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Sailors Assigned to Navy Boot Camp and Submarine Die of COVID-19



Two sailors died of the illness caused by the coronavirus this week, bringing the total number of U.S. troops killed by the illness to at least 20.

Chief Quartermaster Herbert Rojas, a 50-year-old staff instructor at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Illinois, died of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Rojas was quarantining in his off-base residence after testing positive for the virus when he was found unresponsive, said Lt. Cmdr. Phil Chitty, a Naval Service Training Command spokesman

“He failed to wake up to an alarm clock. His girlfriend attempted to wake him,” Chitty said. “Local police were then dispatched to the scene, and he was pronounced dead shortly after their arrival.”

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Two days after Rojas’ death, a sailor assigned to the ballistic-missile submarine Tennessee’s Blue crew died of COVID-related complications.

Information Systems Technician (Submarines) Second Class Petty Officer Cody Andrew-Godfredson Myers, 26, was admitted to Naval Air Station Jacksonville Hospital in Florida on Jan. 30 before being transferred to the intensive care unit at the University of Florida Hospital Shands in Jacksonville the next day.

He tested positive for COVID-19 there and remained in the ICU until his death Feb. 4.

“Myers was placed on Restriction of Movement Jan. 18, as a precaution after close contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19,” Navy officials said in a statement Friday. “Sailors who may have been in contact with Myers have been notified already and taken the appropriate precautions.”

The statement added that chaplains, embedded mental health specialists and counselors were available at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, to support the crew of the sub.

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the family, shipmates and friends of Petty Officer Myers during this extremely difficult time,” a statement from Commander, Submarine Forces, reads.

Personnel at Great Lakes, where all new Navy recruits train to become sailors, are in a state of mourning and are focused on caring for Rojas’ loved ones, Chitty said.

“Leadership has really taken Chief Rojas’ death to heart because this is the first death at Recruit Training Command as a result of COVID-19,” he added.

In a statement, Capt. Erik Thors, head of Recruit Training Command, said, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and shipmate Chief Rojas, and we will continue supporting his family and friends during this time of grief.”

Chitty, citing Pentagon policy, declined to provide the number of COVID-19 cases at the recruit training center. It’s not known when Rojas caught the virus or whether it was the result of interacting with recruits.

As a staff instructor, Chitty added, Rojas had less interaction with new recruits than the recruit division commanders who train future sailors. The chief tested positive after routine randomized testing.

He and anyone deemed to have had close contact with Rojas was then quarantined, Chitty said.

Submarine Forces is withholding details about the other sailor’s death, pending family notification.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, shipmates and friends of the Sailor during this extremely difficult time,” Navy officials said in a statement Thursday.

Four sailors have now died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Abdigafar Salad Warsame, a 52-year-old Navy Reserve logistics specialist with the Navy Operational Support Center in Columbus, Ohio, died Jan. 8. Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., a 41-year-old member of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt’s crew, died in April.

The deaths of Rojas and the submariner bring the total number of military fatalities from COVID-19 up to at least 20, according to Defense Department data.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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