Navy admiral submits results of probe on virus-infected ship

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific. (Navy photograph by Seaman Kaylianna Genier)

The Navy’s top admiral on May 27 received the results of an internal investigation into the spread of the coronavirus aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the firing of the aircraft carrier’s skipper in April.

The report is not expected to be made public until decisions are made about potentially restoring Capt. Brett Crozier to command of the Roosevelt or disciplining other officers. It was submitted May 27 to Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations.

A Gilday spokesman, Cmdr. Nate Christensen, said the admiral is reviewing the report.

“It will take time for the investigation’s recommendations to be reviewed and endorsed by Admiral Gilday,” he said.

Among the questions the investigation was to address is how the coronavirus got aboard the Roosevelt, which was operating in the western Pacific when the first crew members fell sick in late March. As the virus spread, the carrier pulled into Guam on March 27 amid apparent disagreement within Navy leadership over how to proceed with evacuating the crew to limit the spread.

Crozier wrote a letter, which soon leaked to a California newspaper and beyond, pleading for faster Navy action to prevent COVID-19 deaths among his crew.

The acting Navy secretary at the time, Thomas Modly, ordered Crozier relieved of command in early April, saying he had distributed his letter too widely and shown poor judgment. Days after saying Crozier may have been “too naive or too stupid” to command an aircraft carrier, Modly resigned.

About 1,100 members of the Roosevelt crew eventually tested positive for the cornonavirus and one, Chief Petty Officer Charles Thacker, 41, died. Most have recovered from the illness, and the carrier last week departed Guam to prepare for a full return to duty in the Pacific. It was sidelined on Guam for nearly two months.

The report submitted to Gilday on May 27 was prepared by Adm. Robert Burke, the vice chief of naval operations, who had done a preliminary inquiry in April.

But after it was reviewed up the chain of command, James McPherson, who succeeded Modly as acting Navy secretary, ordered a fuller investigation. That initial report recommended that Crozier be restored to command, but that suggestion was set aside pending the outcome of the wider probe.

McPherson will be replaced on May 29 by Kenneth Braithwaite, who has been confirmed by the Senate as Navy secretary. After Braithwaite reviews the report it likely will be considered by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

The rapidly changing leadership atop the Navy is a reflection of tumultuous times during the Trump administration. President Donald Trump’s first Navy secretary, Richard Spencer, was fired in November 2019 after clashing with the White House over disciplinary actions involving a Navy SEAL.

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