Navy chief dies of COVID complications


A Navy chief and staff instructor at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Illinois, died Tuesday at his home due to COVID-19 complications, the second active-duty sailor to die this week after contracting the novel coronavirus.

Chief Quartermaster Herbert Rojas, 50, of Richmond Hill, New York, had been randomly tested recently and was “asymptomatic positive” at the time, according to Lt. Cmdr. Phil Chitty, a spokesman for Naval Service Training Command.

Chitty declined to say when Rojas was tested, but said it was part of “sentinel surveillance testing” for all Recruit Training Command staff members.

RTC’s surveillance involves randomly testing 10 percent of RTC staff each week, with all staff being tested over a 10-week period, Chitty said.

The source of Rojas’ infection remains unknown, Chitty said, but “a contact tracing investigation was done to identify anyone at Recruit Training Command with possible contact.”

“The priority with contact tracing is containing a potential spread of COVID-19,” he added.

Chitty said Rojas’ contracting of the virus is not believed to be connected to any other outbreak among staff or recruits at Great Lakes.

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Rojas was serving as a basic naval orientation instructor, administering tests and teaching general topics like first aid, sexual assault prevention and response, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, uniforms, grooming and other essentials.

He enlisted in 2001, got his anchors in 2019 and arrived at Great Lakes in March 2018, according to his service record.

“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, the head of Recruit Training Command, Capt. Erik Thors, said in a statement.

Rojas’ death was announced Friday morning. On Thursday, a submariner who had tested positive for COVID-19 died in a Jacksonville, Florida, hospital.

That sailor, assigned to the blue crew of the ballistic missile submarine Tennessee, has yet to be identified.

Officials said the sailor was admitted to the hospital aboard Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, Saturday, and transferred to the intensive care unit at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital on Sunday, where the sailor tested positive for COVID-19.

The sailor died in the ICU Thursday, according to the Naval Submarine Forces statement.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, shipmates and friends of the Sailor during this extremely difficult time,” the command said.

At least 20 servicemembers have died after contracting COVID-19, according to a Pentagon tally of cases and deaths.


Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at

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