SAN DIEGO — Navy leaders have recommended reinstating Capt. Brett Crozier to his former position as commanding officer of the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, according to a report in The New York Times.
However that recommendation is being held up by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the newspaper reported.
Friday afternoon, Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman, released a statement saying Esper was awaiting a written copy of the complete results of an inquiry into the recent COVID-19 outbreak on the ship.
“This afternoon, Secretary Esper received a verbal update from the acting Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations on the Navy’s preliminary inquiry into the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt,” Hoffman said.
“After the Secretary receives a written copy of the completed inquiry, he intends to thoroughly review the report and will meet again with Navy leadership to discuss next steps. He remains focused on and committed to restoring the full health of the crew and getting the ship at sea again soon.”
In a later statement, the Navy said its acting secretary, James McPherson, and Esper, were reviewing the recommendations from Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations.
“Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday has presented recommendations to the Acting Secretary of the Navy James McPherson,” the Navy said. “Secretary McPherson is continuing discussions with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. No final decisions have been made.”
News of the recommendation bookends a tumultuous month for the Navy.
The Roosevelt has been pier-side in Guam since March 26, coping with an outbreak of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Its former captain, Crozier, was fired from command a week later after a letter he sent to a handful of Navy captains and admirals asking for help to move thousands of sailors into quarantine off the ship was leaked to the media.
The acting Navy secretary who fired him, Thomas Modly, then told the crew over the ship’s loudspeaker that Crozier was naive or stupid to believe his letter wouldn’t be leaked. Modly’s speech also was leaked, and Modly subsequently resigned April 7.
The Navy has since been investigating the leak. An announcement of the results was expected earlier this week, but no announcement came.
According to the Times, both Gilday and McPherson recommended Crozier be reinstated and Esper is the holdout.
Last week Esper said on NBC “Today” that the Department of Defense had not ruled out reinstating Crozier, depending on results of the Navy’s leak investigation. Esper also said he was keeping an “open mind” on the issue.
In total, 856 Roosevelt sailors had tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Friday, with 100% of the crew tested. That is more than 17% of the roughly 4,845 sailors on board.
A little more than 100 have recovered, the Navy said.
Some who are positive for the virus are housed on base in isolation. Four sailors with COVID-19 are in the hospital on Naval Base Guam.
One sailor, Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Charles Thacker, 41, died from the virus.
More than 4,000 sailors have tested negative, and 4,234 have moved off the ship into hotels and facilities on Guam.
A Navy spokesman said Friday about 50% of the sailors who have tested positive for the virus showed no COVID-19 symptoms, a number that fluctuates as reports come in daily.
Also on Friday the Navy announced that another Navy warship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, is heading back into port after 18 sailors on board tested positive for the virus.
One sailor was evacuated to a medical facility in San Antonio, Texas. The ship, based in Everett, Wash., has been deployed to the eastern Pacific near South America conducting counterdrug operations.
The guided-missile destroyer left its home port in Washington state in January, making a stop in San Diego to join the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group when it left for deployment, according to a post on the ship’s Facebook page.
It’s unclear how the virus came on board either ship, defense officials have said.
The Roosevelt made a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam, 15 days before the ship’s first confirmed case of the virus. That country had known cases of the disease at the time.
The Kidd was not with the Roosevelt at the time its strike group made that port call, having already been redirected to the eastern Pacific, said Lt. j.g. Rachel McMarr, a Pacific Fleet spokeswoman.
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