An investigation into the circumstances around the March COVID-19 outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) has been handed over to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday for review, Navy officials told USNI News on Wednesday.
The command investigation, overseen by outgoing Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke, is an in-depth look to the Navy’s response to handling the outbreak on the carrier that resulted in the removal of the commander, more than 1,000 sailors testing positive for the virus and the death of one sailor.
“The Chief of Naval Operations has received, and is reviewing the Command Investigation into the events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt,” read a Wednesday statement from Cmdr. Nate Christensen.
“It will take time for the investigation’s recommendations to be reviewed and endorsed by Adm. Gilday.”
The new investigation kicked off in late April after Pentagon senior leadership had more questions beyond a limited preliminary investigation into the outbreak following a port visit of the carrier to Vietnam, officials told USNI News.
In particular, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley had pushed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for the Navy to expand the probe – a fact acknowledged by now confirmed Secretary of the Navy nominee Kenneth Braithwaite in his early May testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Braithwaite is scheduled to be sworn in as SECNAV on Friday.
Acting Navy Secretary James McPherson ordered the new look after briefing both Milley and Esper. Gilday and McPherson briefed leadership on recommendations that included reinstating Capt. Brett Crozier to command the carrier. Crozier was removed by then acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly after a message Crozier wrote to Pacific Fleet leaders warning of the dangers of the outbreak leaked to the press.
However, following questions from the Pentagon’s leadership, acting Navy Secretary James McPherson ordered the new look, several defense officials have told USNI News.
“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 at the time.
SECDEF Esper said the new investigation was part of a natural progression.
“They did a preliminary inquiry, took five days, a dozen or so interviews,” Esper said this month. “The intent of a preliminary inquiry is to decide whether or not a further investigation is warranted. Acting Secretary McPherson rightly, stated that it raised a lot of questions, unanswered questions. And so his determination was that a full-up investigation is required.”
The Navy had a team of 20 working under Burke for investigation, including Vice Adm. Richard Brown the commander of Naval Surface Forces and Naval Surface Force Pacific.
Gilday will now make his final endorsement and recommendations on the investigation with no set timeline.