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Aircraft carrier captain dismissed after sounding alarm on COVID-19 outbreak

Capt. Brett Crozier, seen here addressing the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt in November 2019, has been relieved of his role as the ship's leader, acting secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly announced Thursday. Photo by Sean Lynch/U.S. Navy
Capt. Brett Crozier, seen here addressing the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt in November 2019, has been relieved of his role as the ship's leader, acting secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly announced Thursday. Photo by Sean Lynch/U.S. Navy

April 2 (UPI) -- Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, who earlier this week pleaded with Navy officials to provide more resources for sailors amid a coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Rooosevelt, has been relieved of his position, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly said Thursday.

Modly's announcement comes one day after he said the Navy was not likely to punish Crozier for writing the letter unless it turned out Crozier had leaked it.

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That letter, sent to Navy leaders Monday, said the spread of coronavirus on the aircraft carrier was "ongoing and accelerating" and that sailors showing symptoms needed to be off-boarded.

"I don't think I'll ever know who leaked the information," Modly said. "What I will say, he sent it out pretty broadly and in sending it out pretty broadly, he did not take care to ensure that it couldn't be leaked, and that's part of his responsibility, in my opinion."

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At a Pentagon press briefing Thursday Modly said Crozier had "allowed the complexity of his challenge with the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally when acting professionally was what was needed most at the time."

Modly also said Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday has directed Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke to conduct an investigation into the "circumstances and the climate across the entire Pacific fleet to help determine what may have contributed to this breakdown in the chain of command."

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According to Modly, the Navy had "already mobilized significant resources for days" in response to Crozier's previous requests, and had used "non-secure, unclassified email" to send his message and that he had failed to work through and with his strike group commander to address his concerns.

"Worse, the captain's actions made his sailors, their families and many in the public believe that his letter was the only reason help from our larger Navy family was forthcoming, which was hardly the case," Modly said.

The House Armed Services Committee issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying Crozier's dismissal is a "destabilizing move that will likely put our service members at greater risk and jeopardize our fleet's readiness."

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"The COVID pandemic presents a set of new challenges and there is much we still do not know. Captain Crozier was justifiably concerned about the health and safety of his crew, but he did not handle the immense pressure appropriately. However, relieving him of his command is an overreaction," the statement said.

According to Modly, as of Thursday 114 sailors have tested positive for coronavirus.

"I can tell you with great certainty there's probably going to be more. It'll probably be in the hundreds," Modly added, but none of the sailors has been hospitalized.

On Wednesday Navy officials said they were working to isolate and test 1,000 crew members in Guam, where the ship has been docked since last week, with a plan to rotate the ship's crew of nearly 5,000 in shifts as they recover or come out of quarantine.

Thursday Modly said the Navy has "freed up" 1,700 beds for sailors on the island but did not give a detailed update on the efforts to contain the outbreak.

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