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Pentagon Considers Navy Request To Reinstate USS Roosevelt Captain


Top U.S. Navy officials want to reinstate the commander of the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Captain Brett Crozier, you may recall, was fired earlier this month for complaining that the Navy was not moving quickly enough to deal with the coronavirus outbreak on his ship. Pentagon officials are considering the Navy's request, but now there's word of a possible wider investigation of this incident. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now. Hi there, Tom.


INSKEEP: So what is the process for reinstating someone, and where are we?

BOWMAN: Well, this has now shifted to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He would only say he was briefed by Navy officials about the investigation regarding Captain Crozier and what happened, and now he wants to read the full report before meeting again with Navy officials. Now, a potential new wrinkle, I'm told, Steve, involves the Pentagon's top officer, General Mark Milley. He wants to know whether the investigation was thorough, whether all the relevant questions have been answered. That could possibly delay things. There was a sense this could be wrapped up by this week, but now we just don't know.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remember this is about a leak to the news media - Captain Crozier wrote an email, some people were copied, it ended up in a California newspaper, which is how we know about it. What more does General Milley want to know about all that?

BOWMAN: You know, it's unclear. Neither his spokeswoman nor Esper's spokesman will comment. Now, the investigation appeared fairly widespread already. It covers not just what happened with Captain Crozier and the carrier Roosevelt and his complaint in that leaked letter to the San Francisco Chronicle but also the entire Pacific Fleet, what happened with the overall command and what some say was a communications breakdown with Crozier and his superiors there. So it goes beyond just Captain Crozier and the question of reinstatement.

INSKEEP: I've been following truly shocking numbers, a little bit more or a lot more, every time I hear about it - numbers of people on the Roosevelt who were infected out of that crew of 5,000. Where do things stand?

BOWMAN: Well, the Roosevelt's been at pier side for more than a month in Guam. Now more than 850 of the 5,000-sailor crew have tested positive.


BOWMAN: One sailor, of course, has died, and a few have been hospitalized. And, Steve, the latest is the destroyer USS Kidd, with a crew of about 400 operating off Central America, experienced an outbreak of the virus as well. You know, initially, one sailor was medevaced off the ship to San Antonio, and 17 sailors were isolated. As of Saturday, that number almost doubled, with 33 testing positive. The ship is expected to head to port in the U.S., possibly somewhere in California.

Now, the sailors on the Kidd are now wearing protective gear and masks. Another ship, the USS Makin Island, is going to rendezvous with the Kidd. The Makin Island has a surgical team, ICU capacity and ventilators in cases - in case all that's needed. But, again, you know, people been talking about this, that you could see other outbreaks like you saw on the Roosevelt, and now we're seeing it on the USS Kidd.

INSKEEP: Well, there cannot be a single U.S. Navy ship that really is built in a way that allows social distancing everywhere because they're so packed with equipment and packed with crew.

BOWMAN: Absolutely, and that's the concern. It's very, very close quarters on these ships, submarines. Also, there's a concern on - of course, on aircraft of, you know, people just too close. So, you know, it's an ongoing concern with the U.S. military.

INSKEEP: Well, Tom, we'll keep listening for your reporting. Thank you so much.

BOWMAN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Bowman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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