• Michael Byars Lewis

My Two Cents . . .

Captain Brett Crozier

One of the more controversial events of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been the infection of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and the subsequent firing of its commander, Captain Brett Crozier. I’ll say up front, I know none of the details of this situation, but my initial reaction was the captain made the right move for his crew, and as the situation unfolds, my assessment seems to be the right one. The captain, of course, was relieved of command of his nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, for sending an e-mail over non-classified lines, to the acting secretary of the navy. The biggest problem with the email, was the numerous other individuals (up, down, and outside the chain of command) who were cc’d the letter. I don’t think anyone is arguing this tactic was intended to get attention outside his chain of command.

The fallout of this event has the arm-chair generals (and admirals) screaming. I don’t know what is in this e-mail, but the arm-chairs are upset the captain would send classified information across an unsecure email line. I’m confident that a captain of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, wouldn’t send classified information over unsecured lines. There is no doubt, this was a very carefully, crafted letter.

On the other side, his sailors are praising his actions, calling him a hero. A rare leader who is sacrificing everything for his sailors. As it should be.

The biggest question no one has asked is: Why? Why did the captain do this?

I can’t say for certain why he did it, but I’ve got a pretty good idea, and the more fallout I see on this, the more I think I’m right.

To reach this point in his naval career, Captain Crozier clearly had proven time and again, he is trustworthy, intelligent, more than competent, and he has the capability of much more responsibility in the future. So, if he is the man I (we) think he is, how did this happen?

It happened because it was his last resort. There is no doubt in my mind, there had been several (if not many) SIPR-net emails (or the Navy equivalent if it is different for classified/secure emails), secured SATCOM telephone calls, and/or other means of communication though his chain of command. I suspect, Captain Crozier was either not getting any results from his actions, told to “do more with less” (a clichéd slogan of failed leaders), or an unfortunate combination of both. The bureaucracy somewhere in his chain of command failed him, and his email was a last-ditch effort to save his crew. He knew it would end his career, and he fell on his sword for it.

In the days that followed, the Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, felt it necessary to fly to Guam, to tell the sailors of the USS Theodore Roosevelt why their captain had been removed. I’m not sure why he felt he needed to do that, it seems his direct supervisor in the chain of command would have been the one to address the issue, but he’s the Acting Secretary, I guess that’s his right. The has been quite a bit of kerfuffle over Secretary Modly’s statement to the sailors, stating the captain was either, “…too naïve or too stupid…” to send this letter. Okay, I don’t necessarily have a problem with the statement, often in the military, harsh things are said because the troops need to hear it and understand it. But, if you say something like that, you had better be able to stand behind it. And in this case, Secretary Modly did not. No sooner than he returns to Washington, DC, he is apologizing for his statement and shortly thereafter, he resigns from his position.

What those two moves tells me, is there is a trail of evidence, both paper and electronic, that show Captain Crozier had tried, many times, to get help for his ship. And the request fell on deaf ears. So, being the great leader that he is, he did what he felt was the only thing he could do, he fought the fight of public opinion. This was an amazing move by a leader in this position, and surprisingly, is far more rare than you would think or expect. It’s usually the company grade officer (ensigns and lieutenants in the Navy; lieutenants and captains in the Army, Air Force, and Marines) who take such a stand, although not on this scale. What is the ‘stand?’ It’s called doing the right thing at the expense of their career. Rare is it, that you see the men and women in the higher positions of power fall on their sword for their troops, like Captain Crozier. Let’s hope there are more leaders out there like that these days. The military will be better off for it.

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