A cheering crowd of sailors on board the coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt bid farewell to their captain as he disembarked the ship Friday, video footage circulating on social media showed, one day after the commander was removed by the Navy for alerting his superiors about the virus outbreak on the vessel.
Video clips showed that service members gathered around Captain Brett Crozier as he made his way off the ship through a hangar. "Captain Crozier!" they chanted repeatedly in chorus while clapping hands.
"Wrongfully relieved of command but did right by the sailors," read a tweet by Dylan Castillo with an embedded video showing the scene.
Crozier was relieved of his duty for speaking out in a recent internal letter to higher-ranking officials about what he viewed as the Pentagon's insufficient response to a coronavirus outbreak on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which is currently docking in Guam.
In the letter, which was first made public by the San Francisco Chronicle, Crozier asked the Pentagon to facilitate in moving 90 percent of the crew into isolation for two weeks on Guam, otherwise "we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset - our Sailors."
"Decisive action is required. Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed US nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure," the letter read. "Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care."
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced Crozier's removal Thursday, for the reason that he allowed "the complexity of his challenge with the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally when acting professionally was what was needed at the time."
The drama became increasingly political Friday as a group of Democratic senators urged Acting Inspector General for the Department of Defense Glenn Fine to launch a formal investigation into the Navy's response to the COVID-19 outbreak on the Roosevelt, as well as its decision to fire the captain.
"It is essential that your office conduct a comprehensive investigation to avoid any potential conflicts of interest within the Navy chain of command, and we encourage you to evaluate all relevant matters associated with the dismissal and the outbreak on the ship," the senators wrote in a letter to Fine.
Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden voiced support for Crozier, saying in a tweet that "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. The poor judgment here belongs to the Trump Admin, not a courageous officer trying to protect his sailors," he added.
Modly on Thursday acknowledged Crozier's popularity. "I am entirely convinced that your Commanding Officer loves you, and that he had you at the center of his heart and mind in every decision that he has made. I also know that you have great affection, and love, for him as well," he said.
As of Friday, 41 percent of the crew had been tested for COVID-19, yielding 137 positive results, the Navy said, adding that 400 more sailors testing negative will be moved to hotels in Guam for quarantine, bringing the total of those transferred to 576.
The Navy planned to move 2,700 of the roughly 5,000 service members off the Roosevelt, leaving the rest of the crew on board to maintain the ship's operation.
Meanwhile, some positive COVID-19 tests have emerged on aircraft carrier USS Donald Reagan, U.S. media reported citing defense officials.