US Navy Captain Brett Crozier addressing the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in San Diego, California, on November 1, 2019. (AFP photo)
The top US Navy officer has recommended the reinstatement of the aircraft carrier captain fired for sending an email to commanders pleading for faster action to protect his crew from a coronavirus outbreak, officials familiar with the investigation said Friday.
Admiral Mike Gilday recommended that Navy Captain Brett Crozier be returned to his ship, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the results of an investigation that have not yet been made public.
If approved, his recommendation would end a drama that has rocked the Navy leadership, sent thousands of USS Theodore Roosevelt crew members ashore in Guam for quarantine and impacted the fleet across the Pacific Ocean.
Gilday met with General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday and with Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday morning to lay out his recommendations.
The disclosure of the Navyís recommendation to reinstate Crozier was first reported by the New York Times
As of Friday, 856 sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus and four are hospitalized. One sailor has died.
Sources say Crozier is one of the sailors from the Rooseveltís 4,800-member crew who have tested positive for the coronavirus, effectively taking one of the Navyís most powerful ships out of operation.
Crozier was removed by then-Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly after writing an unclassified letter to his superiors, which leaked to the media.
The letter warned about the threat an initial handful of shipboard COVID-19 infections posed to the entire crew.
"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," Crozier said in the memo.
Modly accused Crozier of breaking the chain of command and exposing a weakness in the US Navy.
Modlyís decision backfired badly, as members of the crew hailed their captain as a hero in an emotional sendoff captured on video that went viral on social media.
Days later, Modly himself resigned for mishandling the issue, including a forceful, profanity-laced speech to the Roosevelt crew in which he accused Crozier of "betrayal."
The crisis being triggered by the coronavirus is the biggest facing Navy leadership since two crashes in the Asia Pacific region in 2017 that killed 17 sailors.
The Pentagon announced Friday that at least 18 sailors aboard US Navy destroyer - the Kidd - had tested positive for the new coronavirus.
It was another blow to the US military as it faces fallout over its handling of the Roosevelt, raising additional questions about the safeguards to protect US troops.