Sailors from the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt were “upset” and “struggling” after Capt. Brett Crozier was relieved of duty when he tried to get them help, a Navy vice admiral told CNN Friday.
The crew was “struggling in the wake of losing their CO [commanding officer] and their perception of the lack of activity regarding fighting the virus,” said Vice Admiral Bill Merz, the commander of Seventh Fleet, who is overseeing the aircraft carrier.
“There was lots of anxiety about the virus” on the ship, Merz told CNN. “As you can imagine, the morale covers the spectrum, considering what they have been through.”
Merz emphasized that the crew is capable and performing well, but rattled. Many crew members told Merz they were still worried about the fate of their former commanding officer. Sailors applauded, cheered and chanted Crozier’s name when he left the ship last week.
“I certainly don’t question his motives,” Merz said of Crozier. “I think his motives were pure. He was looking out for his crew.”
Merz admitted that a better job could have been done informing the crew about the virus on the ship and what the Navy was doing about it. He indicated there was a lack of clarity about the steps the Navy was taking to protect the sailors’ health.
“We needed to give them more information about the true dangers of the virus,” and how the Navy was handling it aboard the ship, he said.
Crozier was relieved of his command last week after sending a compelling letter March 30 to Navy brass pleading for help dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus on his ship at sea. The message, sent via a nonsecure, unclassified email leaked to the media. More than 100 of some 4,000 sailors on the ship had already tested positive for COVID-19 when Cozier sent the plea.
Then-Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly quickly relieved Crozier of his command for exercising what he considered poor judgment.
Modly then took a $243,000 flight to Guam Monday to tell Crozier’s crew that their captain had been “too naive or stupid” to lead the ship. One sailor can be heard shouting “what the fuck” at Modly at that point in a recording of the speech that was leaked to the press.
Modly apologized for the speech later that day — then resigned on Tuesday.
Merz said the sailors were “visibly still upset” about Modly’s visit. “I think they just needed to tell somebody about how much that hurt them and disappointed them,” he said.
President Donald Trump said last week that “it was terrible” what Crozier did, “to write a letter. This isn’t a class on literature …. He shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter,” the president added. Trump insisted that Crozier “raised alarm bells unnecessarily.”
But after a continued outcry following Crozier’s dismissal, Trump said Monday that Crozier should not have lost his job for having a “bad day.“ The president said he heard “very good things about the gentleman.” Crozier has not been reinstated.
Merz is now in a precautionary 14-day isolation period after spending more than six hours on the Roosevelt earlier this week, CNN reported.
Currently, 447 of the Of the Roosevelt’s roughly 4,000 crew members have tested positive for COVID-19 — including Crozier. Almost everyone has been tested, but 800 are still awaiting results, according to CNN.
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