SAN DIEGO — The USS Theodore Roosevelt finally returned to San Diego Thursday after months of sickness and turmoil at sea and a stop to quarantine in Guam.
The sailors aboard the aircraft carrier suffered a widespread coronavirus outbreak that sickened more than 1,000 of the aircraft carrier’s nearly 4,900-member crew. One sailor, 41-year-old Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., died during the outbreak.
An emotional Air Traffic Control 1st Class Adam Wright said coming home this time was different.
“As I manned the rails on the tower of the ship, it was a sobering feeling seeing we didn’t have our families out here after we had been gone for so long,” he said.
The ship, which had left San Diego in January, stopped in Guam in late March for an extended quarantine.
The outbreak also led to the high-profile firing of the ship’s commanding officer, who publicly sounded the alarm about the virus’ spread.
Navy officials said Capt. Brett Crozier had gone outside the chain of command and wasn’t careful enough in sharing an urgent message about the outbreak, which leaked to media. His crew had a different reaction, cheering and chanting the captain’s name as he exited the ship.
Thomas Modly, who was acting Navy secretary at that time, visited the ship and blasted Crozier as “too naive or too stupid” to command the carrier, but that prompted fierce backlash that ultimately led to Modly’s resignation. The Navy launched an investigation into their handling of the outbreak, and some officials suggested that Crozier could be reinstated, but ultimately the Navy upheld the firing.
Wright said he has “nothing but great things to say” about Crozier’s leadership.
“I am grateful for everything he did for the crew and for the ship and for doing everything for the assistance that we needed when it was discovered that the coronavirus was out of our hands and required further assistance,” Wright said.
He added, “Sir, if I could say anything to you it would be, ‘Thank you.’ Thank you for noticing a problem on the ship and a problem that was infecting our crew and thank you for taking the actions necessary to get us the assistance required.”
Since leaving Guam, the crew has spent the past 35 days doing training exercises while largely social distancing. As of early June, they were coronavirus free.
“We absolutely stopped it in its tracks,” Capt. Carlos Sardiello. “I would offer that what is being done in society with masks, social distancing, cleaning. Those measures absolutely work.”
The ordeal finally came to an end for the crew Thursday, as the ship pulled back in to Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego. The Roosevelt, which has called San Diego home since 2015, is changing its homeport to Bremerton, Washington and undergoing maintenance this summer.