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WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Secretary of the Navy, Kenneth J. Braithwaite and Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday delivered remarks to the Pentagon Press Corps regarding the results of the investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak on USS Theodore Roosevelt, June 19.
Secretary of the Navy, Kenneth J. Braithwaite’s opening remarks, as delivered:
Good afternoon. From the moment that I began serving as the Secretary of Navy three weeks ago, I have been committed to ensuring that the investigation into the USS Theodore Roosevelt COVID response was an unflinching examination of what happened and how it happened. As a career naval officer, I recognize the Navy must follow the facts in order to learn from this unprecedented challenge. That investigation is concluded, and today we are releasing the investigation report publicly.
I am satisfied that it was conducted in an extremely thorough and fair manner; moreover, I fully support its findings [and] recommendations, and I’d like to take this time to commend the investigation team lead by Admiral Burke under the direction of our CNO, Admiral Gilday, on the work that they did under very demanding conditions.
Before I turn over the podium to our Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gilday, to discuss the findings of the investigation in detail, there are a few people that I'd like to recognize. First, I’d like to thank Governor Lou Guerrero of Guam for her tremendous support that she and the people of Guam provided the crew of Theodore Roosevelt and the Navy. Her leadership throughout this entire episode really stands out and is an inspiring example of patriotism, partnership, and service. As such, the Department has awarded her the Distinguished Public Service Medal.
I’d also like to commend Rear Admiral John Menoni, the Commander of Joint Region Marianas, as well as Captain Jeffrey Grimes, the Commanding Officer of Naval Base Guam. Their outstanding efforts greatly contributed to the health, safety, and recovery of the crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt. I am authorizing each of them to be awarded the Legion of Merit for their meritorious actions.
Finally, today I’d like to remember Chief Charles Robert Thacker, the lone TR Sailor who died of the disease in April. I just yesterday sent his widow, AO1 Symantha Thacker, a note to offer my personal condolences. Our entire Navy mourns with her and her family and with Chief Thacker’s shipmates.
I’d now like to turn it over to the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday.
Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday’s opening remarks, as delivered:
Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon.
Over the course of the past two months, the Navy has conducted a command investigation into the events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, that investigation was led by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Bob Burke.
Today, after carefully reviewing the command investigation, we are here to brief you on its findings.
In my review, I considered the following key tenets and grounded my conclusions in them. Number one, the responsibility of command at sea. Number two, the primacy of the chain of command, and lastly the standards of performance in command.
Our nation’s laws and U.S. Navy regulations form the basis for command at sea, without which, our Navy could not perform its most critical functions. These both clearly state that every commanding officer has the responsibility and the authority to make decisions and then to communicate up the chain of command.
The responsibility of command is absolute and we take our CO’s performance very seriously. We place a great amount of trust and confidence in our commanding officers, and rely on them to manage risk, and to make decisions and to communicate openly and honestly with their chain of command…especially in crisis.
Forthright, fearless, and clear communication up and down the chain of command is essential to effective military operations, particularly when faced with a dynamic and novel threat such as COVID-19.
I am keenly aware that the actions of those involved must be judged understanding the unprecedented nature of this challenge, the difficulties involved with evolving guidance, and the fast-pace of the crisis.
However, after a thorough review, I have determined to take the following actions:
First, the promotion for the strike group commander, Rear Adm. Baker, to two-stars, will be delayed pending further review.
Second, I will not re-assign Captain Brett Crozier as the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, nor will he be eligible for future command. Captain Crozier will be re-assigned.
While I previously believed that Captain Crozier should be re-instated following his relief in April, after conducting an initial investigation, the much broader, deeper investigation that we conducted in the weeks following, that had a much deeper scope, it is my belief that both Admiral Baker and Captain Crozier fell well short of what we expect of those in command.
Had I known then what I know today, I would have not made the recommendation to re-instate Captain Crozier. Moreover, if Captain Crozier were still in command today, I would be relieving him.
Captain Crozier’s primary responsibility was the safety and the well-being of the crew so that the ship could remain as operationally ready as possible.
In reviewing both Admiral Baker and Captain Crozier’s actions, they did not do enough soon enough to fulfill their primary obligation, and they did not effectively carry out our guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. They were slow egressing Sailors off the ship and they failed to move Sailors to available safer environments quickly.
Additionally, Captain Crozier exercised questionable judgment when he released Sailors from quarantine on the ship, which put his crew at higher risk and may have increased the spread of the virus aboard the Theodore Roosevelt.
When obstacles arose, both failed to tackle the problem head on and to take charge. And in a number of instances, they placed crew comfort in front of crew safety.
Ultimately, they were driven by the problem, instead of driving decisions.
As Captain Crozier stated in his email, he should have been more decisive when the ship pulled into Guam. He also said that he was ultimately responsible for his ship and his crew… and I agree.
In the end, the email and the letter sent by Captain Crozier were unnecessary. Actions were already underway to acquire CDC-compliant, off-base hotel rooms for the crew before he sent that e-mail.
While it is rare for the CO of any ship to directly communicate three levels above them in the chain of command, if they do, they must ensure that all other means of communication within the chain of command have been thoroughly exhausted, and they have a full understanding of all the facts, and that they include ALL members of their chain of command in that communication.
Before, I take your questions; I’d like to speak directly to a few groups.
As the Secretary mentioned, much help went in to supporting TR, and I can’t thank everyone enough for their efforts. The Governor of Guam certainly helped obtain safe lodging for the crew. Naval Base Guam helped accommodate more than 2,000 Sailors ashore in less than a week. Expeditionary medical teams from Okinawa helped care for and treat the crew. And the Republic of Korea dedicated support to help us test samples from the crew at scale.
To our commanding officers, let me be very clear: We expect you to “fire a red flare” to your chain of command when necessary. We also expect you to be men and women of decisive action. You must adapt in the face of adversity, you must exercise ingenuity in crisis, and communicate effectively up and down the chain of command. After all… it’s your ship, and it’s your crew.
To the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, you are underway today in the Philippine Sea executing the mission to which you were assigned. And we support you. While you rightly supported Captain Crozier as your Commanding Officer, it is because of what he didn’t do that I have chosen not to re-instate him as your CO.
And to the Secretary’s point, I also offer my deepest sympathies to Chief Thacker’s family, friends and shipmates. We mourn his loss and stand alongside you as you continue to grieve.
And with that, we are ready to take your questions.
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