The top Navy officer has recommended the reinstatement of the aircraft carrier captain fired for sending a fraught email to commanders pleading for faster action to protect his crew from a coronavirus outbreak, officials familiar with the investigation said Friday.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday recommended that Capt. Brett Crozier be returned to his ship, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the results of an investigation that have not yet been made public.
If approved, his recommendation would end a drama that has rocked Navy leadership, sent thousands of crew members of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt ashore in Guam for quarantine and affected the fleet operations across the Pacific, a region critical to U.S. national security interests.
Gilday met with Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday and with Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday morning to lay out his recommendations. An official says Esper has asked for a delay in any public announcement while he considers the recommendation.
Earlier in the day, Esper’s chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman had suggested that Esper was going into the matter with an open mind, and “is generally inclined to support Navy leadership in their decision.”
The extraordinary episode has unfolded before a public already overwhelmed by the pandemic. And it has played out as the military copes with the coronavirus by reducing training, scaling back recruiting and halting personnel movements even as it deploys tens of thousands of National Guard and other troops to help civilian agencies deal with virus outbreaks across the country.
Crozier was abruptly removed earlier this month by acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who himself resigned days later amid widespread condemnation of the move. Crozier’s return would reunite him with crew members who were so upset about his firing that many crowded together on the deck and applauded and chanted his name as he strode off the ship after his dismissal.
As of Thursday, 840 sailors on the Theodore Roosevelt had tested positive for the virus and four are hospitalized. Crozier himself also has reportedly tested positive. One sailor, from Arkansas, has died, and more than 4,200 of the ship’s nearly 5,000 crew members have been moved onto the island for quarantine.
Clearing the ship and its crew of the virus has proven to be difficult and complicated. Sailors who test negative after finishing their time in quarantine are suddenly showing symptoms a day or two later. The virus’ unpredictable behavior is challenging the broader international medical community, making it harder to determine when the carrier might be able to either return to duty or head home.