The former captain of the USS Roosevelt has become something of a folk hero after his letter — in which he urged the Navy to take stronger action against a coronavirus outbreak aboard his ship -- became public.
Videos that demonstrate support for Capt. Brett Crozier continue to appear online. In just two days, military spouse Chelesea Wooters' Facebook video received more than 8,000 views.
The video mixes pictures of the crew cheering for Crozier as he left the Roosevelt with good wishes from crewmembers' families.
"He understood the value of his crew," said Wooters, whose husband is a crewmember. "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 flew to Guam to give a rambling 15-minute speech over the ship's loudspeaker, in which her called Crozier "too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this."
Modly faced harsh criticism for the firing and the speech and resigned as Acting Secretary April 7.
More than 12% of the approximately 4,800 Roosevelt crew members have since tested positive for the coronavirus -- 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.
"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," said his academy classmate Jerry Derren.
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.
"He's just a genuine person," Darren 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 also has tested positive for the coronavirus. He has been reassigned and is scheduled to come back to San Diego.
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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