Warship captains told the skipper of a COVID-stricken aircraft carrier he was ‘doing what is right’ just before the Navy fired him, emails show

Capt. Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), gives remarks during an all-hands call
Capt. Brett Crozier, then the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), gives remarks during an all-hands call in Dec. 2019. US Navy
  • The US Navy fired a carrier captain after he wrote a letter about a coronavirus outbreak that leaked.
  • After an investigation, the Navy stood by its decision to relieve Capt. Brett Crozier of his command.
  • Emails show that fellow warship captains believed Crozier was “doing the right thing.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Warship captains showed strong support for the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Brett Crozier, in emails sent just before the Navy fired him, Task & Purpose reported Friday.

A collection of 1,200 emails sent to and from Crozier’s email between March 25, 2020 and April 2, 2020 that were obtained by Task & Purpose and reported by Jeff Schogol reveal that Crozier had not only the support of his crew when he was relieved of his command, but also the support of fellow skippers.

The Navy publicly acknowledged that there was a COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt on March 24, 2020, revealing that three sailors had tested positive.

The number of coronavirus cases soared within a matter of days as the carrier was forced into port in Guam.

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group transits in formation Jan. 25, 2020. The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific.
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group transits in formation Jan. 25, 2020. The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Rivera

On March 30, medical professionals aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt warned that sailors would die if they were not evacuated immediately. That same day, Crozier sent an urgent plea up the chain of command calling for the evacuation of the majority of the crew. “Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote.

“If there is ever a time to ask for help it is now regardless of the impact on my career,” Crozier wrote.

The letter, which was also sent to some Navy personnel outside Crozier’s chain of command, leaked to The San Francisco Chronicle and published in full on March 31, and on April 2, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly fired Crozier for “poor judgement.” Modly resigned a week later after a series of missteps, which included speaking ill of the captain to his crew.

“I read your letter yesterday in the SF Chronicle,” Capt. Matthew Paradise, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, wrote in an email to Crozier on April 1.

“I thought it was awesome and a textbook example of speaking truth to power and taking care of your troops,” he said.

Another email obtained by Task & Purpose was from Capt. Sean Bailey, then the commanding officer of the carrier USS George H.W. Bush.

“I know you are feeling an immense amount of heat and outside pressure from everything that is going on right now, but wanted to let you know that the people who matter still support you,” the captain wrote in an email sent on April 1.

“I admire your commitment to communicating candidly to leadership and I’m confident that the ‘leak’ to the SF Chronicle was someone else’s misdirected motivation,” Bailey said. “I know that you are doing what is right to take care of your Sailors and your ship.  Let me know if I can help.”

In a March 31 email to the captain, Cmdr. Patrick Eliason, then the skipper of the destroyer USS The Sullivans, thanked Crozier for “having the guts” to write the letter that ultimately derailed his career.

After he was relieved of his command, Crozier departed his ship, but he did so to the sound of his crew chanting his name. Modly was angered by videos of this send-off and flew to Guam afterwards to address the crew, a trip that would cost him job and taxpayers an estimated $US243,000 ($316,828).

After a preliminary investigation, Navy leaders recommended late last April that Crozier be reinstated, but they changed their minds after a deeper investigation.

“Had I known then what I know today, I would not have made that recommendation to reinstate Capt. Crozier. Moreover, if Capt. Crozier were still command today, I would be relieving him,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said last June.

He argued that Crozier “fell well short of what we expect of those in command.”

The Navy battled the outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt for months and did end up eventually evacuating the majority of the crew as more than one thousand sailors tested positive for COVID-19. A number of sailors were hospitalized by the virus, and one sailor died.