Save the Theodore Roosevelt!

By Shlomo Maital

USS Theodore Roosevelt Aircraft Carrier

Many years ago, my son Ronen, then an officer and chief engineer on an Israeli missile boat, and I boarded an American Sea Stallion helicopter at Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, and were ferried to the enormous American nuclear aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, anchored a few miles offshore. (The ship was far too big to enter Haifa Port).

This was made possible by my cousin Malcolm, then a nuclear sub commander. Thanks again, Mal!

Ronen and I were astounded.   Eleven decks, 5,000 sailors, nuclear engines meant it could stay on duty for many months, 80 jet aircraft launched from the upper deck, and the ability to launch and receive planes at the same time – and the capability, practiced frequently, of launching and recovering in the dark of night (not done by other nations).


Fast forward. COVID-19. A New York Times article reports: Captain of Aircraft Carrier Pleads for Help as Virus Cases Increase Onboard.     “We are not at war,” the captain of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt wrote. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”         

    The ship  was then in Guam. Hospital facilities there are very very limited.

   In a four-page letter dated Monday, first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, Capt. Crozier laid out the dire situation unfolding aboard the warship, the Theodore Roosevelt, which has more than 4,000 crew members. He described what he said were the Navy’s failures to provide him with the proper resources to combat the virus by moving sailors off the vessel. “We are not at war,”  Captain Crozier wrote. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

(The Acting Secretary of the Navy has responded that, well, nobody on the ship is really THAT ill… so —   suck it up, guys!)

“Thomas B. Modly, the acting Navy secretary, told CNN in an interview that the Navy was working to move sailors off the ship — but that there were not enough beds in Guam to accommodate the entire crew.”

“We’re having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create some tent-type facilities there,” Mr. Modly said. “We’re doing it in a very methodical way because it’s not the same as a cruise ship.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday night, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, Adm. John C. Aquilino, said that “we’re welcoming feedback” regarding the requests outlined by Captain Crozier.   Admiral Aquilino said that crew members would be rotated off the carrier for testing and quarantine before returning aboard. The intent, he said, was to keep the ship ready to carry out its missions. He said that no crew members had been hospitalized thus far, but he declined to specify the number of infections.

“The problem aboard the Roosevelt highlights a central dilemma facing the military: Top officials, who have spent years placing readiness to fight the next war as a top priority, are now finding that maintaining that readiness during a pandemic can endanger the health, and even the lives, of service members. At the same time that Americans are being told to stay at home and practice “social distancing” in public, many service members are instead being told to continue doing their jobs.”

I find this episode infuriating! I’ve served in military reserves and trained hard. Be ready to fight, is the credo. True. But in times of pandemic plague?   Save lives. And soldiers’ lives matter too.

Anyone want to start a Twitter account, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Lives Matter?   Because they do.

Wake up, Defense Secretary Mark Ester. You can save the lives of the sailors on the Theodore Roosevelt. These young men and women, some only 19 years old, spend long months at sea, away from their families. In normal times they defend America, all over the world. But now? It is urgent, top priority, to save their lives.

So – do something! DO SOMETHING! If you do not, their lives are your responsibility. And there will be no forgiveness.