A couple of days ago I posted about how COVID-19 sidelined the USS Theodore Roosevelt. In that post I wrote that I expected the Navy to take any action necessary to protect the crew and get the ship back in action as quickly as possible. Now it looks like this didn’t happen quickly enough to satisfy her Captain, and he was not shy about letting people know. This got him canned.
After evacuating more than a hundred COVID-positive sailors to quarantine on Guam, Captain Brett Crozier became concerned that the Navy would not act fast enough to protect the rest of the crew. On 30 March, Crozier sent a sharp letter to his superiors pointing out that while the ship could fight if necessary, failure to rapidly disembark sailors during peacetime risked their lives unnecessarily.
This caused Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly to relieve Crozier of his command, ostensibly for going around his chain of command.
I can’t believe for a second that Crozier simply sent this letter without first expressing his concerns to Rear Admiral Stuart Baker, Commander of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and Crozier’s direct superior, especially if he was “right down the hall” as Modly asserts. This looks to me like a case of a CO who worried about training, war fighting, and the well-being of his crew and was not heard by his chain of command when he sounded the alarm – so be raised his voice.
So I’m not convinced Modly cashiered the Captain for bucking the chain of command. It looks to me like he sent him packing because he made the Navy’s civilian leadership and Donald Trump look bad. Modly more or less said so himself. From NPR:
“It creates a panic, and it creates the perception that the Navy is not on the job, the government’s not on the job, and it’s just not true.” Except it is of course true: the Trump Administration had botched the US response to this pandemic since the beginning, when Trump himself suggested that it would “be just fine” when asked about it on 22 January.
Former Navy officers who understand this stuff expressed concern. From Defense One:
John Kirby, a retired rear admiral who served as the State Department’s head spokesman from 2015 to 2017, tweeted, ”I understand the ‘trust & confidence’ argument. It’s sacrosanct in the Navy. But based on justification put forth by acting SECNAVfor why he lost trust & confidence in the TR CO, hard to see it as anything other than an over-reaction & unwarranted at a vital time for the ship.”
Said Lapan, “There are so many flaws in how the Navy is explaining this that it’s causing people to question what the real reasons are.”
Of Modly’s suggestion that Crozier should have contacted him directly, Lapan said it directly contradicts the secretary’s reasoning for the firing.
“You’re the acting secretary of the navy. You’re going to suggest an O-6 ship captain coming directly to you is not going outside the chain of command? Everyone above that O-6 would have been furious,” said Lapan.
For the record, Admiral Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations since 22 August 2019, said he agreed with the decision. Gilday is a decorated officer and a bona fide hero who has a lot invested in the Navy. That said, Trump nominated him for his position only last year and promoted him ahead of more senior officers after a scandal derailed the promotion of former Vice CNO Bill Moran. I’d be curious to know who picked him out of the crowd, and if it was former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, another Trump appointee.
Crozier left his former command to cheers of “the greatest captain we ever had” from his crew, who clearly loved him and knew he had their welfare first in his mind. This officer did the right thing: he spoke truth to power in order to protect the sailors under his command. I would have done the same. Thank you, sir, and keep it up.