Let’s address the obvious. Captain Brett Crozier being relieved of command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) has gotten an insane amount of attention. The reason for that is simple: the political Left and their media partners are attempting to use this to bludgeon President Donald Trump.
While not a routine occurrence, relieving a commanding officer (CO) and other senior leaders in the Navy is not rare. Five were relieved from their jobs in just the month of August 2019. Others were relieved of ship commands last year. There was no outrage from the political Left or liberal press over those.
Let’s address Crozier’s transgressions, in no particular order. He ignored his chain of command. His reporting senior was Rear Admiral Stuart Baker, the Commander of Carrier Strike Group 9. Baker and his staff are embarked on CVN-71, and Baker is located just down the passageway from Crozier’s cabin — literally, just feet away. Crozier didn’t notify Baker of his concerns before blasting out his memo. This is unthinkable in a military hierarchy.
About that memorandum. There are several ways Crozier could have and should have conveyed any of his concerns. An unclassified memorandum is not one of them. Not ever. Here are just two examples that would have been proper. Crozier could have sent Baker a Navy message referred to as a “P4.” The subject line actually reads “Personal for (name).” A P4 message is an attention-getter. They are often used to address sensitive matters without alarming everyone because the distribution is between the sender and the recipient. Think of a P4 as the functional equivalent of grabbing someone by the lapels and saying, “This is really, really important!” When I was the flag lieutenant to a three-star admiral, a P4 message got immediate attention.
If Crozier was truly concerned about the coronavirus and believed the entire Navy chain of command deserved notification, then he should have sent a casualty report (casrep). A casrep is a formatted Navy message used to document significant materiel and personnel readiness concerns. A casrep message from an aircraft carrier, particularly one that is forward-deployed, would get the attention of the entire defense establishment. When I served on the staff of a fleet commander, every casrep was briefed to the four-star admiral. There was an all-hands-on-deck effort to immediately resolve the matter. In the words of Joe Biden, “This is a big f***ing deal.”
Crozier used unsecured communications. He transmitted what is arguably at least For Official Use Only, if not classified, information over an unclassified medium. Nothing more needs to be said about this.
By his actions, Crozier compromised the operational security regarding the readiness of CVN-71. In other words, Crozier told the entire world, including our adversaries, that our aircraft carrier that is forward-deployed in the western Pacific was possibly not operationally ready. For this one reason alone, he probably should have been relieved.
Crozier leaked — or by his actions caused to be leaked — his letter to the press. It is likely this was his No. 1 goal all along. There are lots of reasons why he may have done this. None of them are good. We don’t know what the backstory is, so we can only speculate. Here are some possibilities. Perhaps he was just incompetent, although that’s not likely. Maybe he was already skating on thin ice for other reasons, knew he had reached the end of his Navy career (“terminal pay grade”), and decided to go down in flames. He wouldn’t be the first or the last to do so. Perhaps he couldn’t get along with Baker, and he thought this action might damage him.
There was a video of Crozier being cheered by sailors as he disembarked the ship. That must mean he was a good commanding officer, right? Hardly. What I saw in the video was a lot of colored jerseys and camouflage uniforms. It appeared to me these were mostly young, junior enlisted. There was a dearth of khaki uniforms that are worn by senior enlisted officers and commissioned officers. That the ship’s senior leadership was not wishing Crozier a fond farewell spoke volumes to anyone who has ever served onboard a ship. Yes, some in-flight suits were present, but those are flight crewmembers from embarked Carrier Air Wing 11, the aircraft squadrons onboard. They are not members of the ship’s crew and do not work for or report to the carrier CO. They were the shipboard version of passersby.
On board a warship, what excites junior sailors may be far different than what energizes chief petty officers (CPO) and officers. Crozier may have been a decent, likable guy. There was a picture of him washing pots and pans in the scullery, just like one of the sailors. Maybe he plopped a dollop of mashed potatoes on some sailor’s cafeteria tray for Christmas dinner. He may have walked the ship’s deck plates, visiting the far reaches of the carrier, showing interest in his crew and their work. Kudos to him if he did any of these.
He may have also been the CO who was known to party like the boys while on liberty in a foreign port. Perhaps he told off-color jokes and swore like a sailor. Maybe he didn’t follow Navy guidelines in meting out punishment in Captain’s Mast (non-judicial punishment). Teen and twenty-something sailors would cheer that kind of behavior. CPOs and officers, not so much.
Again, this is only speculation. But what we do know is Crozier’s actions were inappropriate and damaging. He was not Captain Merrill Stubing of the Love Boat, who could make up his own rules, willy-nilly. After all, this is the U.S. Navy. Command is an honor and a privilege. It also carries great responsibility, particularly if it is command at sea. On this, Crozier fell far short and deserved to be relieved.
By the way, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly was correct to resign. He would have been fine if he had relieved Crozier and remained silent. Instead, he violated a cardinal rule of leadership: praise in public, reprove in private.
Mark Hyman is a retired Navy Captain who served on USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), the sister ship to Theodore Roosevelt. His latest book Pardongate: How Bill & Hillary Clinton and Their Brothers Profited from Pardons will be in bookstores soon. You can follow him on Twitter @MarkHyman.