The Navy just experienced its “Mission Accomplished” moment in a true homage to former President George W. Bush.
The former captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt will not be reinstated as the ship’s commanding officer, nor will he be eligible for command, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told reporters during a Friday news conference.
Capt. Brett Crozier was fired on April 2 after the media published a leaked copy of his memo to 11 U.S. Pacific Fleet commanders warning the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak aboard his ship was out of control and sailors would die unless most of the crew were moved into individual rooms in Guam.
The initial rationale for relieving Crozier of command was he was reckless in sending his memo to so many people, but a deeper investigation into the outbreak found that Crozier allegedly moved too slowly to contain the disease and put the ship’s comfort above its safety by lifting the quarantine imposed in the aft portion of the ship, allowing many sailors to intermingle, Gilday said at a Pentagon news briefing.
Gilday conceded that he had recommended that Crozier should be reinstated as the Theodore Roosevelt’s commanding officer following the Navy’s preliminary inquiry, which finished in April.
But the command investigation found that Crozier and Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, who led the embarked carrier strike group at the time, were too slow in getting sick crew members off the ship and did not move sailors to safer environments quickly enough, Gilday said.
Specifically, Gilday faulted the ship’s command team for not moving sailors to temporary group living quarters on Guam, where beds were placed 6 feet apart.
But that excuse falls flat when one notes that Crozier wrote in his March 31 memo that group isolation was insufficient, noting that, In fact, two sailors berthed in an open bay gymnasium had already tested positive for COVID-19.
Baker’s promotion has been placed on hold, said Gilday, who added the investigation recommended administrative action be taken against Crozier, Baker, and the Theodore Roosevelt’s medical officer.
The later action is particularly galling considering The New York Times revealed in April that the carrier’s medical personnel estimated that more than 50 sailors could die of COVID-19. Former Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who later resigned, publicly accused Crozier of being an alarmist for warning his superiors of this fact.
Strangely – or perhaps not – Gilday did not fault Adm. Philip Davidson, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, who approved the Theodore Roosevelt’s visit to Da Nang, Vietnam in March – even though the investigation determined that is how sailors from the ship became infected with COVID-19.
In fact, Gilday took great pains to praise the due diligence that went into the Vietnam port call while insisting that the Navy was not holding Davidson and Crozier to a different set of standards.
“We found no fault with the rationale to make a decision to go into port,” GIlday said.
Prior to the visit, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control assured the Navy that it could believe the Vietnamese government, which was only reporting 16 cases of COVID-19 in Hanoi some 450 miles from Da Nang, Gilday said. The ship’s crew could only patronize establishments ashore that had been approved by the State Department.
“There were 39 members of the crew that we discovered had been in a hotel where there were two possible COVID cases,” Gilday said. “When we learned of that, we brought everybody ashore from liberty; the ship got underway the next day; those 39 people were tested and quarantined; none of the initial positives were among those 39 [sailors].”
However, Task & Purpose pointed out that Adm. Davidson still approved the Vietnam visit, which likely led to a COVID-19 outbreak that killed one of the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s crew: Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr.
When pressed on why the Navy is holding the Theodore Roosevelt’s captain to a higher standard than the senior leader who sent his ship to Vietnam, Gilday said the Navy “exhausted” several sources of information before deciding to go ahead with the visit.
Still, Task & Purpose asked how the Navy’s decision to discipline Crozier and not Davidson isn’t a clear-cut case of different spanks for different ranks.
“We took a look at that decision to go into port,” Gilday responded. “We found that decision was sound. There is additional information that led us to conclude that that was a sound decision; that risk was adequately considered and mitigated by a lot of those precautions that we put into place: testing, equipment, medical experts, testing symptoms of the crew on and off the ship; immediately securing liberty when we did find out that they could have been in contact with somebody in a hotel; getting underway within 24 hours.”
“So, there’s a number of things that Adm. Davidson was witting of that were justified – I think, that will bear the test of scrutiny,” he continued.
Shortly after Friday’s news conference, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee announced that Congress is launching its own investigation into the coronavirus outbreak aboard the Theodore Roosevelt to find out what mistakes senior Navy leaders made.
“Everyone up and down the chain of command had a role to play in the inadequate response – including then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Modly,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.). said in a statement. “The Department’s civilian leadership portrayed Captain Crozier’s decision-making aboard the Roosevelt as the critical weakness in the Navy’s response, but the truth is that civilian leadership was also to blame.”
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Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for nearly 15 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.