Hours after being fired, USS Theodore Roosevelt Capt. Brett Crozier was given a hero’s sendoff Thursday night by the sailors aboard his coronavirus-stricken vessel, raising fresh questions about how the Navy’s decision to remove him from his post will play among rank-and-file service members.
Videos emerged across social media sites Friday morning that appear to show hundreds of sailors cheering and applauding Capt. Crozier as he departed the ship following his firing by Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.
“Captain Crozier! Captain Crozier!” the throng of sailors chanted, according to the videos posted to Facebook and by military news sites such as Stars and Stripes.
Capt. Crozier was abruptly relieved of his command late Thursday following a letter he wrote to Navy leaders earlier this week pleading for help as the health situation on his ship deteriorated. As many as 100 sailors are believed to have tested positive for COVID-19, and the ship is now docked in Guam as its 4,000 crew members enter a two-week quarantine period.
Capt. Crozier’s blunt, emotional letter was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, and Mr. Modly said the public release of the document sent the wrong signal and could be a message to enemies that the U.S. military has been crippled by the virus.
“We require our commanders [to act] with judgment, maturity and leadership, composure under pressure, to understand the ramifications of their actions within that larger dynamic strategic context,” Mr. Modly told reporters in a hastily arranged press conference at the Pentagon late Thursday. “To allow those emotions to color our judgment when communicating the current operational picture can at best create unnecessary confusion and at worst provide an incomplete picture of American combat readiness to our adversaries.”
In the letter, Capt. Crozier made a desperate plea for help and said the crew aboard his vessel was in danger.
“We are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unncessarily,” he wrote. “Based on current limitations … [the ship] has instituted limited measures to slow the spread of the disease. We have moved a small percentage of the crew off ship, increased the frequency of thorough cleaning and attempted some social distancing. The current strategy will only slow the spread. The current plan in execution on the [Theodore Roosevelt] will not achieve virus eradication on any timeline.”
Meanwhile, the Navy is facing harsh criticism from lawmakers, free-speech advocates and others who say the Pentagon has made a massive mistake.
“Throwing the commanding officer overboard without a thorough investigation is not going to solve the growing crisis aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt,” Democratic leaders of the House Armed Services Committee said in a joint statement Thursday night. “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.”