SAN DIEGO — The USS Theodore Roosevelt returned home to San Diego on Thursday led by a new captain who came aboard after the previous commanding officer was fired over the handling of a massive COVID-19 outbreak on board.
There were no emotional embraces on the Navy pier typical of such homecomings when sailors return after months at sea.
Instead, the crew wearing face coverings disembarked one by one and walked to waiting vehicles to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, marking a quiet and sterile end to one of the Navy's most tumultuous non-combat deployments.
The aircraft carrier departed in January with 4,800 crew members. In late March, it pulled into the port at Guam amid a rapidly escalating outbreak. It remained there for 10 weeks as the ship was sanitized and sailors were taken off to be quarantined, treated or tested. Over time, more than 1,150 crew members tested positive for the coronavirus and one sailor died.
Early on, Capt. Brett Crozier urged his commanders to take faster action to stem the spread of the virus but was removed from his command when his letter was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. Then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly also resigned over the matter.
The Navy opened an investigation, which found Crozier made serious errors in judgment that worsened the problem. The investigation also determined that the likely source of the coronavirus infection was obtained during a port visit in Vietnam in March.
The ship returned to sea June 4, but two weeks later had another mishap when one of its F/A-18F Super Hornets crashed into the Philippine Sea. Its pilot and weapons officer were rescued by helicopter.
The Roosevelt continued on its mission, training on June 21 with the USS Nimitz in the Navy’s first dual-carrier exercise in the Western Pacific in three years. Then on July 2, another sailor on board died from an undisclosed medical emergency.
Capt. Carlos Sardiello, who replaced Crozier on the ship, told reporters in San Diego that he was proud of his crew who faced “unprecedented challenges" but got right back on mission.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.