Veterans Denounce 'Unforgivable' Decision to Remove U.S. Navy Captain Brett Crozier, Who Asked for Help With Ship's COVID-19 Outbreak

Veterans have spoken out against the decision to relieve the captain of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt after he sent a letter to the Navy pleading for help after his ship was stricken with the coronavirus.

Thomas Modly, the acting secretary of the Navy, accused Capt. Brett Crozier of having "poor judgment" for using a "non-secure, unclassified" email address to write an email to his immediate chain of command which also included "20 or 30" additional recipients.

Crozier's letter, which was then leaked and published by the San Francisco Chronicle, asked officials for help in isolating more than 4,000 sailors onboard the aircraft carrier docked in Guam, after a COVID-19 outbreak was detected among its crew. A day after the letter was published, around 1,000 sailors were removed from the Theodore Roosevelt. A total of 114 crew have since tested positive for COVID-19.

Crozier said the move was necessary as the warship's "inherent limitations of space" meant the virus was spreading rapidly despite the other crew members distancing themselves.

"This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do," Crozier wrote. "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors."

Speaking at a press conference, Modly said Crozier was not relieved because the letter was leaked — although he "did not take care to ensure that it couldn't be leaked," noting it appeared in his hometown paper — but for causing unnecessary panic.

Modly said Crozier's actions made it seem like the Navy was only acting in response to his letter being leaked, which he said was not the case.

"I did not come to this decision lightly," Modly added. "I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interests of the safety and well-being of his crew. Unfortunately, it did the opposite.

"It unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our Sailors and Marines with no plan to address those concerns. It raised concerns about the operational capabilities and operational security of the ship that could have emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage, and it undermined the chain of command who had been moving and adjusting as rapidly as possible to get him the help he needed.

"For these reasons, I lost confidence in his ability to continue to lead that warship as it continues to fight through this virus, to get the crew healthy, so that it can continue to meet its important national security requirements."

The decision has been met with dismay by veterans and politicians.

"I understand the 'trust & confidence' argument. It's sacrosanct in the Navy," John Kirby, a retired rear admiral who served as the State Department's head spokesman from 2015 to 2017, wrote on Twitter.

"But based on justification put forth by acting SECNAV for why he lost trust & confidence in the TR CO, hard to see it as anything other than an over-reaction & unwarranted at a vital time for the ship."

Malcolm Nance, former Navy senior chief petty officer, accused officials of "abject stupidity" for relieving Crozier.

"You had better drop your anchors on this one. This 'sailors first' admiral may be Secretary of the Navy next Jan. He should be because he cares more about my beloved Navy than you do."

New Jersey Congressman Andy Kim issued a statement calling for the immediate reinstatement of Crozier, calling the decision "shameful."

"Our servicemen and women sign up and put themselves in harm's way for the defense of our country, they shouldn't be put in harm's way because of indecision by leadership at the Pentagon to address a crisis that endangered thousands who wear the uniform," Kim said. "Dismissing him sends a dangerous message to our leaders across the military."

In a joint statement, the House Armed Services Committee leadership — Chairman Adam Smith and Subcommittee Chairs Joe Courtney, John Garamendi, and Jackie Speier — said the removal of Crozier was a "destabilizing move" that put service members at greater risk.

"Throwing the commanding officer overboard without a thorough investigation is not going to solve the growing crisis aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt," the statement said. "What's more, we are very concerned about the chilling effect this dismissal will have on commanders throughout the Department of Defense.

"Dismissing a commanding officer for speaking out on issues critical to the safety of those under their command discourages others from raising similar concerns."

Roosevelt
(File photo) People stand on the deck of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt anchored off Stokes Bay on April 6, 2009 in Portsmouth, England. Veterans have spoken out against the decision to relieve the captain the ship, Brett Crozier, after he wrote a letter seeking help amid a coronavirus outbreak. Matt Cardy/Getty

Modly said the decision to relieve Crozier was his alone.

"I expect no congratulations for it, and it gives me no pleasure in making it," he added. "Captain Crozier is an honorable man, who despite this uncharacteristic lapse of judgment, has dedicated himself throughout a lifetime of incredible service to our nation."

There are now more than one million confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the world, with 53,179 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 202,000 people have managed to recover from the virus.

This infographic, provided by Statista, shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 2.

This infographic shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases by state.

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