This post has been updated with a statement from Acting Secretary of the Navy James McPherson.
The Navy is set to widen the investigation of the removal of the former commander of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), taking a closer look at the service’s overall command climate in the Pacific, the Navy announced on Wednesday.
The new probe will expand on a preliminary Navy investigation that was supposed to be released on Friday, which recommended reinstating Capt. Brett Crozier, who was removed from command of the carrier after a memo in which he pleaded with Navy Pacific leadership to provide more resources to treat a COVID-19 outbreak on the carrier leaked to the press.
“After carefully reviewing the preliminary inquiry into the events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, provided me with his recommendations. Following our discussion, I have unanswered questions that the preliminary inquiry has identified and that can only be answered by a deeper review,” Acting Secretary of the Navy James McPherson said in a statement provided to USNI News.
“Therefore, I am directing Adm. Gilday to conduct a follow-on command investigation. This investigation will build on the good work of the initial inquiry to provide a more fulsome understanding of the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt.”
The release of the initial report, which recommended reinstating Crozier, was delayed by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, in part because Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley had questions on the climate of leadership in the Pacific beyond the scope of the investigation. Esper had been briefed by McPherson and Gilday for more than an hour on Friday.
Milley had been briefed a few days before Esper and pushed Esper, with whom he served as the Chief of Staff of the Army while Esper was the Army Secretary, to open a wider investigation into the climate of the U.S. Pacific Fleet leadership, several defense officials told USNI News since Friday.
The widened probe would be “to ensure that the inquiry was as thorough as it needs to be to answer any questions the secretary may have had before finalizing the report,” a senior defense official told Politico.
The Navy’s initial investigation into the removal of Crozier was to “conduct a preliminary inquiry into the events surrounding the disembarkation of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) sailors in response to a COVID-19 outbreak,” the Navy told USNI News on April 5.
“The preliminary inquiry will consider command climate and circumstances surrounding the response, including communication throughout the administrative and operational chains of command.”
In his memo, Crozier warned that the accelerating outbreak would put sailors’ lives at risk unless the Navy did more to purge the outbreak from the carrier.
Crozier sent the letter to his immediate superior, strike group commander Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, as well as Commander of Naval Air Forces Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller and U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. John Aquilino.
Former Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly removed Crozier from command of the carrier over accusations that Crozier had allowed the memo to be widely released and that he may have broken military law.
“It’s created a firestorm. It’s created doubts about the ship’s ability to go to sea if it needs to. It’s created doubt among the families about the health of their sailors, and that was a completely unnecessary thing to do in the midst of the crisis,” Modly said at the time.
Modly then traveled to the carrier while it was pier-side in Guam and gave a speech to the crew in which he repeatedly admonished Crozier. Following backlash from firing Crozier and then again regarding his remarks on the ship, Modly resigned on April 7.
On Wednesday, the Navy reported that it was beginning to put sailors back aboard the carrier after reporting 940 cases of the virus and the death of one sailor.