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First Active Duty US Service Member Dies from COVID-19 


The USS Theodore Roosevelt is seen while entering into the port in Da Nang, Vietnam, March 5, 2020.

A sailor assigned to the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier died Monday of complications related to the coronavirus, the first active duty military service member to die from the virus.

As of Monday, 585 of the ship’s nearly 5,000 sailors had tested positive for the virus. More than 4,000 sailors have been transferred off the ship, which remains docked in Guam, according to the Navy.

About 1,000 sailors need to stay on the ship to maintain its “critical functions” and weapons, according to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday. The carrier has a nuclear power plant on board, along with munitions and expensive aircraft.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper testifies on March 4, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper testifies on March 4, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the Pentagon was “deeply saddened” by the loss of the sailor.

"Our thoughts are with the family of the USS Theodore Roosevelt sailor who lost his battle with the virus today. We remain committed to protecting our personnel and their families while continuing to assist in defeating this outbreak," Esper said.

The carrier’s commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, wrote a letter of concern to his superiors, urging them to take "decisive action" to prevent deaths from the coronavirus. He was fired by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, who later resigned.

The New York Times has reported that at the time that Crozier wrote his letter, the warship’s doctors had estimated that more than 50 crew members could die from COVID-19.

Modly appeared to disregard the estimate in an April 2 press conference, saying it raised “a particular level of alarm when you say that 50 people on the crew are going to die.”

“No one knows that to be true,” he added.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told a small group of reporters late last week that the investigation of the USS Theodore Roosevelt is complete. He is going through the report and said he would act based on where the investigation leads.

Esper told CBS News Friday that he had issued guidance that “no further action will be taken against Capt. Crozier until the investigation is completed.”

“We've taken nothing off the table,” Esper said, “so we'll see how that plays out.”

As of early Monday, 3,925 coronavirus cases around the globe were related to the U.S. military — 2,567 service members, 597 civilians, 3,491 dependents and 270 contractors — the Pentagon said. There have been 15 DOD-related COVID-19 deaths, including two service members.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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