Navy upholds firing of Santa Rosa-raised Brett Crozier as carrier commander in COVID-19 emergency

For Santa Rosa High School alumnus Brett Crozier, his family and supporters, the Navy’s decision to uphold his removal as captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt marked a disappointing end to the saga that began in late March with his widely aired appeal for decisive action to protect his crew from COVID-19.

Crozier’s mother, Gina, said Friday in Santa Rosa she still is unable to comment on his treatment by the Navy. She and her husband, Bob, have since the beginning chosen to keep their reactions to themselves.

Crozier’s family and friends were elated just last November, when the Naval Academy graduate and former combat pilot accepted command of one of the world’s largest and heavily armed warships in a flight-deck ceremony in San Diego.

“You have dedicated yourself to an incredibly noble cause,” he told the Theodore Roosevelt crew of nearly 5,000, “choosing not what is easy, but what is right and just in the service of our great nation …”

A few months later, as crewmembers were falling ill from a virus contracted during a stop in Vietnam, Crozier wrote a letter that he seemed to know might jeopardize his career. In it, he pleaded for more aggressive measures from the Navy to protect his crew from the disease that had run rampant on cruise ships far less vulnerable than a warship.

Someone passed a copy of Crozier’s appeal to the San Francisco Chronicle. Quickly it became international news that a Navy captain had urged superiors, “This will require a political situation but it is the right thing to do.

“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.”

Thomas Modly, then the acting secretary of the Navy, said Crozier was right to reach out to superiors with his concerns for the safety of his crew, but that for his appeal to wind up as global news was unacceptable. He relieved Crozier, who subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus, of his command.

Modly in early April flew to the docked Theodore Roosevelt in Guam and told the crew over loudspeakers that if Crozier didn’t know that the appeal he emailed to several people would wind up in the press he was “too naive or too stupid to command a ship like this.” Days later, fallout from his remarks led Modly to resign.

Once the 50-year-old Crozier no longer showed signs of the virus, he was removed from quarantine and returned to San Diego and assigned to a temporary staff position there as special assistant to the Naval Air Forces chief of staff.

There, the father of three awaited the outcome of an investigation into the circumstances of his firing as skipper of the aircraft carrier. Late in April, the New York Times broke the story that top Navy officials recommended that his command of the ship be restored.

Friday’s news, broken by Politico and based on information from two people familiar with investigation, reflects a very different conclusion: Crozier did not act as he should have in the face of the coronavirus threat, and he deserved to be relieved of his command.

In the months following his removal, many people in Santa Rosa and across the nation rose to his defense, and others declared that he had violated the military chain-of-command and alerted enemies that his ship was compromised and therefore was rightly removed as captain.

Among the expressions of support for a career military officer who took extraordinary steps to protect his crew was a video produced by about 30 fellow graduates of the Santa Rosa High Class of 1988.

Tweed Roosevelt, the great grandson of former President Theodore Roosevelt, publicly called Crozier a “hero.”

Upon graduating from Santa Rosa High 32 years ago, Crozier entered the U.S. Naval Academy, intent on becoming a fighter jet pilot. The former Howarth Park lifeguard and train-ride engineer had set his sights on the goal since 1986, when he’d first watched the box-office hit “Top Gun,” in which Tom Cruise portrayed a Naval combat aviator.

Following his graduation from the academy in 1992, Crozier trained to fly the Seahawk helicopter, then the F/A-18 Hornet fighter. He earned a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in 2007 and completed Nuclear Power School in 2014.

Upon taking command of the Theodore Roosevelt last fall, he thanked the men and women on board for dedicating themselves to doing not what is easy but what is right, and for standing prepared to fight to guarantee their country’s peace.

“You are doing it on the greatest warship in the world,” Crozier told the crew, “and I am proud to be serving alongside you as we sail wherever our nation requires in the coming years.”

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