SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The USS Theodore Roosevelt returned to San Diego today, ending a deployment that included a widely publicized COVID-19 outbreak aboard the ship and the contentious firing of its captain.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier returned after nearly six months, more than 31,835 nautical miles traveled and an unexpected months-long stopover in Guam, where thousands of sailors were moved off the ship for treatment and quarantine. Its deployment also included a port visit to Da Nang that marked the second time that a U.S. aircraft carrier has visited Vietnam since the Vietnam War.
The ship originally deployed on Jan. 17 but was diverted to Guam on March 27 when the outbreak took hold.
Its former captain, Brett Crozier, and more than 1,000 sailors aboard the ship were ultimately infected, with one crew member — Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Charles Thacker, 41 — dying of complications from the virus in April. More than half the crew was moved off the ship, while other sailors remained aboard to sanitize it.
After months docked in Guam, the carrier resumed its scheduled deployment in the Indo-Pacific on June 4.
The ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Carlos Sardiello, praised the crew for its fortitude through the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The crew of TR persevered, displaying uncommon fortitude and tenacity in the face of uncertainty to meet expectations in a crisis,” said Sardiello. “This recovery of the ship and the crew on deployment is a testament to the professionalism of the young men and women of the TR who turned a potentially demoralizing downward spiral into a symbol of inspiration and hope against adversity.”
Crozier was relieved of command shortly after he sent an email to other Navy commanders urging assistance with the COVID-19 situation. Its eventual publication in news outlets led then-Navy Secretary Thomas Modly to fire Crozier and state his belief that Crozier purposely copied his email to unauthorized parties.
The Navy upheld Crozier’s firing last month. Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, said the decision against reinstating Crozier had to do with his apparently questionable response to the outbreak, rather than the email.
Modly resigned after a controversial address to the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s crew, which was leaked online.
“If he (Crozier) didn’t think that information was going to get out into the public in this information age that we live in, then he was a) either too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly said. “The alternative is that he did it on purpose, and that’s a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”