Everyone is up in arms about the fact that the Navy brass fired Captain Brett Crozier, of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, after Crozier complained about people on his ship being infected with COVID-19. To many people, he was a lone man fighting a hardened bureaucracy on behalf of the men and women in his care. To others, he was a dangerous malcontent who placed his entire ship at risk by ignoring rules that exist for a reason.
The report about Captain Brett Crozier, whose ship, the USS Roosevelt, was docked in Guam, broke like a bomb on March 31. Here’s the Stars and Stripes report on that day:
The captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt has requested permission to remove most of the aircraft carrier’s crew from the ship and isolate roughly 4,000 sailors to help curtail a coronavirus outbreak aboard the vessel.
Capt. Brett Crozier wrote in an unaddressed letter Monday to Navy leadership that the ship’s environment is “most conducive to spread of the disease” with open shared sleeping areas, shared restrooms and workspaces, and confined passageways to move through on the ship. He wrote the Roosevelt’s crew is unable to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or Navy procedures to protect the health of sailors through individual isolation on the ship for 14 or more days.
“Due to a warship’s inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this. The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating,” Crozier wrote.
Crozier was an instant hero for taking a stand on behalf of his crew. Indeed, the Navy’s initial response was to say Crozier would not be punished for being so candid about conditions aboard his ship.
However, two days after the Crozier story broke, the Navy removed him from his command. People on both sides of the political aisle were outraged. This seemed like the worst kind of military rigidity, with rules and regulations triumphing over the well-being of America’s sons and daughters.
Except, as always, things are more complicated than the first news reports indicate. It turns out that Crozier wasn’t taking a last-ditch stand after the Navy ignored him. Instead, according to Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Crozier may have ignored the all-important chain of command:
“[Acting Navy Secretary Thomas] Modly is the responsible, accountable official to the American people. And he had reason to believe that the captain operated outside the chain of command and he relieved him,” Milley told Fox News’s Outnumbered Overtime on Friday.
Milley said there is an ongoing investigation into what happened, but he trusted Modly and his judgment and would support him.
He added, “The secretary of the Navy is responsible to the American people for the good order and discipline of the Navy. And when he loses trust and confidence in a ship’s captain, then that’s it. It’s target down. And we’re moving on to the next, to the next task.”
Modly said Crozier had cc’ed more than 20 people, including some outside the chain of command, over unsecured and unclassified systems, assuring the memo’s leak.
He also said Crozier did not speak to his direct superior, carrier strike group commander Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, about his concerns before sending the memo, despite Baker being on the carrier and living within feet of Crozier.
Modly said Crozier was not fired for expressing concerns, but the way he chose to do so.
The chain of command exists not merely to keep order. It also exists to keep information from the public. Crozier commanded one of only ten Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the Navy. These ships are considered the backbone of America’s naval fighting force.
By going public with his complaints, Crozier essentially sent a giant banner up into the sky announcing to America’s enemies that one of the primary weapons in America’s arsenal might be out of commission. You can see, therefore, why the Navy took a dim view of Crozier bypassing the chain of command to announce that he had a problem.
If more information comes out saying Crozier had been banging his head fruitlessly against the military hierarchy, well, then this post is instantly obsolete. However, as long as it appears that he went public without first following the rules, then the Navy was correct to fire him. On the information available, his conduct created a clear and present danger to American preparedness.