A large crowd of service members gave a warm send-off to the former captain of a San Diego-based aircraft carrier, whose widely-publicized letter asking for help from Navy leadership regarding a COVID-19 outbreak aboard his ship resulted in his firing.
Video footage posted on social media showed a raucous crowd of sailors chanting Capt. Brett Crozier’s name as he departed the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is currently docked in Guam, where the Navy is working to move around 3,000 of its sailors off the carrier. More than 100 sailors have tested positive for COVID-19 so far.
Crozier was relieved of duty on Thursday, after his letter requesting immediate action from the Navy was also copied to “20 or 30 other people,” which may have been conducive to its eventual leak to the media, according to Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.
In a Thursday Pentagon news conference announcing Crozier’s firing, Modly said he had no information to suggest Crozier directly leaked the letter, which first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday. However, he did note that the letter was first publicized in Crozier’s “hometown paper.” Crozier is a Santa Rosa native.
Though Modly credited Crozier for voicing his concerns, he said the letter misrepresented the state of the situation onboard, incited panic, and created the perception that the Navy was only responding to assist the sailors because of his letter.
In the videos, Crozier is seen walking down the ship’s gangway amid an eruption of cheers, applause, and chants of “Captain Crozier!” then turning and saluting the crew.
One man who recorded footage is heard saying, “That’s how you send off one of the greatest captains you ever had,” calling Crozier, “the GOAT” or greatest of all time, and “the man for the people.”
Crozier’s letter stated the COVID-19 infection aboard his ship would spiral if immediate action was not taken. Modly said similar concerns were also expressed by the ship’s medical team.
In his letter, Crozier said the crew had undertaken some measures to slow the virus’ spread, including moving a small percentage of the crew off- ship, increasing cleaning of the ship and attempting social distancing wherever possible.
However, he warned, “The current strategy will only slow the spread. The current plan in execution on TR will not achieve virus eradication on any timeline.”
Modly said the Navy responded to the outbreak by immediately working to move most of the sailors off the ship, yet Crozier’s letter made it appear otherwise. The secretary said Crozier “raised alarm bells unnecessarily” and “demonstrated extremely poor judgment in the middle of a crisis.”
Though he called Crozier “an honorable man,” he said relieving him of command was in the “best interests” of the Navy, which he said required more focused leadership in the face of various threats, including COVID-19.
“I did not come to this decision lightly. I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interests of the safety and wellbeing of his crew. Unfortunately, it did the opposite,” Modly said.
To the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s crew, Modly said: “I am entirely convinced that your commanding officer loves you and that he had you at the center of his heart and mind in every decision that he has made. I also know that you have great affection and love for him, as well. But it is my responsibility to ensure that his love and responsibility for you is matched, if not exceeded by, his sober and professional judgment under pressure.”
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