”

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The wrapped investigation marks the end of a contentious few months in the Navy, which came under fire for its handling of the pandemic after an outbreak aboard the Roosevelt forced it to dock in Guam.

Crozier prior to the ship docking wrote a letter to Navy leadership, leaked in the media, in which he warned of dire consequences if most of the crew on board the Roosevelt wasn’t evacuated.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

Crozier was then swiftly fired by then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who argued that while Crozier may not have been wrong to write the letter, he sent a copy to too many people, failing to ensure it wasn’t leaked to the media.

Video then emerged on social media of Crozier getting a hero’s sendoff from his crew, with hundreds gathered on the ship to applaud and cheer his name.

Modly responded to the incident by traveling to Guam to give a speech aboard the Roosevelt where he called Crozier “stupid” or “naïve,” prompting him to later resign and apologize.

The Roosevelt would remain in Guam for two months and more than 1,000 sailors would be diagnosed with COVID-19. One sailor died from the virus.

In the wider investigation, completed by Adm. Robert Burke, the Navy backs Crozier’s swift departure, saying that the captain did not quickly or forcefully enough “execute the best possible and available plan,” to protect sailors from the illness.

“When faced with barriers . . . Capt. Crozier waited for others to act rather than doing what we expect of our commanding officers – to take immediate and appropriate action and to drive outcomes,” the report states.

The probe also found that Crozier was not solely responsible for the ship's slow response to the quickly spreading virus, as Baker also did not take necessary steps to fix the issue.

Gilday stressed that Crozier was not let go due to the leaked email, as the captain did not intend such an outcome, rather, the email was “unnecessary,” as actions were already underway to dock in Guam and remove sailors at the time the message was sent.

Moreover, Crozier and Baker failed to move sailors off the ship quickly and put the crew at higher risk by releasing stricken sailors from quarantine in a manner that “put his crew at higher risk.”