Two weeks after the firing of the captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, the Navy's top admiral is mulling the next steps in the ship's saga that, among other things, could include the possible reinstatement of Capt. Brett Crozier.
Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations has said that “all options are on the table” as he reviews the investigation that looked at why Crozier wrote the letter — allegedly around his chain of command — asking for more Navy assistance to stem an outbreak of novel coronavirus on his ship.
Over the weekend, Gilday received results of the investigation that looked at the circumstances on the ship as well as the overall command climate in the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet. The investigation was led by Adm. Robert Burke, the vice chief of naval operations.
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Navy officials have said that based on the investigation's conclusions Gilday will decide the next course of action with regards to the ship. Actions could include additional action to address the command climate aboard the ship and the broader command structure to even considering the potentially unprecedented action of reinstating Crozier to his command.
“As the chief of naval operations has made clear, all options are on the table,” said Cmdr. Nate Christensen, Gilday's spokesman.
“That said, Adm. Gilday has received, and is reviewing the preliminary Inquiry,” he added. “It will take time for the report to be reviewed and endorsed by Adm. Gilday. No final decisions have been made.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on NBC's “Today” show on Thursday that Burke's investigation will eventually make its way to him as well, though he declined to comment on the possibility that Crozier could be reinstated because he is in the chain of command.
“We've got to take this one step at a time,” said Esper. “Let the investigation within the Navy conclude itself, if you will, as it — as they brief it up. And we'll take things as I can, and we'll make very reasoned opinions and judgments as this progresses.”
According to the Navy's latest figures, 655 crew members aboard the Roosevelt have now tested positive, that is 13.5% of the 4,865 sailors aboard the carrier. One sailor died earlier this week from complications due to COVID-19. Six other sailors have been hospitalized, with one in intensive care.
On Thursday, the Navy identified the deceased sailor as 41-year-old Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., an aviation ordnanceman from Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Thacker tested positive for the novel coronavirus on March 30 and was placed in isolation on Guam. On April 9 he was found unresponsive in his quarters and placed in intensive care at the naval hospital in Guam.
His wife, also a sailor, flew from the mainland United States to Guam to be with her husband and was by his bedside when he died, according to the Navy.
The Theodore Roosevelt was the fourth aircraft carrier Thacker had served on during his 22 years in the Navy. As a senior enlisted sailor he was in charge of young sailors who operate and handle the bombs and missiles used by the fighter jets that fly aboard the Roosevelt.
Crozier is also among those who have tested positive for the virus and is currently in self-isolation on Guam after experiencing mild symptoms. A friend of his told ABC News that he expects to be out of isolation in a few days.
In his letter — which was eventually published by a newspaper, prompting the controversy — Crozier requested that 10% of the crew remain aboard the carrier to carry out essential services and that the majority should be placed in quarantine on Guam, where the ship remains in port.
As it turns out, almost 85% of the ship's crew has been placed in quarantine, approaching the number that Crozier had requested.
Esper and other officials have noted that data about the spread of the coronavirus among the ship's crew could present a useful case study to researchers about the spread of the virus since almost three out of every four sailors who have tested positive is symptom free.
“It has revealed a new dynamic of this virus: that it can be carried by normal, healthy people who have no idea whatsoever that they are carrying it,” Esper said Thursday.
How the virus got aboard the carrier remains open for debate. While much attention has focused on the carrier's port visit to Vietnam in early March, it remains unclear if the spread of the virus can be directly traced to that visit or to the flow of pilots delivering materials to the ship.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointed out earlier this week that the guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill also participated in the port visit and there has been no outbreak of the virus aboard that ship.