Navy Removes Commander Of Aircraft Carrier After He Criticized Coronavirus Response

Apr 2, 2020
Originally published on April 2, 2020 5:35 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt has been relieved of his command. The U.S. aircraft carrier has been hit by a major coronavirus outbreak. And in response, the captain of the ship wrote a scathing letter decrying the Navy's response. The letter was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, which led to a very public debacle for Navy officials. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now with more.

Hey, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So tell us more about who this captain is. What exactly was in this letter he wrote?

BOWMAN: Well, Capt. Brett Crozier wrote a March 30 letter to the Navy department of the Pentagon. And he said, decisive action is needed. He said the virus was accelerating aboard the ship, and he wanted the majority of personnel - 4,000 sailors - removed from the carrier so it could be disinfected. He wrote, we are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. And if the Navy didn't act, he wrote, it was failing its sailors. Now, at that point, Ailsa, the carrier was docked in Guam. Some sailors were being taken off, but he wanted to move much, much faster.

CHANG: And did the Navy take any steps to respond to Crozier's concerns?

BOWMAN: Well, Navy leaders, including Navy secretary Thomas Modly, just yesterday said Crozier acted properly by going through proper channels. And he and others said, at the time, that a thousand sailors were taken off the ship in Guam for testing. Again, this is yesterday. And he said another 1,700 would be taken off by tomorrow. More testing equipment, he said, and medical staff were being sent to the ship.

CHANG: OK. But Crozier has now been relieved of his command. Did the Navy cite any official reasons for doing that?

BOWMAN: Well, Secretary Modly told reporters today that he lost confidence in Crozier. He said he learned Crozier did not alert his immediate supervisor, sent that letter by unclassified email to as many as 30 people, some outside the chain of command. Modly wouldn't reveal who, but he said there's no evidence Crozier leaked the letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, which first reported the letter. He also said Crozier let his emotions get to him. And he said by saying things like, sailors do not need to die, he was alarming family members of the sailors. And Modly said to reporters in, really, response the Crozier's letter, the U.S. was not at war, but never are we truly at peace.

CHANG: All right. Well, putting this specific story aside, can we just pull back for a second? Talk about how has the coronavirus impacted the U.S. military overall so far.

BOWMAN: Well, this was the biggest cluster of virus cases in the military - aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The virus was pretty successfully beaten back in South Korea. But it's still (inaudible) the military. And cases are popping up by a few dozen each day. And the overall number in the military now is nearing 1,000. The military has postponed large training exercises because of it. Recruiting is going online, and travel has, basically, stopped. And also, service members coming back from overseas are being quarantined. And the military, again, is trying to maintain social distances. But sometimes, it's difficult, particularly on an aircraft carrier.

CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Thank you, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.