(NEW YORK) — The captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has been relieved of duty for exercising “poor judgment” in not safeguarding information in a letter to Navy leadership that was leaked to a newspaper. The letter requested that most of the ship’s crew of 5,000 be taken off the ship to contain the spread of novel coronavirus.
Thomas Modly, the acting secretary of the Navy, said Thursday at a hastily called Pentagon briefing that Capt. Brett Crozier was being relieved for a loss of confidence and poor judgment.
“I lost confidence in his ability to lead that warship as it continues to fight through this virus, get the crew healthy, so that it can continue to meet its national security requirements,” said Modly.
In a letter to Navy commanders that was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. Crozier used blunt language to senior commanders urging that most of his crew of 5,000 be sailors be removed from the ship to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.
“Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote in the letter that led to a firestorm of controversy.
Modly made clear he did not fault Crozier for wanting to protect his crew, but took issue with how he did not express his concerns with his immediate supervisor, the rear admiral aboard the ship who was in charge of the Roosevelt carrier strike group.
“He’s being relieved because to me that demonstrated extremely poor judgment in the middle of a crisis,” said Modly. “Because of what it’s done, it’s has created a firestorm. It’s created doubts about the ship’s ability to go to sea if it needs to. It’s created doubt among the families, about the health of their sailors.”
Modly said he had no information to indicate that Crozier personally leaked the letter, but noted that in emailing it to 20-30 people he provided an opportunity for the letter to be leaked.
“He did not safeguard that information and to keep it from being sent anywhere,” said Modly.
“That was a completely unnecessary thing to do in the midst of a crisis,” said Modly who added that he expects more from a commander responsible for an aircraft carrier.
“Granted, they don’t train for this, but we expect more from our COs (commanding officers) than what they trained for, we expect them to exercise good judgment that does not put their crews in jeopardy,” he said.
In the letter, Crozier asked Navy leaders to accelerate the removal of most of his 5,000 sailors from the carrier to facilities on Guam to stop the spread of the coronavirus aboard the ship. As of Thursday, 114 sailors aboard the carrier have tested positive for the virus said a U.S. official.
Crozier also asked that his sailors be moved from communal facilities ashore to individual housing to conform with coronavirus safety guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to Modly, by the time Crozier had written his letter the Navy already had plans to move 2,700 sailors off the carrier and was looking for hotel rooms so they could quarantine and isolate properly. The Navy said Wednesday that it would achieve that goal by the end of the week.
On Wednesday Modly had said that Crozier would not be disciplined for having expressed his concerns through the chain of command.
However, he left the door open for discipline if it was proven that Crozier had leaked the letter himself.
Modly said the incident with Crozier’s letter was “frustrating because of what it does.”
“It undermines our efforts — and the chain of command’s efforts — to address this problem and creates a panic and creates the perception that the Navy is not on the job, the government’s not on the job, and it’s just not true,” he said.
Modly said he had not felt any political pressure in making his decision and said he had never consulted the White House on the matter. He did say that he had told Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday that he was leaning towards relieving Crozier and that Esper said he would support the move.
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