WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.
Adm. Mike Gilday recommended that Navy 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 the Navy leadership, sent thousands of USS Theodore Roosevelt crew members ashore in Guam for quarantine and impacted the fleet across the Pacific, a region critical to America’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 said “ he is generally inclined to support Navy leadership in their decision.”
The extraordinary episode has captivated 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 troop 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 resigned days later. His return would reunite him with crew members so upset about his firing that many crowded together on the deck and applauded and chanted his name as he strode off the ship.
As of Thursday, 840 sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt had tested positive for the virus and four are hospitalized. One sailor, who was 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 time in quarantine are suddenly showing symptoms a day or two later. The virus’ bewildering behavior, which is challenging the broader international medical community. is making it harder to determine when the carrier might be able to return either to duty or head home.
By LOLITA C. BALDOR and ROBERT BURNS Associated Press