Among a thousand other issues caused by the spread of COVID-19, the Navy’s leadership has been in turmoil this past week. It’s just not every day that we see a Captain removed from a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The situation reminds me of the movie Crimson Tide when on a nuclear-powered submarine, the XO (Denzel Washington) relieves the Captain (Gene Hackman) of his duties. Great movie, but I digress.
About a week ago, the skipper of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier, was relieved of his duties after sending a letter expressing his concern about the spread of COVID-19 on his ship and his strong feeling that the Navy should be doing more. The letter stated that he wanted to evacuate the crew off the ship and implement proper quarantine procedures on land. His idea was to keep only a necessary skeleton crew on board while the ship would be moored in Guam. He sent this message via email up his chain of command and to over 20 other recipients, through a non-secure network. The letter then leaked to the media, which only worsened the situation.
In the letter, Crozier wrote, “We are not at war. 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.”
His warning has become prophetic as a sailor assigned to the aircraft carrier died from the virus today. And on Thursday, a COVID-19 positive sailor was found unresponsive in the room he was quarantining in, further legitimizing Capt. Crozier’s deep concerns.
On March 26, Capt. Crozier brought the Roosevelt into Guam after learning that the virus was beginning to spread throughout the ship. The ship has a crew of almost 5,000 sailors. Soon after the ship’s arrival in Guam, over 100 cases were diagnosed on the Roosevelt.
After Crozier’s letter hit mainstream media, then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly relieved Capt. Crozier of his duties. Modly felt that the Captain had acted irresponsibly, believing his letter had incited panic among sailors and their families. In addition, he believed that Crozier had acted unprofessionally, broaching security protocols by disseminating his letter through unsecured channels
Modly stated, “I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest of the safety and well-being of his crew. Unfortunately, [his action] did the opposite. It unnecessarily raised the alarm of the families of our sailors and Marines with no plans to address those concerns.”
He believed that Capt. Crozier “allowed the complexity of the challenge of the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally.”
Capt. Crozier was loved by his crew: they cheered for him as he walked off the ship, after being relieved of his duties.
After Crozier was removed, Thomas Modly flew out to Guam to address the crew, costing the taxpayers a pretty $243,000.
Modly planned to motivate the crew and express his admiration of their service, but instead, it turned into a mud-slinging expedition. He spoke out against the Captain, insulting him, saying that Capt. Crozier was “too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this.” He went on to add that Crozier going outside his chain of command was an act of “betrayal.”
Representatives on Capitol Hill were not happy with Crozier’s removal. Upon hearing Modly’s speech, many were outraged, quickly leading to the Secretary of the Navy’s resignation.
In the meantime, COVID-19 testing has been underway on the Roosevelt. So far, 447 sailors have tested positive, 775 test results are pending, and there are still 339 sailors waiting to be tested.
The Navy has now disembarked the Roosevelt’s crew, except for 1,000 sailors who are considered essential for ship operations. In Crozier’s COVID-19 response outline, he had recommended only 500 sailors stay aboard to meet the minimal manning requirements.
In a strange twist of fate, the Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper is keeping for reinstating Capt. Crozier open.
In a meeting that the Secretary of Defense had with the new Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations, Esper claimed, “No further action will be taken against Capt. Crozier until the investigation is completed. And once that’s completed, we’ll see where that takes us. And so we’ve taken nothing off the table.”
Secretary Esper is awaiting the results of Crozier’s investigation and recommendation, which is being conducted by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Richard Burke.
Esper expressed the following: “My inclination is always to support the chain of command, and to take their recommendations seriously.”
The events that have unfolded in the past few weeks on the USS Theodore Roosevelt are alarming. The Navy has experienced some ugly black eyes in the past few years; including the capturing of Navy sailors by Iranians in the Persian Gulf, two destroyers being involved in collisions resulting in loss of life, and more recently the Chief Gallagher case.
Leadership is complicated in the military. The chain of command is a very real thing, and if you decide to maneuver outside proper channels, you may quickly face backlash and disciplinary action. Capt. Crozier’s situation is a perfect example of this.
It’s hard to say who was right and who was wrong in this situation. I feel like I could just as easily defend Crozier or Modly as I could talk shit about what they did wrong.
Of course, I don’t have all the facts, which makes it more difficult to judge who was right in all of this.
From what I can tell, Capt. Crozier was loved by his sailors and was a very highly regarded officer in the U.S. Navy. A commanding officer’s responsibility is to complete the mission assigned to him while making every effort to maintain the welfare of the troops.
I’m sure Crozier became very worried about the health and safety of his crew upon learning that COVID-19 was aboard his ship. What I’m very interested in knowing is what steps he immediately took to mitigate the severity of the spread of COVID-19 among his sailors. Did he repeatedly ask for more help and intervention through the proper channels, with no success, prior to sending his “damaging” email? Was his letter a last-ditch effort to gain the attention needed in order to save his crew? As he pointed out, we are not at war, therefore his primary mission in his opinion was to guarantee the safety of his crew. He didn’t seem to care about being a “yes-man,” he believed in doing what was right, no matter the consequences.
Now, I do recognize where he was probably wrong. The USS Theodore Roosevelt is the largest war fighting-machine on Earth. The actions and status of an aircraft carrier on a day-to-day basis should be more or less classified, and at least confidential to some extent. For Capt. Crozier to send a detailed, desperate message to so many people, could be considered reckless. Especially since the letter made it to mainstream media. Our enemies should not know that one of our aircraft carriers is incapacitated and vulnerable. This automatically creates an inherent security threat.
Former Secretary Modly felt that what Capt. Crozier did was wrong and that he had no choice, but to relieve him of command. Modly recognized the fact that his decision was not popular with many, claiming, “The responsibility for this decision rests with me. I expect no congratulations for it. Captain Crozier is an incredible man.”
Modly certainly had the authority to remove Crozier, and maybe it was the right thing to do — like I said, its difficult to make a fair judgment without all of the information. With that being said, it seemed like the ex-Secretary’s decision was very impulsive. A full investigation had not been conducted, and it could be considered reckless to remove such a respected leader from the chain of command, especially during a crisis situation. What are the sailors supposed to think when the Navy removes the man who has gone out of his way to ensure their safety? It sends very mixed signals if you ask me.
Modley recognized the void and uncertainty that was created by removing Crozier from command, that’s why he flew out to Guam. Personally, I think that if Modly had felt good about his decision, he wouldn’t have made that trip. But, he did make that trip, and at a cost of almost a quarter-million dollars. When he got there, he delivered a speech that insulted the leader that these very sailors adored. Not the best leadership tactic.
Soon after his trip, Modly resigned. Which makes you question who really was right and who wasn’t. Both of these men are patriots and did what they thought was the right thing to do.
Unfortunately, this whole situation has created a big mess that the Navy will have to clean up. I’m sure that any more decisions made that are related to this incident will be well thought-out. The time for knee-jerk reactions must come to an end.