US Navy may reinstate fired captain to command of Roosevelt
WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – The Navy is looking into whether it can reinstate Captain Brett Crozier, who was removed from command of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt after he pleaded for more help fighting a novel coronavirus outbreak aboard his ship, Defence Department officials said Wednesday (April 15).
Admiral Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, has indicated that he may reinstate Capt Crozier, who is viewed as a hero by his crew for putting their lives above his career, officials said.
“No final decisions have been made,” Commander Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the admiral, said in a statement to The New York Times on Wednesday. Cmdr Christensen added that Adm Gilday was reviewing the findings of a preliminary investigation into the events surrounding Capt Crozier’s removal.
But Adm Gilday’s decision could be upended by President Donald Trump, who has not been shy about intervening in military personnel cases. Just five months ago, Mr Trump fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer for opposing the president’s intervention in support of a Navy Seal accused of murdering a wounded captive with a hunting knife during a deployment to Iraq in 2017.
No one in the Navy wants a repeat of those events, which came complete with Mr Trump on Twitter admonishing the Navy leadership’s handling of the Seal case. But Navy officials insist that Adm Gilday will make a decision based on the findings of the investigation into the Roosevelt crisis, and not on what he thinks the president wants him to do.
Mr Trump himself has indicated he may be open to reassessing the events around the firing. He said recently that Capt Crozier “made a mistake,” but he also noted that the captain “had a bad day.” It remained unclear how the president would view a move to reinstate Capt Crozier, or when action would be taken.
Capt Crozier, who is in isolation on Guam with coronavirus, was removed from command on April 2 by Mr Thomas Modly, the acting Navy secretary at the time, a move that drew outrage among the carrier’s crew and across the country and eventually led to Mr Modly’s resignation.
Adm Gilday and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had both cautioned Mr Modly not to fire Capt Crozier until after an investigation into the case has been completed. Mr Modly, believing Mr Trump wanted the captain fired, ignored them, officials said.
As of Wednesday, 615 Roosevelt crew members have tested positive for coronavirus; five are in the hospital with one in intensive care, and one has died. The death of the sailor on Monday was a poignant punctuation to Capt Crozier’s March 30 plea for help, after four days of being rebuffed by his superiors in his request to evacuate the ship, because, he wrote, “sailors don’t need to die.”
That plea, sent in an email to 20 Navy personnel, became public and angered Mr Modly, which led to his decision to remove the captain from his post.
Adm Gilday indicated last week that he was open to the possibility of reinstating Capt Crozier once the preliminary investigation was completed. “I am taking no options off the table as I review that investigation,” he told reporters. “I think that is my responsibility.”
Any decision to reinstate Capt Crozier would come with its own problems. Navy officials remain unhappy with the captain’s decision to send an unclassified letter pleading for help to so many people, instead of relying on his chain of command.
For the Navy to reinstate him, Adm Gilday would have to determine that Capt Crozier’s superiors were not being adequately responsive to his pleas for help before he sent the letter, Navy officials said.
Adm Gilday already has the findings of an initial investigation into the Roosevelt case. But that investigation was conducted by Adm Robert Burke, the Navy’s second-highest admiral, who was involved in the situation aboard Roosevelt. It was Adm Burke who, as part of the investigation, called the senior medical officer aboard the ship and criticised the doctor, saying he had failed as a leader, according to crew members.
In the run-up to Capt Crozier’s letter, the ship’s medical staff and the captain advocated swift, decisive action, while Capt Crozier’s immediate boss, Rear Adm Stuart Baker, countered that less drastic measures would still protect the crew and leave the Roosevelt in operation.
Adm Gilday told reporters earlier this month that a focus of the investigation was determining why Capt Crozier, a Naval Academy graduate with nearly 30 years of service, felt compelled to send his four-page letter outside normal communications channels and whether that illustrated a breakdown in communications with his chain of command, particularly with Adm Baker. The Navy has said Capt Crozier did not copy Adm Baker on his letter.
Before the results are made public, Adm Gilday will consult with the new acting Navy secretary, Mr James McPherson, as well as with Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Adm Milley.
“The Navy investigation now in progress should take its time and make sure we truly understand the detailed ‘ticktock’ of events that preceded the letter launched by Capt. Crozier,” said Mr James Stavridis, a retired admiral and former top commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. “If it becomes clear that his chain of command was not responsive, it makes a potential case for rehabilitation much stronger.”
Mr Esper, the Pentagon’s top civilian, has not indicated where he stands on the investigation. Appearing on Fox News on Wednesday, he appeared to acknowledge that he may eventually have to weigh in. “At some point it likely will come to me,” he said. “But the most important thing though is taking care of our sailors who are now in Guam.”