Navy leadership recommended Friday that Capt. Brett Crozier, the recently fired commanding officer of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, be reinstated to his prior command.
The proposal is the result of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the former skipper’s dismissal approximately three weeks ago.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and recently-appointed acting Navy Secretary James McPherson — who replaced former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly after his tumultuous resignation — suggested Crozier be reinstated, according to information first obtained by the New York Times.
Gilday and McPherson discussed their findings Tuesday with Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, and met Friday with Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“The Navy’s inquiry covered a complex timeline of communications between Naval officers, as well as response efforts spanning a dozen time zones and multiple commands,” a senior defense official speaking on background told Navy Times. The official was not authorized to speak on the record while the investigation remains ongoing.
“Given the importance of the topic and the complex nature, [Esper] is going to read the full written report,” the official continued.
“Although many in the media are focused on one aspect of the initial inquiry, it is, in fact, about far more than one person. The secretary wants to ensure that the report is thorough and can stand up under the rightful scrutiny of Congress, the media, the families and crew of the Theodore Roosevelt, and the American people. To ensure that, he wants to actually read the report.”
The reinstatement of Crozier as commanding officer of Theodore Roosevelt would mark yet another bewildering twist in the carrier’s month-long debacle.
On March 24, the first three cases of COVID-19 onboard the carrier were announced by the Pentagon. Within 24 hours, the number of infected more than doubled, prompting Navy leadership in Washington to order Crozier to sideline the 4,800-person ship in Guam.
Each subsequent day yielded more confirmed cases. As of Friday, 840 sailors assigned to TR have tested positive for COVID-19, a number that includes Crozier, who is in isolation and reportedly improving, according to the Times.
A “small number” of tests are still pending, Navy officials said. Four sailors are currently receiving care at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam. Nearly 90 percent of the crew has been moved onto the island, where the ship has been ported since March 27.
Crozier reportedly contacted an unnamed admiral in Washington seeking assistance prior to sending the email containing the letter that would subsequently be leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. The following day, March 29, the captain emphasized the urgency of the rapidly evolving situation in a conversation with Modly’s chief of staff, Robert Love.
Unwilling to stall any longer, Crozier fired off his email just as Modly and Navy leadership were debating which course of action would expedite the safe removal of the carrier’s crew.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Capt. Brett Crozier wrote in the letter. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”
Crozier was dismissed as commanding officer of Theodore Roosevelt within 48 hours of sending the email. He departed the ship to rousing applause and chants of his name as he walked along the carrier’s gangway for what was assumed then to be the final time.
Modly said the decision to fire Crozier was made due to the wide distribution of the communication over a “non-secure, unclassified” email that included “20 or 30” additional recipients.
“It was a betrayal," Modly told Roosevelt sailors over the ship’s 1MC intercom during a visit to Guam days later. “If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out to the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this. The alternative is that he did this on purpose.”
According to a Washington Post report, however, Modly characterized the dissemination of Crozier’s email as significantly more careless than the distribution list actually implied.
The email, which was copied to seven other Navy captains, was primarily addressed to Crozier’s commanding officer, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino, and Naval Air Forces commander Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller.
Modly, meanwhile, resigned amid pressure by lawmakers on Capitol Hill following his infamous speech, the audio of which was obtained by Military Times. In the aftermath of his ill-advised trip and potential exposure to COVID-19, Modly, too, was forced into quarantine.
Esper repeatedly maintained he would not rule out the possibility of restoring Crozier to his previous role, one currently held on a interim basis by the ship’s former commanding officer, Rear Adm. Select Carlos Sardiello.
“I’ve got to keep an open mind with regard to everything,” Esper told NBC’s Today. “We’ve got to take this one step at a time, let the investigation within the Navy conclude ... and we’ll take things as they can, and we’ll make very reasoned opinions and judgments as this progresses.”
Navy officials also announced Friday that the service is fighting another outbreak onboard an underway vessel.
A sailor from the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Kidd tested positive for COVID-19 after being medically evacuated from the ship on April 23.
A COVID-19 medical response team has been flown out to the destroyer, which was underway in the eastern Pacific, to conduct additional testing and virus tracing.
Seventeen additional crew members have since tested positive, Navy officials said.
“Testing continues, and we expect additional cases,” the Navy said in an April 24 release. “All measures are being taken to evaluate the extent of the COVID-19 transmission on the ship.”
The sailor who was removed from the ship was flown to a treatment facility in San Antonio, Texas, where the individual is reportedly in stable condition.
So far, one active-duty sailor has died due to COVID-19 complications.
Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Charles Robert Thacker, Jr., 41, died April 13 at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam after being found unresponsive four days earlier by other TR sailors in quarantine.
Navy officials would not specify whether Thacker had any preexisting medical conditions that made him more susceptible to COVID-19.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.