The fired commander of a Navy aircraft carrier now pierside in Guam and stricken with the coronavirus could get his old job back following an official investigation by the vice chief of naval operations.
Senior Navy leadership will brief Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper on the results of their investigation into a coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and concerns over the crew’s health that resulted in the firing of Capt. Brett E. Crozier, the resignation of the secretary of the Navy and many of its 5,000 sailors being placed in quarantine.
On Friday, Mr. Esper received a verbal update from acting Navy Secretary James E. McPherson and Adm. Michael M. Gilday, chief of naval operations, on the Navy’s preliminary inquiry into the outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier.
“After the secretary receives a written copy of the completed inquiry, he intends to thoroughly review the report and will meet again with Navy leadership to discuss next steps,” Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said Friday.
The results of the inquiry could decide whether Capt. Crozier will be restored to command the aircraft carrier.
“He’s generally inclined to support Navy leadership in their decision,” Mr. Hoffman told reporters. But, “he’s going into this with an open mind.”
A senior Department of Defense official said the inquiry covered a “complex timeline of communications” between several U.S. Navy officers and response efforts crossing multiple commands and a dozen time zones. The information was briefed to Mr. Esper in a meeting lasting no more than an hour. The defense official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record about the inquiry, said it wasn’t focused solely on Capt. Crozier. Mr. Esper wants to make sure it can withstand scrutiny from Congress, the media along with the crew and their families, he said.
Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called Friday for Mr. Esper to reinstate Capt. Crozier to his former command.
“While Capt. Crozier’s actions at the outset of the health crisis aboard the [Roosevelt] were drastic and imperfect, it is clear he only took such steps to protect his crew,” said Mr. Smith, Washington Democrat. “Not only did Capt. Crozier have the full support of his crew, he also attempted to work within his chain of command. Captain Crozier is exactly what our sailors need: a leader who inspired confidence.”
The New York Times is reporting the inquiry will say Capt. Crozier should be returned to command but that hasn’t been independently confirmed.
“We are continuing to focus on getting the Teddy Roosevelt’s crew back to good health and back out to sea,” Mr. Hoffman said.
On April 2, Capt. Crozier was fired by then acting Navy secretary Thomas B. Modly after a letter he wrote pleading for help for his coronavirus-stricken crew was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Top military leaders in the Pentagon advised Mr. Modly to await the results of an investigation before removing Capt. Crozier from command to no avail.
Cell phone video clips spread around the world on social media of him leaving the ship to the cheers of his crew. In many quarters, Capt. Crozier was hailed as a hero willing to sacrifice his own career for his crew’s sake. He remains in isolation on Guam after contracting the coronavirus.
The video apparently prompted Mr. Modly to fly to Guam where he gave a short, profanity-laced speech to the crew over the ship’s intercom — at one point, calling Capt. Crozier “stupid” — before flying back to Washington, D.C. The uproar over the message quickly led to Mr. Modly’s resignation.
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