WASHINGTON — The commander of the US aircraft carrier that has been hit hard by COVID-19 has been relieved of command for showing “poor judgment” after writing a forceful memo pleading Navy leadership for action to save the lives of the ship’s crew.
One member of the House Armed Services Committee warns this may be a precedent to wider coverups regarding the military and COVID-19.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told Pentagon reporters at a hastily called news conference on Thursday that “today at my direction the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier, was relieved of command by carrier strike group commander Rear Admiral Stewart Baker.”
Yesterday he had praised the commander. Today he said Crozier was sacked for allowing “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 the most at the time.”
Crozier had written a memo to superiors, through the chain of command, pleading for help on the carrier, where COVID-19 was surging through the ship. That memo was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle; he is not accused of leaking the memo.
He will keep his rank and remain in the Navy.
There are at least 93 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the ship with a crew of almost 5,000. About 2,700 crew members are to leave the ship in Guam, where it is docked, for quarantine and testing.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., decried the sacking, saying the leadership at the Pentagon is “more concerned about the coverup than the actual health and maintenance of their troops, sailors, airmen, and Marines.
“This is what scares me,” he said in an interview with Talk Media News.” This is part of the ongoing project that (Defense Secretary Mark) Esper has been doing, to try to muzzle various commanders’ ability to talk about the spread of the Covid virus. This is not helping.”
Gallego, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he and other committee members share the Pentagon’s concern regarding operating security for U.S. forces and assets. He said he is certain that by the time Crozier reached the status of the commander of the Roosevelt, “you know what you can and cannot say that will risk operational security.”
He was joined in his criticism by public statements of other members of the House Armed Services Committee, including chair Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.
“That this destroys operational security is just laughable,” Gallego said. “The one thing that never helps is not having transparency. You are using the excuse to really cover up the firing of somebody who was doing the best he could but probably embarrassed someone.”