In reversal, Navy won't reinstate captain of coronavirus-hit aircraft carrier
By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a reversal, the Navy on Friday dismissed its recommendation to reinstate Captain Brett Crozier, instead confirming the decision to release him from his command of a coronavirus-infested aircraft carrier, where he became a hero to his crew.
The Navy said an in-depth investigation had revealed that even though Crozier begged top brass to do more to protect his sailors, he himself was not doing enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus. It eventually infected more than 1,200 people on board Theodore Roosevelt and killed one of them.
The Navy also announced plans to suspend the transportation of Crozier's then chief, Rear Admiral Stuart Baker, the commander of the carrier strike group. The decisions were first reported by Reuters.
Admiral Mike Gilday, chief of the naval operation and chief officer of the navy, had previously recommended that Crozier be reinstated in April after a preliminary investigation. A deeper look, however, said that both Crozier and Baker "fell far short of expectations".
"If I had known then what I know today, I would not have given this recommendation to reinstate Captain Crozier. If Captain Crosier were still in command today, I would also relieve him," said Gilday at a Pentagon press conference.
Gilday said Crozier would not qualify for a different command position and be reassigned. These steps seemed to be influencing Crozier's career effectively.
Some democratic lawmakers immediately questioned the Navy's judgment.
"We have serious reservations about this decision, which is surprising," said Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Van Hollen in a statement.
Congressman Adam Smith, the Democrat who heads the House Armed Services Committee, also blamed the Navy's civilian leadership and said his committee had launched its own investigation.
Crozier was celebrated as a hero by his crew because he risked his job by writing a letter that had leaked and called on the Navy to take greater protective measures.
He was fired by the Navy's top civilian, then-Marine Secretary Thomas Modly, but the decision failed. Crew members cheered their captain on an emotional farewell that went viral on social media (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4r3aRnKKxo), thanks to him for pursuing his career out of concern for their health had risked.
Embarrassed, Modly exacerbated his problems by flying to the aircraft carrier to mock Crozier about the leak and questioning his character in a speech to the Roosevelt crew, which had also leaked to the media. Modly then stepped back.
Although Modly fired Crozier for the leak, Gilday said his concern was about Crozier's handling of the outbreak itself.
The investigation found that the virus likely came on board the ship after a port visit to Vietnam in March, a country that was considered low-risk by the U.S. government at the time.
The virus spread far before the ship reached Guam harbor, and the Roosevelt chief doctor had estimated in a letter dated March 31 that at least 50 seafarers would die. The official threatened to forward the letter to the media "if no immediate action was taken," the investigation said. (https://www.secnav.navy.mil/foia/readingroom/HotTopics/TR%20INVESTIGATION/TR%20CI%20Report%20with%20CNO%20Endorsement%20(Redacted%20for%20release).pdf)
Crozier replied that this was not necessary since his letter raised these concerns.
Gilday accused Crozier of failing to take sufficient precautions for seafarers who were not in quarantine and to release seafarers who were quarantined too early. He said, "his crew was at higher risk and could have increased the spread of the virus."
"When obstacles came up, neither Crozier and Baker could address the issue directly and assume responsibility. In some cases, they put the comfort of the crew before the security of the crew," said Gilday.
The ship continued its operations with a new captain and a new commander of the strike group.
But since the return to the sea in May, it has not been smooth sailing for the Roosevelt. On Thursday, a fighter jet assigned to Roosevelt crashed in the Philippine Sea, although both planes were safely rescued on board.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; editing by Leslie Adler, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)
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