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Families, Sailors, Former Classmates Show Support For Fired Aircraft Carrier Captain

Capt. Brett Crozier addresses the media before the USS Roosevelt departs San ...

Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

Above: Capt. Brett Crozier addresses the media before the USS Roosevelt departs San Diego, Jan. 17, 2020

The former captain of the USS Roosevelt has become something of a folk hero after his letter — where he urged the Navy to take stronger action against an outbreak of the coronavirus aboard his ship — became public.

More than two weeks after Capt. Brett Crozier was relieved of command of the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt, friends and former shipmates voiced their support.

Listen to this story by Steve Walsh.

Videos demonstrating support for the captain continue to appear online. In just two days, military spouse Chelsea Wooters’ Facebook video received more than 8,000 views.

RELATED: Navy Not Ruling Out Reinstating USS Roosevelt Skipper Who Complained About Coronavirus

The video mixes pictures of the crew cheering for Crozier as he left the Roosevelt, with well wishes from the families of the crew. Wooters is in San Diego. Her husband serves on the carrier. Families continue to support a captain who only took command in November.

“He understood the value of his crew,” Wooters said. “He understood they have families too, just like him. He understood the magnitude of the spiraling of the virus. And it was no longer at a point that they could control with all the steps they were already taking.”

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly abruptly fired Crozier April 2, after the captain's letter was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. Modly faced harsh criticism and resigned after flying to Guam to give a rambling 15-minute speech over the carrier’s loudspeaker, a speech that was then leaked to the media.

“If he didn’t think, it was my opinion,” said Modly in the recording, “that if he didn’t think that information was going to get out into the public in this information age that we live in. That he was A, too naive, or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this.”

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Reported by Steve Walsh

More than 12% of the more than 4,800 Roosevelt crew members have since tested positive for the virus — the largest single outbreak in the U.S. military. Most of the crew has been moved to quarters in Guam, while the carrier undergoes a deep cleaning.

High school classmates

Mark Guinney met Cozier in middle school in Santa Rosa, California. He, along with his high school classmates, have posted their own show of support.

“He saw something needed to be done to save the lives of his sailors, which I know he took extremely seriously,” Guinney said. “And that’s very consistent with who Brett is. He’s going to do the right thing. It’s that moral fiber that I saw glimpses of when we were 16, 17, 18 years old.”

Crozier, like a number of naval aviators of his generation, was inspired by the film “Top Gun,” Guinney said. Crozier graduated from the Naval Academy in 1992. Initially, he was assigned to pilot helicopters, instead of jets, but eventually made his way to F-18s. That in and of itself was a rare move, according to his academy classmate Jerry Derren.

“Unless you have an absolutely stellar reputation, not just as an aviator, but as an officer, they don’t even consider allowing you to transfer,” Derren said.

By the time he took command of the Roosevelt, Crozier was among a rare breed. Aircraft carriers are the only ships routinely commanded by Naval aviators. A painstaking career path that sends pilots back to school to learn about nuclear power, then out to sea again to experience running a ship. Derren says Crozier, like other carrier captains, is the ultimate team player.

RELATED: Modly Resigns As Acting Navy Chief After Firing Warship Skipper And Calling Him Stupid

“He’s just a genuine person,” he said. “He’s not a flashy, in-your-face kind of guy. He’s loyal. He’s a very loyal person, to the Navy, to his crew.”

Sailors on the Roosevelt said Crozier seemed like the only person taking their situation seriously. A sailor at Crozier’s former command, the USS Blue Ridge, who did not want to be identified, said the captain would approach sailors on late night watch to ask how they were doing.

Not everyone supports the captain. Some in San Diego’s military community feel, like Modly, that Crozier violated the chain of command when he sent the letter that leaked.

In his last letter to the families of sailors on board the USS Roosevelt, dated April 2, Crozier attempted to assure the families that the Navy’s latest plan, to get most of the crew off of the ship in Guam and decontaminate the carrier, was working.

“I recognize the well-being of our Sailors is preciously important to you, and that is an understanding I do not take lightly,” his letter reads. “The Sailors onboard are my top priority, and I promise to do everything I can to take care of them.”

One sailor aboard the Roosevelt has died from COVID-19. Crozier has tested positive for the coronavirus. He has been reassigned and is scheduled to come back to San Diego.

This story is part of our American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration on in-depth military coverage with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and The Patriots Connection.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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