Navy Capt. Brett Crozier was relieved of command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier on Thursday after a letter penned by Crozier, calling for the immediate evacuation of the vessel to prevent a coronavirus outbreak was leaked to the press. The ship is currently docked at a naval base in Guam.
After Crozier’s dismissal, videos surfaced online of Sailors cheering and clapping for the relieved captain as he departed the Roosevelt for the last time. One Sailor said, “now that’s how you send out one of the greatest captains we ever had.” Acting US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly defended the decision to fire Crozier on Friday.
Modly said Crozier put the ship and crew “at risk” by sending the letter. Modly’s reasoning is that the letter could give America’s “adversaries” in the region the idea that the USS Theodore Roosevelt is crippled, which Modly says is not true.
In the letter, dated March 30th, Crozier demands that the majority of the ship’s personnel are removed and quarantined to slow the spread of coronavirus. Crozier explains that in combat, Sailors are expected to take certain risks that are “not acceptable in peacetime.” The letter reads, “we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single Sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily.”
Navy officials do not know who leaked Crozier’s letter to the press. Modly criticized Crozier for sending it to 20 or 30 other people that were not in the chain of command, although the letter did not have any classified information.
After reports of confirmed cases onboard the Roosevelt, a direct line was set up between Modly and Crozier. Modly claims Crozier never used that line and said he was blindsided by the letter. But a Navy source told Foreign Policy that going around Crozier’s chain of command in the Pacific’s Seventh Fleet would have been career suicide in itself. As the source put it, “either you want to be shot or you want to be hung.”
Crozier’s immediate superior was onboard the Roosevelt at the time the letter was published. Modly said Crozier should have taken his concerns to his superior officer instead of sending the letter. A Navy official told The New York Times that Crozier had repeatedly asked his superiors for “speedy action to evacuate the ship,” and the letter came after those requests.
Modly also said on Friday that Crozier is being reassigned and not discharged from the Navy. Approximately 1,000 crewmembers of the Roosevelt have left the ship already, and another 2,700 are expected to leave and be quarantined in local hotels in Guam. Before Sailors began departing the vessel, the Roosevelt had a crew of almost 5,000. As of Friday, about 150 of those crew members tested positive for coronavirus.
Military analysts and former Navy officials are surprised that a 28-year Navy veteran like Crozier would take such a drastic measure and go outside the chain of command like he did. One former Navy official asked, “Why wasn’t there an investigation done before the captain was relieved? Because clearly somebody in his position — a carrier CO who was headed upward with a bullet — why would he do this if he hadn’t been stymied somewhere in the chain of command?”