After his letter to superiors in Washington DC, pleading for help for his COVID-19-stricken ship was leaked, the captain of the Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was removed from duty by the Acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly.
The supercarrier is now docked on the island of Guam in the Pacific where a bulk of the 4,000-person crew are being disembarked and quarantined. As of April 1, the Navy said that 93 sailors from the Theodore Roosevelt were confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 and another 86 were displaying symptoms.
In relieving the captain on April 2, Modly cited “lack of trust” in Captain Brett Crozier, for not following proper procedures and sending the letter to persons outside the chain of command.
According to The Drive, Modly also accused him of not sufficiently communicating the seriousness of the situation prior to sending his letter, but also disputed Crozier’s level of concern. Modly said the letter “misrepresented the facts,” created an undue panic among families, and offered a dangerous and inaccurate signal to America’s adversaries about the service’s readiness, reported The Drive.
In his letter, Crozier also argued that the US was “not at war,” provoking the Acting Navy Secretary to retort that “neither are we truly at peace.” According to a tweet from Kevin Baron, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, was more emphatic in his reply saying “we’re at war with 3 different ‘enemies’ … We’re at war with COVID-19. We are at war with the terrorists. And we are at war with the drug cartels, as well.”
Regardless of the merits of Crozier’s letter and how he sent it, much of the crew seemed genuinely unhappy with their Captain’s dismissal and were seen giving Crozier a hero’s sendoff as he left the ship. The videos below from crew members re-posted by The Drive show the thunderous applause, cheers, and chants from the crew for their departing Captain:
The navy captain that relieved of command, due to “lack of trust “ Nobody who has any common sense wants this captain gone. Least of all his crew. Posting this before it gets taken down. ??? pic.twitter.com/ExVX24f4XV
— Marla (@marla_miami) April 3, 2020
Meanwhile, this COVID-19 incident has much broader strategic implications. The War Zone warned last week that the spread of the virus onboard Roosevelt could be a “canary in the coal mine” warning for the entire Navy and all its ships. More specifically as The Drive noted:
Theodore Roosevelt‘s predicament increasingly looks to have upended carrier activities around the world. There are reports now that one of the two carriers present in the Middle East, the USS Harry S. Truman and the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, will be diverted to the Pacific. This has raised concerns that there could be a fight brewing for carriers between different U.S. regional commands.
Whether Captain Crozier was right in his actions and helped spare his crew from a deadly spreading disease, or he overreacted and projected vulnerability and weakness to our enemies in a time of crisis – or perhaps it was a bit of both – is yet to be seen.
What we do know is that COVID-19 is presenting the US Navy, and all our armed forces, a new, unseen threat to manage and mitigate. Biodefense needs to be fully incorporated into all aspects of fleet and military operations. This may be the future of warfare.