Captain Brett Crozier, the U.S. Navy officer who commanded aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and who was relieved of his command after raising alarm about a COVID-19 outbreak aboard the ship in spring 2020, is reportedly retiring from the Navy next month.
Navy officials told Navy Times on Monday that Crozier is set to retire in March after 30 years of military service.
Crozier caught widespread attention around March 2020 when cases of COVID-19 spread rapidly throughout the ship during the early days of the pandemic. Crozier sent a letter to superiors requesting permission for the carrier to leave its planned course of operations and seek port in Guam, where sailors could quarantine outside the tight confines of the ship. The ship’s crew quarantined for about two months before it could return to sea.
Crozier was relieved of his command due to a loss of confidence in his leadership. Suspicions circulated Crozier had leaked a copy of his letter to the press, going outside of his chain of command.
After he was relieved of his command, viral videos showed sailors cheering in support for Crozier as he walked off the ship.
After being relieved of his carrier command, Crozier was reassigned to Naval Air Forces in San Diego as an investigation played out into the decision to relieve him.
After a preliminary investigation into Crozier’s case, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Mike Gilday said he supported reinstating the captain. After a more thorough investigation, however, the Navy decided not to reinstate Crozier. Gilday said “Had I known then what I know today, I would’ve not made that recommendation to reinstate Capt. Crozier. Moreover, if Capt. Crozier was still in command today, I would be relieving him.”
Gilday said Crozier “did not do enough soon enough to fulfill their primary obligation” and failed to carry out the Navy’s guidelines for preventing the spread of coronavirus. Gilday also said the Navy was already working to prepare the aircraft carrier for quarantine in Guam when Crozier sent his letter requesting quarantine, which subsequently leaked.
In the three days before Crozier sent his letter, investigators determined he had not moved quickly enough to get sailors off the carrier and onto Naval Base Guam for quarantine. Crozier had reportedly focused more on getting sailors into hotel rooms, which were not yet ready, rather than getting them off the ship and into on-base facilities in Guam that could accommodate them in the meantime.
While the Navy investigation found Crozier in the wrong, Navy Times reported Capt. Daniel Keeler, the carrier’s executive officer, later came to Crozier’s defense. Keeler said that while the Navy faulted Crozier for not following its quarantine guidelines, its protocols for things like social distancing were impractical for ship underway.
“With 4,800 onboard, there was no way to draw a 6-foot circle around every Sailor and still operate,” Keeler said.
Keeler also said the decision to relieve Crozier only added to the chaos of clearing the ship and quarantining the crew. Keeler said removing Crozier was like “dropping a nuclear bomb in the middle of an ongoing crisis,” and his relief “took over everything for two or three days.”
“It was difficult to focus on the real problem— fighting a COVID outbreak on a CVN,” Keeler added.