For lack of all things, the Navy

From military.com

I wrote about the CAPT Crozier/SECNAV Modly affair last week, and couldn’t have been more wrong. I was disgusted to get information from others that pointed to a lack of a plan and a lack of care by many in the chain of command for the well being of the Sailors aboard THEODORE ROOSEVELT. What should have been a good news story of the Navy tackling the COVID-19 virus turned into a complete shit show, resulting in Acting SECNAV Modly resigning, a lot of hurt feelings on all sides, and a huge loss in confidence in senior Navy leadership. The only good thing we got out of it was no more “Vector” emails. Despite tons of good news stories for the Navy right now, especially the USNS COMFORT and USNS MERCY, the Navy headlines will be more bad than good.

So yes, I got it wrong. I was fooled by a good media performance early on, then watched everything descend into chaos. I do hope, if CAPT Crozier is found innocent, they put him back in charge.

Going forward, our Navy is in trouble in terms of leadership. To start with the situation, we have a Navy too small for what we ask of it. We’ve killed the Navy’s one saving point, mobility, by demanding presence per a Global Force Management schedule that doesn’t take ship maintenance into account. Yet we pay an astronomical amount of money for the Navy we have, mainly because our shipyards can’t produce a ship on budget or on time. Worse still, while the Army and Air Force had free reign of Overseas Contingency money, and a chance to recapitalize hardware, Navy still has old ships that are increasing in maintenance cost.

We need a strong SECNAV to get the Navy bureaucracy back on track, and yet to Congress, the Navy is somewhere on the bottom tier right now. Nobody cares enough to approve the President’s SECNAV choice, or to suggest someone else. Nobody cares enough to either build more ships or demand we scale back our overseas commitments. So this puts us lacking equipment and leadership.

But soon it’ll be worse, because we’ll be lacking people. When we put the Blended Retirement System in place, it was to make the system more “fair,” which for Congress means “cost less money.” The negative effect is that we’ll need more recruiting more often, because more people will leave earlier. Since it started in 2018, you’ll start seeing drastic changes in 2023 as Sailors that entered in 2018 leave in greater-than-anticipated numbers. For officers, who already have large incentives to leave after their 5 year initial contract, we’ll either have to throw huge bonuses at them to stay or live with gaps, keeping in mind in many cases, we’re already maxing out bonuses in many cases. If you’re an O-3 in 2023, would you stay in a Navy full of old ships, a declining retirement system and leaders that set poor standards, or would you jump ship for a civilian job?

The Navy’s approaching a crisis point. We’ll soon be lacking in equipment, leadership and people. Without some drastic rudder, the Navy will struggle to weather the upcoming storms.

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.

Two Navies, Two Stories, One Choice

200321-N-TL141-1039 PHILLIPINE SEA (March 21, 2020) An MH-60R Sea Hawk assigned to the “Wolf Pack” Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 75, takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) March 21, 2020. The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dylan Lavin)

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.

Obviously, very concerned about the virus spreading, just look at that social distancing!

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.

From https://www.dvidshub.net/news/365634/uss-roosevelt-prepares-homeport-shift-rota

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.