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Live Mic: What the pandemic could mean for national defense

FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2019, file photo, former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly testifies during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee about about ongoing reports of substandard housing conditions in Washington, on Capitol Hill. Modly said the captain of the COVID-stricken aircraft carrier who was fired last week had betrayed his service and may have been “too naive or too stupid” to be commanding officer of the ship. He later resigned. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — After the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined an entire U.S. aircraft carrier, should we start thinking about long-term impacts on national defense?

Nearly 300 sailors aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for coronavirus. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly removed the skipper, Capt. Brett Crozier, from duty after Crozier alerted his Navy superiors to the health situation aboard the carrier.

Calling Crozier  “too naive or too stupid” to command the carrier while addressing the crew of the Roosevelt, Modly later resigned.

The Roosevelt is now out of commission while it is being disinfected.

Rep. Stewart’s take

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, an Air Force veteran, joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to offer his reactions to the saga surrounding the Roosevelt – and the impact of the pandemic on national defense more generally.

Stewart said both Crozier and Modly handled the situation badly.

“[Crozier] frightened his own sailors by, I think, making the threat more dire than it was. And he revealed to the world that one of the few carriers that we have deployed right now is out of commission” Stewart said.

“That was a horrible mistake, he handled it so poorly but so did the secretary,” he said.

“For him to go out and make these comments that were unnecessary. It wasn’t helpful. It wasn’t thought out. He clearly let emotion take the best of him. To take the opportunity to talk to the crew and have that attitude about their former commander I think is inexcusable,” he said.

The pandemic and our national defense

On his show, Lee asked how the pandemic affects our national defense.

“We only have about a dozen carriers,” Stewart said, adding the number deployed is far fewer.

“And now we know that one of them has been taken out, with the crew in isolation. That’s an important thing for our adversaries to know,” he said.

“The president last week sent a message to Iran, based on some intelligence we’ve received, saying, ‘Do not take advantage of this opportunity. Do not test us now.’

“I encouraged national security staff that if anyone challenges us, whether it’s Iran or China in the South China Sea, we need to immediately respond and respond aggressively because they need to know you cannot take advantage of this opportunity.

“We will defend American interests. We will defend liberty, and we’re certainly capable of doing that.”

Stewart added another concern is the number of military members diagnosed with [coronavirus] who can’t perform their duties.

He also said because naval shipyards have been impacted by the pandemic, delivery of weapon systems has been delayed.

Still standing tall

Can the U.S. military still maintain peace around the world? Lee asked.

“We can defend our interests. We can defend our national security, freedom and liberty around the world. There’s no question about that. We are the strongest military the world has ever seen,” Stewart said. “Are we where  we need to be? Not quite yet.

“When I left the military there were 157 fighter squadrons. The last year of the Obama administration there were 56, of which many were not combat capable,” Stewart said. “We have addressed that over the last three years, with significant increases in defense spending, which I supported. As I said, we have a little ways to go.”

“Coronavirus is making it a little harder. . .but there’s nothing I see that is so deadly to the point that I think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the time when our enemies could strike and defeat us’ because I just don’t believe that’s true.”

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 transmits from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

State of Utah: https://coronavirus.utah.gov/

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line 18004567707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app