I read, with mixed emotions, about the abrupt firing of Navy Capt. Brett E. Crozier, Commanding Officer of the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Crozier was “relieved” of his command by acting Navy secretary Thomas B. Modly 10 days ago.
Modly then added insult to injury by flying to Guam and berating the ship’s crew for ”loving” Capt. Crozier. In a profanity-punctuated rant, Modly also accused Crozier of being “naive or stupid.” Modly later apologized for his inappropriate remarks and resigned.
The official Navy rationale for firing Crozier was that he used “poor judgment” in alerting his urgent concerns to too many people about a serious coronavirus aboard his ship. The biggest indictment against him was communicating his problems “via an unclassified channel that was leaked to the press.”
As a former commander at multiple levels in the U.S. Army, I can identify, to some extent, with Capt. Crozier’s coronavirus crisis in command. Although the Army and Navy differ in kind as to mission, organization, personnel and many other variables, they differ only in degree when it comes to the crucial role of command.
For starters, military command is among the highest honors that can be bestowed upon our military leaders. The higher the command, the greater the honor. It’s been said, “The reward of the general is not a bigger tent, but command.” Amen, and that goes for Army colonels, Navy captains, and all who get the opportunity to command and do it well.
Capt. Crozier was, apparently, by background, education, experience and expertise, a “good fit” to serve as Commanding Officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. He understood the gravity of his ship’s mission and his responsibility for the health, morale and welfare of the 5,000 or so sailors entrusted to him.
The crucial question here is “Did Capt. Crozier let his emotions regarding the coronavirus and its effect on his command cloud his professional judgment on how best to deal with it?”
I have no idea, but assuming he did have a temporary lapse of judgment, was that sufficient enough to abruptly fire him? I doubt it.
If, as the Navy claims, help was already on the way toward resolving the coronavirus crisis on Capt. Crozier’s ship, I believe he should have been reprimanded, but not summarily relieved, pending an objective, swift and thorough investigation of all the circumstances surrounding his controversial case.
The Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General could still conduct an official investigation to separate fact from fiction and serve as a guide for future crises in command.
That may or may not help Capt. Crozier, but I believe it would be the right thing to do anyway.
Finally, Capt. Crozier has now been tested positive for coronavirus. Let us all wish him well.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.