The commander of USS Theodore Roosevelt hit by Covid-19 has been relieved of duty, with the military stating he was “overwhelmed” by the crisis, after writing a letter pleading for infected sailors to be evacuated.
The head officer aboard the carrier, Captain Brett Crozier, was removed from his post, the Navy said in a statement, taking him to task for “causing alarm” with a letter sent directly to senior officials as scores of sailors on the aircraft carrier contracted the lethal coronavirus, skipping several rungs on the chain of command.
The captain’s letter urgently requested an immediate evacuation of the ship to “prevent tragic outcomes,” striking a dire tone after more than 100 sailors became infected and the Roosevelt was forced to dock in Guam.
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.
Though Crozier’s request was ultimately granted earlier on Thursday, the military insists his sacking was in the “best interest of the Navy and nation.”
Thousands of the ship’s crew members have now been allowed to disembark to hotels on the island to avoid further illness, but the Navy questioned Crozier’s judgement, stating he was “absolutely correct” to raise concerns, but took issue with “the way in which he did it.”
“I have no doubt in my mind Captain Crozier did what he thought was best for the health and safety” of his crew, said acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, adding “unfortunately, it did the opposite,” potentially emboldening “adversaries” into taking advantage of the Roosevelt’s vulnerable state.
The Navy faced fierce criticism after Crozier’s firing, some insisting he was “punished for his integrity,” while others suggested he would have faced less retaliation had he violated the laws of war “instead of trying to save his sailors.”
Others noted the captain knew what would happen if he sent the letter but still hailed his “sacrifice,” however a handful were less sympathetic, arguing Crozier “deserved” to be sacked for breaking the chain of command.
Not long after the captain’s letter was sent, appearing prominently in a flurry of press reports, the Pentagon locked down information regarding infected soldiers, refusing to share data beyond “aggregated numbers” as it could reveal weak points in US forces.
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the US military, forcing the Pentagon to recall 20,000 troops from NATO’s massive Defender Europe 2020 drill, set to be the alliance’s largest exercise in 25 years. Outbreaks have been reported on at least four Navy warships – including the Roosevelt – while airbases across the US have gone on high alert after airmen contracted the illness. In hopes of stemming the spread of the disease, the military has also halted all major troop movements worldwide, excluding only the withdrawal from Afghanistan.