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The Navy Captain who was relieved of duty after blowing the whistle on a coronavirus outbreak aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier received an ovation of support and applause from his crew after leaving the ship Thursday night.
Capt. Brett Crozier, the now former commanding officer aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt was ousted from his post by Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly during a press briefing at the Pentagon Thursday afternoon. Crozier had written a revealing memo to 20 to 30 of his Navy superiors criticizing how they were handling the growing coronavirus outbreak aboard his ship. At the time the memo was written, 33 crew members had contracted the deadly respiratory disease. He sent the letter using what the Navy called an “unclassified” and “non-secure” email address. The letter was later leaked and published in the San Francisco Chronicle Tuesday.
“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Crozier wrote in the memo. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”
Upon finding out about the outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier over a week ago, the U.S. Navy docked the ship in Guam and quarantined the sailors aboard in hotels on the island, according to NPR.
Crozier will remain in the Navy and keep his rank, but he will no longer lead the aircraft carrier with a crew of more than 4,000 navy members. A video posted to Twitter Thursday night showed hundreds of his crew members applauding and yelling "Captain Crozier" as he disembarked the U.S.S. Roosevelt for the last time.
Friday morning, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt that firing Crozier was the hardest decision he’s ever had to make, but that Crozier’s failure to report his grievances through the proper channels left him no choice. Modly said that Crozier should have used the direct line established with his superiors days before the memo was written.
"I know that in my heart and in the heart and mind of this particular officer, every single thing that he was doing was [with] the best interests of the crew in mind, for their lives and their safety," Modly said. “I know that he loves this crew. I know that the crew loves and respects him. But that's not an excuse for exercising the judgment that he did."
Modly also said that he didn’t want this incident to ruin Crozier’s 28-year-long tenure in the U.S. Navy.
"This is not an indictment of his entire career," Modly said of Crozier. "He's had an absolutely incredible career. I'm envious of it. He's done some amazing things. But at this particular time, I needed a CO there that could help manage us through this crisis, and I just didn't think — based on those actions — that [he] could do that."
As of Friday morning, there were a total of 137 confirmed COVID-19 cases aboard the U.S.S. Roosevelt, a U.S. defense official told CNN. Modly told Hewitt that 42 of these sailors were asymptomatic while the other 95 were experiencing flu-like symptoms. In total, the cases aboard the U.S. Roosevelt represent more than 10% of all confirmed cases across all of the country’s military branches.
Cover: Photos via the Navy