The pride of the US Navy are its fleet carriers - massive, nuclear powered, nuclear armed aircraft carriers that have for decades been a critical asset for "force projection" around the world. They have been a powerful instrument for imposing America's will on problem states.
One of these supercarriers, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, is now sitting at the dock in Guam as the Covid-19 virus spreads through the crew of 4,000.
In a four-page letter, first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle Tuesday, Capt. Brett E. Crozier of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt laid out the dire situation unfolding aboard the warship, with more than 4,000 crew members, and 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 problem is that Guam lacks the facilities and resources to quarantine 4,000 sailors nor the equipment and personnel to board the Roosevelt and disinfect the ship's spaces.
And what of the rest of America's armed forces?
The crisis aboard the Roosevelt played out like a slow-moving disaster and highlights the dangers to the Pentagon if the coronavirus manages to infiltrate some of its most important assets, such as bomber fleets, elite Special Operations units and the talisman of American military power, aircraft carriers.
At its core, the issue on the Roosevelt, and other warships, stems from the near impossibility of putting adequate social distance between people to stop the spread of the illness. Living quarters, hallways and doorways are cramped. Bathrooms and cafeterias are shared areas.
In his letter, Captain Crozier clearly outlined the challenge. “None of the berthing aboard a warship is appropriate for quarantine or isolation,” he wrote.Military bases, by their very nature, are incompatible with social distancing or isolation. Barracks are not designed with distancing in mind. People cluster together whether in mess halls and hangars or in tanks or at sea. Their proximity and mobility are essential to their effectiveness.
Decades ago the most feared contagion was meningitis. Now, it seems, there's a new contagion.