- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2020

As the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt wraps up a bow-to-stern cleansing of the aircraft carrier in Guam, the acting secretary of the Navy said Wednesday he wants a deeper probe into the handling of an onboard coronavirus outbreak that cost the ship’s captain his command.

On Wednesday, acting Navy secretary James E. McPherson directed Adm. Mike Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, to expand the legal probe, even after an earlier review of the incident reportedly recommended reinstating Capt. Brett Crozier.

“I have unanswered questions that the preliminary inquiry has identified and that can only be answered by a deeper review,” Mr. McPherson said.

The Roosevelt case has become an increasingly hot potato for the Navy, and a symbol of the challenges the Pentagon faces dealing with the threat the COVID-19 virus poses to troops, operations and readiness.

More than 4,000 Roosevelt sailors who tested negative for COVID-19 have been in quarantine in hotels on Guam, where the nuclear carrier was forced to port because of the health crisis. Medical officials there said it will take “several days” to move the entire complement of sailors back aboard.

The sailors must have completed their isolation period and twice tested negative for COVID-19 before returning to their ship. Navy officials said the sailors will “return in waves,” starting with those who are responsible for critical services aboard the ship.

Meanwhile, about 700 sailors who have been cleaning and keeping the aircraft carrier operating will begin their own isolation period, officials said.

“The ‘stay behind’ crew successfully built a ‘bubble’ around the ship that can now be turned over to the ‘clean crew,’” said Commander Zach Harry, the ship’s chief engineer. “The crew will now create a boundary to keep the coronavirus out. The clean bubble must now be defended.”

Capt. Crozier has picked up some vocal supporters among Democrats on Capitol Hill, adding to the Navy’s dilemma over whether to reverse his original dismissal.

Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the captain’s abrupt removal was “highly unorthodox” and said the “recommendations of the military leadership on his reinstatement should be heavily weighed.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington state Democrat, told reporters Wednesday it was “legitimate” for the Navy to take an extended look at the case, but added, “From everything that’s come out and everything that I’ve seen, there was no reason to relieve him of his command.”

The Roosevelt has been dockside in Guam for about a month as COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, spread rapidly among the crew. Capt. Crozier warned Navy leaders about the dangers posed by the outbreak in a controversial letter that was quickly leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle.

He was fired within days by then-acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly, who later flew to Guam and gave a profanity-laced speech criticizing the crew’s open support for their captain. The controversy over that incident led to Mr. Modly’s own resignation.

The follow-up investigation will likely delay any reinstatement of Capt. Crozier to his former position, said Bradley Bowman, the senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“By any reasonable assessment, this has not been handled well by the Navy,” said Mr. Bowman, a former military officer. “To have a functioning military service, you’ve got to have troops who trust their commanders and you’ve got to have a responsive chain of command.”

Mr. Bowman said he didn’t fault Capt. Crozier’s decision to write the letter expressing his concerns about the health of his crew.

“You want a commander that you feel has your back and has your best interest at heart,” Mr. Bowman said. “They had a commander who was focused on the mission and also focused on their well-being.”

Capt. Crozier remains on Guam in isolation after being infected himself with COVID-19. He was replaced by Capt. Carlos Sardiello, a former Roosevelt commander who has been nominated for promotion to rear admiral.

On Wednesday, the destroyer USS Kidd returned to San Diego for cleaning after more than a dozen of its crew tested positive for the coronavirus.

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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