Among a thousand other issues caused by the spread of COVID-19, the Navy’s leadership has been in turmoil this past week. It’s just not every day that we see a Captain removed from a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The situation reminds me of the movie Crimson Tide when on a nuclear-powered submarine, the XO (Denzel Washington) relieves the Captain (Gene Hackman) of his duties. Great movie, but I digress.

About a week ago, the skipper of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier, was relieved of his duties after sending a letter expressing his concern about the spread of COVID-19 on his ship and his strong feeling that the Navy should be doing more. The letter stated that he wanted to evacuate the crew off the ship and implement proper quarantine procedures on land. His idea was to keep only a necessary skeleton crew on board while the ship would be moored in Guam. He sent this message via email up his chain of command and to over 20 other recipients, through a non-secure network. The letter then leaked to the media, which only worsened the situation.

In the letter, Crozier wrote, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset: our Sailors.”

His warning has become prophetic as a sailor assigned to the aircraft carrier died from the virus today. And on Thursday, a COVID-19 positive sailor was found unresponsive in the room he was quarantining in, further legitimizing Capt. Crozier’s deep concerns.

On March 26, Capt. Crozier brought the Roosevelt into Guam after learning that the virus was beginning to spread throughout the ship. The ship has a crew of almost 5,000 sailors. Soon after the ship’s arrival in Guam, over 100 cases were diagnosed on the Roosevelt.

After Crozier’s letter hit mainstream media, then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly relieved Capt. Crozier of his duties. Modly felt that the Captain had acted irresponsibly, believing his letter had incited panic among sailors and their families. In addition, he believed that Crozier had acted unprofessionally, broaching security protocols by disseminating his letter through unsecured channels

Modly stated, “I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest of the safety and well-being of his crew. Unfortunately, [his action] did the opposite. It unnecessarily raised the alarm of the families of our sailors and Marines with no plans to address those concerns.”

He believed that Capt. Crozier “allowed the complexity of the challenge of the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally.”