The Navy has hit a new low by firing an aircraft carrier captain who was trying to save his crew from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Officially, the reason Navy Capt. Brett E. Crozier was fired on April 2 because he sent too many people a memo outlining the dire conditions aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. That excuse is all the more laughable considering nothing in Crozier’s memo was classified.
Events moved quickly after the San Francisco Chronicle published a leaked copy of Crozier’s memo on March 31. The following day, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly promised reporters that Crozier would not be made a sacrificial lamb.
“The fact that he wrote the letter to his chain of command to express his concerns would absolutely not result in any type of retaliation,” Modly said during a Pentagon news briefing. “This is what we want our commanding officers to be able to do.”
That didn’t last long. Roughly 24 hours later, Modly accused Crozier of being reckless by sending his memo to up to 30 people.
“What that did is it created a panic on – a little bit of a panic on the ship, because the ship was not prepared – the chief petty officers were not prepared to answer questions from the crew in terms of how bad the situation was,” Modly said during an April 2 news conference at the Pentagon.
Yet videos posted on social media show Theodore Roosevelt crew members cheering as Crozier left the aircraft carrier after being relieved. In one video, a sailor can be heard to say: “Now that’s how you send out one of the greatest captains we ever had!”
That hardly looks like a sendoff for a captain who caused panic among his crew. Rather, it shows that sailors on the Theodore Roosevelt wanted to show their appreciation to Crozier, who sacrificed his career to save their lives.
Firing Crozier before the Navy had completed an investigation into the incident makes the Navy look “petty and small,” a retired Navy admiral told Task & Purpose.
“It’s not just horrible optics; it’s a horrible decision, particularly at this stage in the events aboard Theodore Roosevelt,” the admiral said on condition of anonymity.
“It would have been better, frankly, for the Navy to complete the investigation that Adm. Gilday announced he was going to do and then see if you need to make any personnel decisions as a result of that, rather than relieve a CO in the middle of trying to get thousands of his sailor safely ashore and away from potential infection – and only feeding the fear and uncertainty that the crew and their family are already feeling.”
While the investigation may turn up facts that are not yet public, it does not appear at this point that Crozier’s decision to send his memo to so many people rises to the level of a firing offense, the retired admiral said.
“It really to me comes down to a petty, vindictive resentment over the fact that, perhaps, he embarrassed the Trump administration,” the retired admiral said.
Clearly, Navy leadership was angry that Crozier had the audacity to speak the simple truth: The Navy was willing to put his sailor’s lives at risk to keep the Theodore Roosevelt ready to fight a war against China that would most likely be settled by nuclear weapons within 30 minutes.
“Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote in the memo. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”
Modly told reporters that no data indicated that any sailors aboard the Theodore Roosevelt were in danger of dying. He also said Crozier told him the ship had six ventilators, and that would be enough to treat crew members who became sickened with the coronavirus.
But what angered Navy leadership the most was that someone leaked Crozier’s memo to the media. At the April 2 briefing, Modly claimed that neither he nor the carrier strike group commander aboard the ship, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, were aware of the concerns that Crozier raised in the memo before the captain sent “a blast out email to anybody who he knows about the situation.”
“If he had walked in with that list of concerns to his immediate supervisor and said: Hey, let’s work together on this, and they worked together on it, and the list didn’t change, we would not be here talking about this and that commanding officer would probably still be in command right now,” Modly said.
In other words, Crozier’s true offense was making the Navy look bad because the media found out that the service was failing to protect his sailors.
That likely explains the speed at which the Navy fired him. Navy Times reporter Geoff Ziezulewicz noted on Twitter that the captains of two destroyers that collided with other vessels ion 2017 weren’t relieved of command until weeks after the incidents. A total of 17 sailors died in those collisions.
It should also be noted that the chief of naval operations at the time, Adm. John Richardson, was not fired despite the loss of life and countless other disasters under his watch. Rank hath its privileges.
The Crozier firing shows that the Navy has learned nothing since those two deadly collisions in 2017. The sea service does not protect commanders with the courage to say all is not as well as the brass see it. The Navy demands unconditional obedience and mandatory group think.
It’s a shame that the same Navy that produced Chester Nimitz and Raymond Spruance now wants all of its officers to be sycophants instead of leaders.
If John Paul Jones were still alive, this would kill him.
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Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for nearly 15 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at email@example.com or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.