Teddy Roosevelt might have been sympathetic. The US Navy, clearly was not.
Embarrassed by a very public scandal that made them look incompetent and uncaring, the Pentagon has publicly keel-hauled the commander of a US aircraft carrier for voicing legitimate concerns about his crew to Navy leaders during an onboard coronavirus outbreak.
Veteran Captain Brett Crozier was relieved of command days after writing a letter warning Navy leadership that decisive action was needed to save the lives of the ship’s crew, CNN reported.
“Today at my direction the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier, was relieved of command by carrier strike group commander Rear Admiral Stewart Baker,” acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said, during a Pentagon press briefing.
Modly told reporters that Crozier was not removed because of any evidence suggesting he leaked the memo to the press, but rather for allowing “the complexity of his challenge with the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally when acting professionally was what was needed the most at the time.”
“I have no information nor am I trying to suggest that he leaked the information. It was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. It all came as a big surprise to all of us that it was in the paper and that’s the first time I had seen it,” he added.
“What I will say, he sent it out pretty broadly and in sending it out broadly he did not take care to ensure that it couldn’t be leaked and that’s part of his responsibility in my opinion.”
The information in question was contained in a memo written by Crozier earlier this week to the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, the CNN report said.
“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,” it read, three US defense officials confirmed to CNN.
Modly said Crozier was relieved because he went outside the chain of command and sent his memo over an unsecured system adding to the chances it could be leaked, the CNN report said.
A US defense official told CNN earlier Thursday that 114 sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus.
“Decisive action is required. Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed US nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure,” he wrote in the memo.
“This is a necessary risk. It will enable the carrier and air wing to get back underway as quickly as possible while ensuring the health and safety of our Sailors. Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”
CNN previously reported that some of the sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt will be quarantined in hotel rooms in Guam as the number of coronavirus cases aboard the carrier continues to increase.
On Wednesday Modly said 1,273 of the ship’s roughly 4,800 crew members have been tested for the virus so far and the Navy was still awaiting the results of some of those tests, the CNN report said.
He said about 1,000 sailors of the 2,700 have been evacuated from the ship and moved ashore to Guam where the ship is currently in port.
The Navy’s action drew some sharp rebukes from high places.
In a statement, a group of top Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee sharply criticized the decision to remove Crozier, NBC News reported.
“The dismissal of Captain Crozier at this critical moment, as the sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt are confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, is a reckless, political move that reeks of undue command influence,” read the statement from chairman Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, subcommittee chairs Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut, Rep. John Garamendi of California and Rep. Jackie Speier of California.
Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts’s 6th congressional district, also tweeted this afternoon:
“I learned on my first day in the Marines that having the courage to speak truth to power is grounds for respect not grounds for relief. This is far from the first time in the last several years that Congress is going to have a lot of questions for Navy leadership — on leadership.”