BLOOMBERG, APRIL 24, 2020
Defense Secretary Esper hasn’t made a decision after briefing | Crozier had pleaded with Navy to not let sailors die of virus
By Anthony Capaccio and Glen Carey for Bloomberg – Navy officials are recommending that the ousted captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt be returned to command of the aircraft carrier hit hard by the coronavirus, though Defense Secretary Mark Esper hasn’t made a final decision, according to a U.S. official.
Captain Brett Crozier was dismissed by then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly on April 2 for writing an impassioned memo beseeching the service to do more to remedy the increasingly dire situation aboard the carrier. Modly said Crozier failed to keep his concerns within the chain of command.
Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, briefed Esper Friday on the conclusion of an investigation that started after Crozier circulated his memo and ended with Gilday recommending the captain’s reinstatement. The New York Times first reported the results of the Navy probe and that Esper has delayed a decision on accepting the Navy’s conclusions.
Representative Adam Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Esper needs to reinstate Crozier. “During this time of crisis, Captain Crozier is exactly what our sailors need: a leader who inspires confidence,” Smith, a Democrat from Washington state, said in a statement.
In Crozier’s memo, which promptly leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, he said, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.” Crozier’s main request — that the vast majority of the crew be taken off the ship so the spread of the virus could be slowed and the ship cleaned — has now been fulfilled.
Modly’s response to the crisis — including his move to fly to the carrier sidelined in Guam where he denigrated Crozier to his crew as “stupid or naive” — led him to resign days later after issuing an apology.
The Navy said that as of Friday, all of the Roosevelt’s crew members had been tested for Covid-19, with 840 positive and 4,098 negative results. Of the positive cases, 63 sailors recovered. Almost all of the crew — 4,234 sailors — have been moved ashore. One sailor has died after getting treatment in an intensive care unit on Guam. Crozier, the captain, is among those who became infected.
The Navy also revealed Friday that a destroyer, the USS Kidd, was returning to port because 18 of its sailors tested positive for the coronavirus, with more expected. In an apparent reference to the Navy’s response to the outbreak on the Roosevelt, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said that the Navy, “using lessons learned from other cases,” responded quickly and flew a specialized medical evaluation team onto the Kidd to conduct testing.
President Donald Trump told reporters at a White House briefing on April 7 that he “had no role” in Modly’s resignation and that the secretary “did that just to end that problem.”
Trump has sent mixed messages about Crozier, saying he didn’t deserve to have his previously exemplary career ended but also that “I don’t think the captain should have been writing letters. He’s not Ernest Hemingway.”
That creates a dilemma for Esper, who has shown reluctance to disagree with Trump, unlike the president’s famously independent first defense secretary, Jim Mattis.
Hoffman, the Pentagon spokesman, told reporters earlier Friday that Esper “is generally inclined to support Navy leadership in their decisions, but he will go into it with an open mind.”
The Roosevelt episode has underscored broader turmoil in the Navy’s leadership and its relations with Trump. Modly had served as acting secretary since November. His predecessor as Navy secretary, Richard Spencer, was fired by Esper amid a Pentagon dust-up over Trump’s insistence that a Navy SEAL acquitted of murder should be allowed to keep a Trident decoration signifying his service.
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