The Navy is in the news a lot. On one coast, the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, named after the iconic President, is in the news in a bad way. Her Commanding Officer, CAPT Crozier, was removed by the Secretary of the Navy because of a letter he wrote (and didn’t safeguard adequately) where he argued to evacuate most of his crew due to a COVID-19 outbreak because “Sailors do not need to die.” Reading the letter on its own (available here), without any other context makes CAPT Crozier look like a selfless hero, amplified when he was removed from command by Acting Secretary Modly and then cheered by his own crew.
Like most stories, the surface belies the true nature of the medium. The largest fallacy comes from thinking the Navy wasn’t already acting to help the THEODORE ROOSEVELT. The Navy was moving, quickly, to find a suitable plan for ROOSEVELT. It had already secured 3,000 beds in Guam, which if you’ve ever been to the tiny island, you’ll realize is quite an achievement. Secretary Modly was in contact with CAPT Crozier personally, on multiple occasions before the letter was sent.
Before you sign a petition supporting CAPT Crozier, or think the Navy is some evil, vile organization that hates its Sailors, try watching Secretary Modly’s full press conference. I can guarantee it is not boring:
The Navy balances Sailor morale and welfare with the mission assigned to it. Contrary to CAPT Crozier’s letter, where he asserts we “…we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single Sailor to perish…”, that’s simply not true. The Navy executes dangerous “peacetime” missions every day. We fly planes, drive submarines, spy on enemies, rescue mariners in distress, ride out rough weather, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to areas that have multiple infectious diseases. Every day we engage in these activities, which occasionally kill Sailors, and while we balance our risk, the risk is never zero, because the American people expect their Navy to be ready for war, and readiness is never achieved with zero risk.
CAPT Crozier’s actions smell of grand standing. You can’t simply shutdown a nuclear aircraft carrier and park it like some cheap rental car. You always have Sailors onboard to monitor the reactor plants and maintain critical gear. CAPT Crozier even acknowledges that he has to keep at least 10% of the crew onboard. If he had proposed a rotation plan to maintain THEODORE ROOSEVELT while the virus burned itself out, he would probably still be in command.
On the other coast is another Roosevelt. DDG-80, the USS ROOSEVELT, is preparing for a deployment to Europe and a homeport shift to Rota, Spain. No doubt her Sailors are worried about COVID-19, as are their families. Instead of inspiring doubt and fear, her Commanding Officer is finishing deployment preparations, in a quiet and professional manner.
Emotions run high when things are uncertain. Emotions feel good, and can even make you popular. But emotions cause you to make mistakes in war. Emotions, and emotional responses, sap your reasoning and break down your training. In war, when time and training matter, emotions get you killed.
If we’re being emotional now dealing with a virus with a mortality rate of 2%, and likely less than that for young people, how are we going to deal with a Great Power Competitor that has a higher death rate? Will we write letters to the press about the Sailors we lost in missile exchanges? Will we complain about driving into harm’s way?
When the going gets tough, do you want to be lead by someone ruled by their emotions, or someone who chooses to rule them?
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.