The U.S. Navy captain who was relieved of his command for writing a scathing letter demanding action to control a coronavirus outbreak aboard his ship was given a hero’s ovation by his crew as he left the vessel.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT CREW MEMBERS, CHANTING:

“Captain Crozier, Captain Crozier!”

But even as Captain Brett Crozier was hailed as a hero by the sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the fired commander is being reassigned, according to acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who told Reuters on Friday that investigators will consider whether he should face disciplinary action.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ACTING U.S. NAVY SECRETARY THOMAS MODLY, SAYING:

“I did not come to his decision lightly.”

Modly’s decision to fire Crozier, which was first reported by Reuters, has sparked an intense backlash as critics have accused him of removing the captain from the aircraft carrier because the letter – which was leaked to the public – embarrassed the Navy.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ACTING U.S. NAVY SECRETARY THOMAS MODLY, SAYING:

“The captain’s actions made his sailors, their families and many in the public believe that his letter was the only reason help from our larger Navy family was forthcoming, which was hardly the case.”

In the four-page letter, Crozier described a bleak situation aboard the nuclear-powered vessel and called for removing over 4,000 sailors from the ship and isolating them, saying: “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.”

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ACTING U.S. NAVY SECRETARY THOMAS MODLY, SAYING:

“It undermined the chain of command.”

At a briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday, Modly said Crozier had exercised poor judgment in the way he sent his letter because he didn’t take care to ensure his letter couldn’t be leaked.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ACTING U.S. NAVY SECRETARY THOMAS MODLY, SAYING:

“The letter was sent over non-secure unclassified email… And it wasn’t just sent up the chain of command, it was sent and copied to a broad array of other people.”

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Crozier’s firing has become a political lightning-rod issue at a time when the Trump administration is facing intense criticism over its response to the pandemic.

On Friday, a group of Democratic senators led by Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland formally requested that the Pentagon’s independent Inspector General investigate the firing.

Fifteen other senators, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris, have joined the effort.

Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden said that the Trump administration showed “poor judgment” in relieving the warship commander and said Modly “shot the messenger.”

Meanwhile, an online petition on the website Change.org called on the Navy to reinstate the captain and – as of Friday night – was well on the way to its goal of 150,000 signatures.

President Donald Trump himself weighed in on Thursday, and disputed the notion that Crozier appeared to have been disciplined for trying to save the lives of sailors.

On Friday, the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Mark Esper backed the Navy’s firing of Crozier.

The dismissal, two days after the captain’s letter leaked, demonstrated how the coronavirus has challenged all manner of institutions in the United States, even those accustomed to dangerous and complex missions like the military.

Nearly 1,000 active-duty service members have tested positive for the virus, with more than 250 of them in the Navy. And, so far, more than 100 personnel aboard the Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus.



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