Brett Crozier, the former captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, knew his military career would be at risk when he sent an email warning of a COVID-19 outbreak possibly causing the deaths of sailors on board.
“My intent in sending the email … was to bring a sense of urgency to a rapidly deteriorating and potentially deadly situation onboard the (Theodore Roosevelt) and avoid a larger catastrophe and loss of life,” Crozier said in a witness statement first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday.
“Although my method may have been imperfect, I reached out to those in my Chain of Command whom I believed were in the best position to provide immediate assistance to expedite the necessary decision and action,” he said. “Despite possible long term repercussions to my career, I acted in what I believed was in the best interest of the Sailors aboard TR.”
On March 30, Crozier had sent a letter saying that “more needed to be done to remove 5,000 sailors from the carrier docked in Guam.” Crozier and more than 1,200 sailors wound up testing positive for the novel coronavirus and ultimately spent a month in Guam in isolation.
Multiple sailors were hospitalized due to COVID-19 and one died from reported complications.
Navy officers said Crozier’s email was leaked and jeopardized difficult talks with Guam officials to house sailors in hotel rooms. The top Navy admiral overseeing the carrier and President Trump each condemned the move. The Navy conducted an investigation into the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak on the aircraft carrier in May, and that investigation included Crozier’s witness statement obtained this week.
Commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet Vice Admiral William Merz reportedly told investigators that Crozier was either trying to undermine the efforts to evacuate the ship or did not grasp the efforts underway. According to Merz, Crozier either “screwed up and panicked, or wanted to play hero,” The Associated Press reported.
“Either way, he surrendered, and brings into question his resiliency and toughness in command,” Merz said.
Crozier was removed from his position as captain on April 3, despite being credited by his crew for saving their lives. Crozier even received “a hero’s sendoff” from his grateful crew. His removal was attributed to his handling the outbreak poorly and for going outside of the chain of command.