Fleet commander visits COVID-19-stricken carrier

SUPPORT: Vice Adm. Bill Merz, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, meets with the Naval Base Guam Commanding Officer Capt. Jeffrey Grimes and Rear Adm. John Menoni, commander, Joint Region Marianas, outside of a military barracks housing sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt on Sunday, April 5. Merz arrived in Guam to assess and support the ongoing COVID-19 recovery efforts for the crew of the aircraft carrier. Mass Communication Spc. 1st Class Julio Rivera/U.S. Navy

The commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet visited the USS Theodore Roosevelt leadership in port at Naval Base Guam on Sunday while the aircraft carrier undergoes its COVID-19 recovery efforts.

Vice Adm. Bill Merz met with the crew and area leadership.

Merz has command of the Navy's largest forward-deployed fleet, which has roughly 50 to 70 ships and submarines and 140 aircraft with approximately 20,000 sailors.

"The team in Guam has shown enormous spirit and focus on getting this ship healthy again. Know that every day, regardless of what the challenge may be, my No. 1 priority is to sustain the warfighting posture of 7th Fleet, and the most important element of this No. 1 priority is the sailors," said Merz. "We simply cannot execute the mission of defending our interests, our friends and our allies without the fighting spirit of the immensely capable men and women of this team. It takes a lot of cooperation and coordination, and although we have a lot of work to do, I want to make sure those involved are getting our support and gratitude. The families of our sailors should be proud of the ongoing efforts and know that we're going to take care of our people."

The fleet commander's visit followed a widely circulated video of the aircraft carrier's sailors chanting and showing rousing support for their former commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, as he was leaving the ship. Crozier was publicly relieved of his command of the warship on Friday. Crozier was let go after his letter to the Navy leadership, appealing for help as COVID-19 was beginning to spread among sailors of the ship, leaked to the press. Crozier has since tested positive for COVID-19 and 155 of the warship's sailors have now been infected as well.

Safety precautions

Nearly 3,000 of the carrier's sailors who haven't tested positive for COVID-19 are being quarantined for 14 days in Guam hotels that are empty because of tourism's shutdown.

The Navy is working closely with the government of Guam and Joint Region Marianas to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to move sailors safely off the ship while continuing to maintain the vessel's readiness to operate at sea, according to the 7th Fleet's press release.

The "Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group is extremely thankful for the overwhelming support from the government of Guam and Naval Base Guam in the fight against COVID-19," said Rear Adm. Stu Baker, commander, Carrier Strike Group Nine. "Even with such short notice, they were able to assist getting our sailors moved off the ship in a short period of time. Their support has been critical to our ability to remain mission ready."

Sailors from Theodore Roosevelt will be using various hotels across the island, allowing them to align with the recommended 14-day quarantine period while also maintaining an all-hands effort aboard to sanitize the ship, according to the 7th Fleet.

'Thankful for their assistance'

"The Joint Region Marianas and Naval Base Guam teams have moved mountains to help our (Theodore Roosevelt) shipmates get healthy and back out to sea," said Rear Adm. John Menoni, commander, Joint Region Marianas. "I can't say enough how proud I am of everyone's hard work during this very dynamic situation. Our partners in the government and the people of Guam have helped us from day one, and we are thankful for their assistance helping the TR Team be ready to fight."

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