- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2020

The USS Theodore Roosevelt returned to sea Thursday after a coronavirus outbreak kept the vessel docked in Guam for nearly two months.

Navy officials said the ship is now conducting carrier qualification flights in the Philippine Sea with a reduced crew on board.

Officials said the crew will adhere to “enhanced social distancing” guidelines during its mission.

“It feels great to be back at sea,” said Rear Adm. Stu Baker, commander of Carrier Strike Group 9, said in a statement. “Getting Theodore Roosevelt and Carrier Air Wing 11 one step closer to returning to their mission in the Indo-Pacific is a great achievement for the crew.”

More than 1,000 Roosevelt crew members have tested positive for COVID-19. Last week, five sailors tested positive for a second time, raising questions about the Navy’s response to the pandemic and fueling fears that it may be logistically impossible to implement proper social distancing in the close confines of a warship.

The Defense Department inspector general has launched an investigation into the military’s handling of the outbreak, which has hit the Navy harder than any other service.

The Roosevelt’s former leader, Capt. Brett Crozier, was fired after writing a letter to Navy leaders pleading for help and warning that the situation on his vessel was dire, and that sailors would likely die without a stronger response.

The ship was eventually forced to dock in Guam as the case count rose. After Capt. Crozier’s dismissal in early April, then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned over his handling of the matter, which included a controversial visit to the Roosevelt during which he seemed to suggest Capt. Crozier was “stupid” for writing the letter.

Military officials are now conducting a thorough investigation of the ordeal. It’s possible Capt. Crozier ultimately could return to his former post aboard the Roosevelt.

Navy officials did not give an exact count of how many sailors are on board the ship during its mission this week.

“We are scaling our manning on board based on our mission requirement,” said Capt. Carlos Sardiello, the Roosevelt’s commanding officer. “Carrier qualification requires fewer personnel than other missions, and bringing fewer Sailors on board will enable enhanced social distancing while underway.”

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