A day after the Navy abruptly fired the captain of a carrier over the way he made a plea for resources amid a novel coronavirus outbreak, more than 120,000 have signed a petition calling for the service to put him back in charge.
Capt. Brett Crozier's Thursday firing from his post as captain of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt sent shocks far beyond the defense community. Videos shot from the carrier and shared to social media showed Crozier departing to applause as sailors chanted his name. One of those videos was reshared via Twitter by Joe Biden, former vice president and now a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"Captain Crozier was faithful to his duty -- both to his sailors and his country. Navy leadership sent a chilling message about speaking truth to power," Biden wrote in the tweet. "The poor judgment here belongs to the Trump Admin, not a courageous officer trying to protect his sailors."
Crozier's letter went public as coronavirus cases aboard the Roosevelt surged past 100 following a port visit to Vietnam. The carrier was ultimately sidelined in Guam, and plans made for evacuation of most of the nearly 5,000 personnel aboard.
"We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die," Crozier wrote in the message. "If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset -- our Sailors."
Navy officials, who addressed the media at the Pentagon on Thursday evening in a hastily assembled press conference, have said Crozier acted unprofessionally by copying several dozen personnel on an email in which he described in detail his struggle to care for sailors on a virus-stricken ship. The email would ultimately be published by the San Francisco Chronicle. Resources were already on the way when Crozier sent his message, they contended, adding that he should have gone to his direct commander for help.
"It misrepresented the facts of what was going on on the ship as well," Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said. "And at the same time, the families here in the United States were panicked about the reality."
The groundswell around Crozier continues to grow.
"He's my CO and I want him to know he did right by us, even if it won't bring him back," a signer of the Change.org petition wrote Thursday.
The author of the petition, an active-duty enlisted sailor, told Military.com he had not served under Crozier, but had met him at a friend's promotion ceremony. The sailor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said he was struck by Crozier's genuine demeanor and the time he took to greet each guest individually.
"I am grateful for his actions," the sailor said. "I feel like he did the right thing for his shipmates and I'd like to return the favor. His philosophy was, 'Keep your head on a swivel, an eye on your shipmate and be ready for the fight when the day comes.' He lived up to that, and now it's our turn to fight for him."
The sailor added that he was gratified, but not surprised, to see his petition get viral attention.
"I hope the chain of command intervenes," he said. "I'd also love to see President [Donald] Trump take action."
On Capitol Hill, a group of Senate Democrats is calling for intervention of a different kind. Some 17 senators signed on to a letter to Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, asking that the IG formally investigate the Navy's response to the coronavirus outbreak aboard the Roosevelt and Modly's decision to fire Crozier.
"We are particularly alarmed by the stark reversal from the Navy regarding CAPT Crozier's leadership during this crisis," the letter, first reported by Bloomberg, stated. "One day before CAPT Crozier was relieved of command, the Acting Secretary of the Navy stated in reference to the Captain's 30 March request for assistance that 'the fact that he wrote the letter to his chain of command to express his concerns would absolutely not result in any kind of retaliation.' [...] This reversal sends a mixed message to sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and, given the remarkable show of support for CAPT Crozier by members of his crew, we are additionally worried about the impact of this decision on morale and readiness."
In a briefing with the press Friday afternoon, Pentagon Spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined to address the firing and ensuing controversy directly. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who appeared Friday on the Fox News show "Outnumbered Overtime," voiced support for Modly, though he acknowledged he didn't have all the details on the matter.
One party who has yet to weigh in, however, is Trump. The president has sidestepped tradition to intervene in military affairs already during his term, using his authority to pardon two soldiers in connection with war crimes charges and reinstate the rank of a Navy SEAL demoted for taking a photo with a corpse in a war zone.
Asked about Crozier during a Thursday night White House briefing, Trump demurred, appearing to disagree with the premise of a question asking whether the captain had been fired for trying to save the lives of sailors under his command.
"Oh, I don't think so at all. But we're going to wait a little while because I understand there's a news conference by the secretary of defense about that," Trump said. "But, you know, I don't -- I don't agree with that at all. Not at all. Not even a little bit."
He was silent on the subject Friday.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.