Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
House Armed Services Committee members have demanded answers about the U.S. Navy's abrupt dismissal of the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt after the leak of his letter to superiors calling for help with a coronavirus outbreak.
Capt. Brett Crozier was relieved of his command on Friday, four days after his letter asking for the Navy's help was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. In his letter, Crozier urged a “political solution” and “immediate and decisive action” as his crew dealt with the coronavirus outbreak.
“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.”
More than 110 of the roughly 4,800 crew members had tested positive as of Friday. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said he did not know how the letter was leaked to the media but said the captain should not have sent a “blast out” email to 20 or 30 recipients and that there was a “proper way of handling” his concerns.
“The letter was sent over non-secure, unclassified email even though that ship possesses some of the most sophisticated communications and encryption equipment in the fleet,” Modly said Thursday.
Following the Navy's announcement Thursday evening, leaders from the House Armed Services Committee issued a joint statement saying that “throwing the commanding officer overboard without a thorough investigation” was an “overreaction” and “destabilizing move.”
The committee chairman, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, and subcommittee chairs Reps. Joe Courtney of Connecticut and John Garamendi and Jackie Speier of California, all Democrats, said in their statement that Crozier “clearly went outside the chain of command” by sending the letter but that the timing of his dismissal “will likely put our service members at greater risk and jeopardize our fleet's readiness.”
“As the crew continues to grapple with this health crisis, the Navy should be focused first and foremost on the safety of our service members,” the Democrats said. “Once they are secured, there will be ample time to identify what went wrong and who is to blame.”
Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a member of the committee and a retired Marine Corps infantry officer, said that the Navy's decision “raises serious concerns.”
“I want to understand the full facts here. Our job is to supervise the Navy,” Moulton told Insider. “I'm not directly in the chain of command — but what I learned from my first day in the Marine Corps, is that telling the truth and having the courage to speak the truth to power is respected, not relieved.”
The incident raises additional questions about the Navy's leadership culture, Moulton said, adding that the service should have better prepared for potential coronavirus outbreaks aboard its ships.
“It's understandable that this is an easy [mode] for the virus to spread,” Moulton said. “But the Navy obviously knows this and, frankly, should have prepared more aggressively.
“They should have figured out a month and a half ago that they need to have testing capabilities on board aircraft carriers,” he added.
Two Democrats have since called on the Defense Department's inspector general to investigate whether Crozier's dismissal was appropriate.
“Secretary Modly's personnel action looks like retaliation and sends the message that the Navy does not want commanders to speak out to protect personnel,” Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Ruben Gallego of Arizona, an Air Force and Marine Corps veteran, respectively, said in a letter to the inspector general.
As of Friday morning, there were over 1,000 Defense Department employees who tested positive for the coronavirus, more than 300 of whom are in the Navy.
Read more from Business Insider:
- Videos show emotional send-off sailors gave aircraft carrier captain fired after warning of coronavirus outbreak
- Navy expects there will probably be 'hundreds' of coronavirus cases aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt
- Navy claims it fired the captain dealing with coronavirus outbreak for sending 'blast out' email to at least 20 people with 'unclassified' system