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USS Theodore Roosevelt sets sail after battling coronavirus for nearly two months on Guam

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is moored at Naval Base Guam, Friday, May 15, 2020.

U.S. NAVY

By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 20, 2020

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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has returned to sea after spending nearly two months sidelined at Guam to battle a coronavirus outbreak on board, the Navy announced Thursday.

The carrier left Naval Base Guam and entered the Philippine Sea on Thursday to conduct carrier qualification flights for Carrier Air Wing 11, a statement said.

“It feels great to be back at sea,” Rear Adm. Stu Baker, commander of Carrier Strike Group 9, said in the statement. “Getting Theodore Roosevelt and Carrier Air Wing 11 one step closer to returning to their mission in the Indo-Pacific is a great achievement for the crew.”

To maintain social distancing on board, only crewmembers essential to the carrier flight qualifications set sail with the ship. The Navy in a statement Monday said the remaining sailors would stay on Guam to support crewmembers still in quarantine.

“We are scaling our manning on board based on our mission requirement,” Roosevelt commander Capt. Carlos Sardiello said in the Thursday statement. “Carrier qualification requires fewer personnel than other missions and bringing fewer sailors on board will enable enhanced social distancing while underway.”

After qualification flights end, the remainder of the crew will re-embark, according to the Monday statement.

The Roosevelt had been deployed to the Western Pacific when it diverted to Guam on March 26 after several of its sailors tested positive for the coronavirus. Since then, more than 1,150 Roosevelt sailors have tested positive, one of whom died, according to the Navy.

The carrier has been away from its San Diego homeport since it left for patrol on Jan. 17.

As many as 13 sailors from the Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus a second time, according to The Associated Press. Those sailors and a number of others who had contact with them were removed from the ship.

Most of the 4,800-person crew disembarked and were isolated last month as the carrier was sanitized. The Navy began moving sailors back aboard the Roosevelt on April 29 after all crew members were tested for the virus.

The carrier took its first steps toward redeploying on Sunday when sailors began a simulation called a “fast cruise” while moored at Naval Base Guam.

During a fast cruise, typically one of the final steps before a Navy vessel sets sail, crews “simulate normal underway conditions while testing the critical systems required to sustain the ship during its upcoming underway operations,” the Navy said in the Monday statement.

During the fast cruise, the crew also practiced new measures aimed at curbing a viral spread. They included adjusted meal hours, minimizing in-person meetings, sanitizing, wearing masks and “medical surveillance of 100% of the crew,” according to the Thursday statement.

Sardiello told CBS News on May 5 that crewmembers still in quarantine would be left behind when the ship steamed back to sea.

Sardiello took over for Capt. Brett Crozier, the carrier’s former commander, when then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly removed Crozier from command in April.

A letter Crozier had written Navy higher-ups pleading for help for his crew was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle and picked up by worldwide media.

“The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating,” Crozier wrote March 30. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.”

A report on the handling of the outbreak is due to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday next week. Crozier’s removal prompted an inquiry into the situation, which led Gilday to order the follow-on investigation.

Modly received backlash from sailors and lawmakers for removing Crozier. Video of thousands of Roosevelt sailors chanting Crozier’s name as he walked off the carrier for the last time flooded social media and members of Congress released messages of support for Crozier.

Modly resigned about a week after removing Crozier when a recording of his speech to the Roosevelt’s crew criticizing the former skipper and calling him “stupid” was leaked to the public.

The investigation, due to Gilday by Wednesday, will “provide a more robust documentation of events and give a fuller consideration of the circumstances surrounding the matter,” Gilday spokesman Cmdr. Nate Christensen said in a statement last month.

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos