The Patriot Post® · Carrier Captain Torpedoes National Security
In the last week there has been some media attention regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on military readiness, including the Defense Department’s suspension of virtually all domestic and international travel by military personnel. Clearly, our military operations are not exempt from the viral impact.
But one particular story — a letter written by the now-former Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and published in the San Francisco Chronicle — received widespread attention. In that letter, CAPT Brett Crozier bemoaned the impact of the virus on his crew and pleaded for the Navy to take “decisive action” to stem its spread. While his concern for his crew was laudable, choosing to communicate his concerns and sensationalist tone in a way that was certain to end up in the public domain was not. The media praise for Crozier was misguided, and he was appropriately relieved of his command.
News of his “reassignment” was met with media accusations of a cover-up and praise for his great bravery in bucking the system. But Crozier wasn’t fired for speaking truth to power, as many would have you believe. He was fired for losing his cool in a high-pressure situation and improperly disclosing sensitive information — readiness status for a deployed, strategically significant asset. We’re not questioning the sincerity of his concerns for his crew, but his loss of composure raises serious questions about his fitness to command one of our nation’s premier war-fighting platforms.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly made things clear in his statement about Crozier’s actions: “As I learned more about the events of the past week on board USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN-71), including my personal conversations with the Strike Group Commander, Commander, SEVENTH Fleet, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, the Chief of Naval Operations, and CAPT Crozier himself, I could reach no other conclusion than that Captain Crozier had allowed the complexity of his challenge with COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally, when acting professionally was what was needed most. We do, and we should, expect more from the Commanding Officers of our aircraft carriers.”
Sec. Modly, a Naval Academy graduate and former pilot on the Roosevelt, was too kind. The fact is, Crozier’s irresponsible communication negatively impacted our national security and sowed seeds of dissension within the ranks, both of which increase the risk for our frontline warriors — including the TR crew and her air wing. Modly had more choice words when addressing the USS TR crew this week, calling Crozier’s actions a “betrayal of trust.”
Commanders have to balance mission and people daily. A deployed carrier has a critical mission. It may not technically be at war, but it’s operating in a grey area closer to war than peace and is there in part to send a signal that any nation that picks a fight with us will pay a price. Releasing the letter to the public like he did just fostered additional fear and stress among the crew’s loved ones at home and told the world this would be a great time to try to sucker punch us. Yes, the Chinese probably already had a good idea what was going on, but Crozier’s letter confirmed their suspicions and gave them a propaganda tool to sow doubt and dissension throughout the U.S. Navy and public.
It’s also worth noting that the people side of the coin, while serious, does not appear to be the life-or-death situation Crozier suggested. Admiral John C. Aquilino, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, declined to say how many Roosevelt sailors are infected, but stated, “I have no sailors hospitalized. I have no sailors on ventilators. I have no sailors in critical condition. No sailors in an ICU status on the Theodore Roosevelt.”
From the outside looking in, it appears the Navy was and is doing the best it can to protect the TR sailors in an unprecedented situation with no easy solutions.
An important piece of the puzzle that has received far less attention — hardly any, actually — goes back to the beginning of March. On March 4, well after the impact of the virus was known and Asia was identified as ground zero, the TR made a historic port visit to Vietnam, which is most likely where the virus was introduced to the crew. What inquiring minds should want to know is this: Who voiced concerns then, and who made the final decision to go ahead with the visit? Hopefully there was a rigorous risk assessment and the final decision was made on the basis of a broader engagement strategy and not in the name of sailor welfare (i.e., We have to make the port call because the crew has been looking forward to it for months and we can’t keep ‘em at sea forever!). If Crozier, who has now tested positive for the virus, had concerns and was overridden, that would have been the time to sound general quarters.
Update 4/7: Sec. Modly apologized Monday for going too far by calling Capt. Crozier “too naive or too stupid” to navigate treacherous waters in his speech to sailors aboard the USS TR. “Let me be clear,” Modly said. “I do not think Captain Brett Cozier is naive nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite. We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate.” He later resigned his post.
Update 4/27: The Navy now says Capt. Crozier should be reinstated.