Trump says Navy captain letter asking for help on coronavirus-stricken ship ‘was terrible’

Captain Brett Crozier addresses the crew for the first time as commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt during a change of command ceremony on the ship’s flight deck in San Diego, California, U.S. November 1, 2019.

U.S. Navy | Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sean Lynch | Reuters

A since-fired Navy captain’s plea for help with a coronavirus outbreak on his vessel “was terrible,” President Donald Trump said Saturday.

The officer, Capt. Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, wrote a letter earlier this week to military leadership asking for help with a coronavirus outbreak on the warship. The letter, which was dated March 30, was sent via nonsecure unclassified email and also outside the chain of command. It leaked to the media. 

“I thought it was terrible what he did, to write a letter. This isn’t a class on literature. This is a captain of a massive ship that’s nuclear-powered,” Trump said at a news briefing Saturday evening. “The letter was a five-page letter from a captain, and the letter was all over the place. That’s not appropriate. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

In the four-page letter, which was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Crozier described a worsening coronavirus outbreak aboard the warship, a temporary home to more than 4,000 crew members. More than 100 people on the ship were infected at the time.

“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 wrote in the letter. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”

The outbreak occurred after a completed port call to Da Nang, Vietnam earlier in March. Fifteen days after leaving Vietnam, three sailors from the USS Roosevelt tested positive for the virus. The infections were the first reports of coronavirus on a military vessel at sea.

When the ship arrived in Vietnam, coronavirus cases in the country were fewer than 100, Thomas Modly, the acting Navy secretary, said last month.

“I guess the captain stopped in Vietnam and people got off in Vietnam,” Trump said Saturday. “Perhaps you don’t do that in the middle of a pandemic or something that looked like it was going to be. History would say you don’t necessarily stop and let your sailors get off.”

Crozier has since been relieved of duty, Modly told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. He added Friday that Crozier will be reassigned during an investigation to determine if he should face disciplinary action. Trump added Saturday that he was not involved in the decision to relieve Crozier.

“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,” he said. “It raised alarm bells unnecessarily.”

The reaction to Crozier’s dismissal has been intense. In videos posted online, sailors on the Theodore Roosevelt applauded their former commander and hailed him as a hero.

— Reuters and CNBC’s Amanda Macias contributed to this report

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