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Navy won't reinstate captain fired for raising coronavirus concerns

The Navy's top admiral also determined that Capt. Brett Crozier should not be recommended for further command, effectively ending his career.
Captain Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, speaks at sea
Capt. Brett Crozier addresses the crew of the Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2019.US Navy via Reuters file

The Navy has decided against reinstating Capt. Brett Crozier, who was relieved of his command after he sent a letter to his superiors pleading for help to contain a coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The Navy's top admiral also determined that Crozier should not be recommended for further command, effectively ending his career.

The decision by Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, amounts to a reversal of an earlier recommendation to restore Crozier as commander of the aircraft carrier.

"Capt. Crozier's primary responsibility was the safety and well-being of the crew so the ship could remain as operationally ready as possible," Gilday said Friday at a press briefing.

Gilday said Crozier and Rear Adm. Stuart Baker "did not do enough, soon enough, to fulfill their primary obligation and they did not effectively carry out our guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus."

Crozier had been awaiting his fate since April 2 when he was removed from his command following the leak of the memo he sent to Navy leadership.

The firing drew a firestorm of criticism from Democratic lawmakers and former military officials.

The then-acting Navy secretary, Thomas Modly, said Crozier had been removed because he sent the letter over "nonsecure unclassified email" to a "broad array of people" rather than up the chain of command.

"I have no doubt in my mind that Capt. Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest of the safety and well-being of his crew," Modly said in April. "Unfortunately, it did the opposite. It unnecessarily raised the alarm of the families of our sailors and Marines with no plans to address those concerns."

Modly later resigned after he ridiculed and then apologized to Crozier.

Crozier was given a rousing farewell by members of the nearly 5,000 person crew when he walked off the ship at a port in Guam. More than 100 crew members stricken with the virus had been removed from the aircraft carrier after it made port in the days after Crozier sent his letter.

NBC News reported in late April that top Navy officials recommended that Crozier be reinstated as commander of the Roosevelt.

But Acting Navy Secretary James E. McPherson then called for a deeper investigation into the circumstances surrounding Crozier’s firing, delaying an announcement about his fate.

At the Friday press briefing, Gilday said the expanded probe led him to conclude that "Capt. Crozier and Adm. Baker fell well short of what we expect of those in command."

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

Gilday said Crozier and Baker made a series of errors, including being slow to move sailors off the ship, failing to place them in a safer environment more quickly and releasing stricken sailors from quarantine in a way that "put his crew at higher risk."

The memo Crozier sent was "unnecessary," Gilday added, because officials had already taken action to secure hotel rooms for sailors infected with the virus.

Gilday announced that he was delaying the promotion of Baker, who was in charge of the strike group that included the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

"When obstacles arose, both failed to tackle the problem head on and to take charge," Gilday said. "And in a number of instances, they placed crew comfort in front of crew safety."