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Navy: Capt. Crozier, former commander of USS Theodore Roosevelt, will not get his job back

In a Nov. 14, 2019 photo, Capt. Brett Crozier, then commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, addresses the crew during an all-hands call on the ship's flight deck.

NICHOLAS HUYNH/U.S. NAVY

By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 19, 2020

WASHINGTON — Capt. Brett Crozier, the former commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, will not be reinstated and the promotion of his senior officer will be delayed following a Navy investigation into the coronavirus outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier that left the ship docked in Guam for nearly two months, Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, said Friday.

“Both failed to tackle the problem head on and to take charge. And in a number of instances, they placed crew comfort in front of crew safety,” Gilday said about the investigation’s findings during a news briefing at the Pentagon.

The decision is a result of the Navy’s second investigation into the service’s response to the outbreak aboard the Roosevelt and the conduct of Crozier after the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier arrived in Guam on March 27 as the virus spread among the ship’s crew of more than 4,800 sailors, eventually infecting 1,273 sailors and killing one on April 13.

Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite and Gilday discussed the investigation’s results at the Pentagon on Friday afternoon. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was also briefed earlier in the day on the findings and supported the Navy’s decisions, according to a statement by Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman.

The investigation found Crozier’s actions did not meet the expectations of command, Gilday’s memorandum about the investigation states. He did not forcefully or quickly act on the best plans available to him or communication through his chain of command his concerns despite a number of opportunities. Crozier also did not ensure that he understood all the facts regarding the situation or include important members of his command in an email chain expressing his concerns.

Gilday's memo also recommended the events regarding the Roosevelt be used as a case study to “identify, analyze, and publish lessons learned regarding the importance of clear, forthright, appropriate communication during crisis action planning and crisis response.”

The House Armed Services Committee is also launching an investigation into the coronavirus outbreak aboard the Roosevelt "in order to better understand the full range of mistakes that were made throughout the entire chain of command," including civilian leadership, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the chairman of the committee, announced Friday after the release of the Navy investigation.

Crozier was relieved of his command April 2 by former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly after a letter the captain wrote detailing his concerns about controlling the coronavirus outbreak and requesting the crew be evacuated from the ship was leaked to the media. At the time Crozier was fired, more than 100 Roosevelt sailors had tested positive for the virus.

In a preliminary investigation in April, Navy leaders had recommended Crozier be reinstated to his command, Gilday said Friday. Based on the limited scope of that investigation, which looked into why Crozier sent the email and the justification for firing him, Gilday said he believed at the time that the facts did not warrant Crozier being fired.

But former acting Navy Secretary James McPherson requested another investigation April 29 after the initial report left him with “unanswered questions” and Esper had requested more time to review the report.

With the second investigation, Gilday said it was Crozier’s actions in response to the outbreak, not the leaked letter, that led to his decision not to reinstate Crozier.

“Had I known then what I know today, I would have not made that recommendation to reinstate Capt. Crozier. Moreover, if Capt. Crozier were still in command today, I would be relieving him,” Gilday said.

Gilday also said Crozier would not be eligible for a future command.

The Navy also delayed the promotion of Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 9 that included the Roosevelt, “pending further investigation,” Gilday said. Baker was the most senior officer on the Roosevelt when the outbreak occurred.

Baker and Crozier fell short of what was expected of them and “they did not do enough soon enough” to protect the safety and well-being of the crew from the spread of the coronavirus, according to Gilday.

“Ultimately, they were driven by the problem, instead of driving decisions. As Capt. Crozier stated in his email, he should have been more decisive when the ship pulled into Guam. He also said that he was ultimately responsible for his ship and his crew. And I agree,” Gilday said.

While Crozier did some things right, he also made poor decisions by placing the comfort of the crew above their safety, Gilday said.

According to the investigation, Crozier decided to lift the quarantine in the aft section of the ship because of the area was crowded and uncomfortable.

“However, he should have continued to contain the spread of the virus through quarantine while simultaneously doing everything possible to move the crew ashore,” Gilday's memo on the investigation states. “His determination that onboard quarantine was ineffective should have led to an acceleration of sailors to ashore accommodations. It did not.”

The investigation also found Crozier and Baker should have taken more initiative in the slow removal of sailors from the Roosevelt onto Guam. While Crozier’s letter requested individual hotel rooms become available faster, Gilday said the captain knew but he did not mention the negotiations to get the hotels or find out that the governor of Guam had already agreed to the Navy’s use of the hotels six hours earlier. Also, there were beds available on Naval Base Guam to quickly move sailors off the ship that were not being utilized.

“There were 700 beds unfilled. There were 500 the day before, there were 300 the day before that. So if I go back to the primary responsibilities of the [commanding officer] was the safety and well-being of the crew… I was not impressed by the slow egress off the ship, the lack of a plan to do so,” Gilday said.

kenney.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

 

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