A cheering and applauding crowd of sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt said goodbye to their captain, who was relieved of command after he raised concerns about a coronavirus outbreak on his ship in a letter that was leaked to the news media, videos show.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the ship's commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, who was ousted Thursday, "demonstrated extremely poor judgment" in the middle of a crisis. The Roosevelt is an aircraft carrier with a crew of nearly 5,000,
A video posted to Twitter shows sailors chanting "Cap-tain Cro-zier" as he disembarked. The user who uploaded the Twitter video captioned it, in part: "Wrongfully relieved of command but did right by the sailors."
In a statement provided to NBC News, a group of sailors on the ship said, "Modly has broken faith with the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt."
"There was nothing alarming or sensationalist in Capt. Crozier’s letter," the statement said. "It was simply a recitation of the bleak facts facing this warship. Capt. Crozier has the full faith and confidence of this crew, who would sail with him again at a moment’s notice."
The ship, which was operating in the Pacific, pulled into port in Guam last week, several days after multiple crew members tested positive for the virus. By Wednesday, there were 93 positive test results, and more than 1,000 people were taken off the carrier and placed into isolation on Guam.
Modly said Crozier was removed from his post because he sent his letter over "non-secure unclassified email" to a "broad array of people" rather than up the chain of command.
"I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest of the safety and well-being of his crew," Modly said. "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."
The decision, which Modly said was his own, was met with backlash, including from Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, who said the Navy's acting secretary "shot the messenger — a commanding officer who was faithful to both his national security mission and his duty to care for his sailors, and who rightly focused attention on a broader concern about how to maintain military readiness during this pandemic."
On Friday a group of 17 Senate Democrats, led by Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, called on the Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General to investigate the ship's outbreak and Crozier's ouster.
"We are particularly alarmed by the stark reversal from the Navy regarding CAPT Crozier’s leadership during this crisis," the group wrote in a letter to the inspector general, Glenn A. Fine. "One day before CAPT Crozier was relieved of command, the Acting Secretary of the Navy stated in reference to the Captain’s 30 March request for assistance that 'the fact that he wrote the letter to his chain of command to express his concerns would absolutely not result in any kind of retaliation.'"
Modly told Reuters on Friday an investigation would determine if Crozier should face disciplinary action.
"He'll get reassigned, he's not thrown out of the Navy," Modly said.