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USS Theodore Roosevelt resumes operations more than two months after COVID-19 outbreak began

USS Theodore Roosevelt (Jackie Hart/U.S. Navy)

More than two months after arriving in Guam, as the coronavirus spread out of control among its crew, the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt is back out to sea and fully operational, the Navy said Thursday.

The ship initially returned to sea in late May to conduct carrier qualifications for its air wing. After returning to Guam to pick up crew members left behind to complete quarantine, the ship has resumed its scheduled deployment in the Western Pacific.

“Returning to our mission in the Indo-Pacific after completing carrier qualifications is a significant milestone in Theodore Roosevelt’s conditions-based recovery plan,” said Capt. Carlos Sardiello, the Roosevelt’s commanding officer, in a statement.

“Our mission was to recover the ship and recover the crew. We did not give up the ship and now our focus is on combat readiness, safety, and wellness of the crew.”

The outbreak on the Roosevelt marked a low point for the Navy in its fight against COVID-19. More than 1,100 crew members tested positive and one, Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Charles Thacker, 41, died of it.

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Capt. Brett Crozier, who was captain of the ship when the outbreak began, sent a letter to a handful of Navy captains and Pacific Fleet admirals asking the Navy to quickly move the bulk of his crew off the ship. A copy of the letter leaked to the news media and within days Crozier was removed from command by then-acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly.

Modly visited the carrier in Guam after firing Crozier and told the crew over the ship’s loudspeaker that Crozier was “too naive or too stupid” for command if he believed his letter wouldn’t be leaked. Modly’s speech also was leaked, and he resigned on April 7.

More than 4,000 sailors eventually moved off the ship as others conducted a stem-to-stern deep cleaning. After at least 14 days of quarantine, sailors had to test negative for coronavirus on two subsequent tests before moving back on board.

Even so, some in May still tested positive after returning to the ship and were sent back into isolation.

About 350 sailors from the ship still remain on Guam, said Lt. Cmdr. Julie Holland, a Roosevelt spokeswoman, in an email.

“Those Sailors who do not meet the return to work criteria remain in isolation on Naval Base Guam and will continue to receive medical care by military medical representatives,” Holland wrote. “Air transportation will be coordinated to move the Sailors onboard Theodore Roosevelt or to their final duty station after (the ship) departs the area on mission.”

The ship is currently free of the virus, Holland said.

Meanwhile, Crozier holds a staff job with Naval Air Forces in San Diego.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday in April recommended Crozier be reinstated as ship captain, but the Navy decided to conduct a broader investigation.

The investigation was completed in late May. A spokesman for Gilday said Thursday it will take “some time” for the admiral to review its findings.

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© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune