Don’t Make a Hero Out of Captain Brett Crozier

BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT

By now, those of us deemed non-essential for society’s proper operation during this time of pandemic have probably seen something online or in the news about the purportedly “heroic” US Navy Captain Brett Crozier and his four-paged letter pleading for help for his coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Presently, 100 crewmembers of the Theodore Roosevelt‘s complement of 5,000 sailors have tested positive for coronavirus. One-thousand of the ship’s crew have been offloaded to nearby Guam to be put into isolation, with another 2,700 expected to be removed from the ship for quarantine by the week’s end. A meager ten percent of the crew will remain onboard the leviathan warship in order to maintain its nuclear reactor, maintain a fire suppression squadron should trouble erupt, and keep the all-important galley open. That I am even able to write this with certainty (because this information has been released to press outlets, such as Axios) is a grotesque failure of operational security.

Here is what Foreign Policy assessed recently:

While top officials insisted Wednesday that the remaining crew aboard the ship would be able to respond to a crisis, the Navy’s decision to offload most of the USS Roosevelt has created a strain on the carrier fleet, as the USS Ronald Reagan is also docked and undergoing maintenance. The coronavirus has spread to at least 93 sailors aboard the Roosevelt, senior Navy officials said Wednesday. The Pentagon has not confirmed the initial source of the outbreak, though the ship made a port visit to Vietnam in early March as the novel coronavirus spread across Asia.

This is undoubtedly a tragedy unlike anything that even a seasoned veteran of the Navy’s officer corps, Captain Brett Crozier, is accustomed to. After all, getting sick at sea is something that happens to civilian cruise lines and the occasional landlubber who comes aboard, but getting slapped with the 21st century plague while on patrol in potentially hostile waters is unprecedented. It makes sense that Captain Crozier would want to seek help from his commanding officers.

Yet, here’s the rub: Captain Crozier, clearly–understandably–concerned with the lives of his crew wrote a detailed letter, a combination of complaint and distress call, to his commanders in Washington, D.C. The key problem is, according to the Department of the Navy, Captain Crozier did not relay this information through “secure channels.”

He sent his four-paged letter “far and wide” according the US Navy.

In other words, a man who controls one of the most expensive and powerful weapons in America’s mighty arsenal leaked what is ordinarily highly classified information to the public. Specifically, his letter ended up in the pages of the ordinarily military-bashing San Francisco Chronicle.

Make no mistake: this is precisely what Captain Crozier intended.

Contrary to what some may believe, a captain in the United States Navy has a first duty to the country rather than the crew. Part of that first duty means protecting critical information about the vulnerabilities of his ship.

In this case, the Theodore Roosevelt is a big, beautiful nuclear-powered aircraft carrier–known as a “supercarrier”–with nearly 5,000 crewmembers, and a little less than 100 aircraft, ready for war. The ship is designed to deploy deep into potential enemy territory and unleash Hell upon whoever is giving the United States trouble geopolitically.

The US Navy maintains 11 of these ships, which are constantly shifting primarily between the United States’ home waters, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific (I still prefer “Asia-Pacific”).

The movement and coordination of a US Navy aircraft carrier is not an easy thing to do. It is a logistical marvel to behold. Maintaining such a magisterial engineering feat while constantly keeping it combat-ready, while deployed for long durations so far from home, is an additional feat that few countries have managed to replicate (and when they do, it is infrequent and with far fewer numbers than what the Americans can muster).

The United States does this on a routine basis. The fact that we can deploy these wonders of the seas with what appears to be relative ease underscores America’s might–and instills understandable fear in the minds of our enemies.

Thanks to the commanding officer of the Theodore Roosevelt, the Chinese, Russians, North Koreans, and Iranians now all know that America’s ubiquitous form of power projection has been weakened. Sure, other carriers can be called to replace the stricken carrier. But that will take time. And in geopolitics, wasted time is wasted opportunity…and it can be a once-in-a-lifetime opening for an enemy.

Right now, tensions are at all-time highs with the People’s Republic of China, who have already been testy in the Indo-Pacific region. China is attempting to show its strength as it has been blamed for the outbreak of COVID-19 by some in the West (and it was already on an aggressive path against the West between the Hong Kong protests and the “trade war.”) Reports have suggested that in the last month, China purchased 1.4 million new units of body armor for its troops while China’s air force engaged in the most aggressive acts of brinksmanship in Taiwanese airspace in years.

So, too, have the North Koreans gotten more hostile. Given their relationship with China and their nuclear weapons program, Pyongyang could decide to start trouble now (although reports indicate that Pyongyang is actually reaching out to the West for assistance in managing its own COVID-19 outbreak).

Meanwhile, the Iranians are getting even more twitchy as COVID-19 devours what little political stability they had at home.

Since the Theodore Roosevelt is clearly out-of-commission until it can be cleared of the infection, the Pentagon is moving the USS Harry S. Truman out from its deterrence mission against Iran in the Persian Gulf and will likely redeploy it to the Pacific, in order to fill the gap left by the Theodore Roosevelt. Iran has already been getting aggressive, as it embraces what I believe is a use-it-or-lose-it mentality with establishing themselves as the dominant regional power in the Middle East.

The absence of an American carrier at such a volatile moment just might be the opening Tehran thinks it needs to press whatever advantages it might be at risk of losing in the long-term (particularly as Iran’s key ally, Russia, continues to battle America’s key regional partner, Saudi Arabia, in the ongoing oil price war).

All of this because the Captain of the Theodore Roosevelt wanted to vent to the public his frustration at having to contend with COVID-19. Had he followed proper protocols and simply alerted his commanding officers about the outbreak on his ship and requested permission to quietly offload the afflicted crewmembers, that would have been one thing. After all, the captain does have a responsibility to his ship and crew–and right now his ship and crew would not help the United States in its mission to deter potential Chinese or North Korean aggression.

Yet, the good captain opted to take his problem public. That is a court martial-able offense. Today, the Navy announced that it was relieving Captain Crozier of his command. In typical fashion, the media is attempting to make a hero of Crozier (simply because they think Croziers made the Trump administration look bad). This is an embarrassment. As citizens, each and everyone of us should be upset that a man entrusted with one of the most important–and expensive–taxpayer-funded weapons system broke the chain of command to make a political statement during a time of international crisis. In so doing, Captain Crozier laid bare a critical vulnerability that a coterie of American rivals may decide to take advantage of–which could prompt a major war.

Captain Crozier is not some hero and he deserves whatever scorn and punishment he receives.

©2020, The Weichert Report. All Rights Reserved.

14 Comments

    1. How on Earth could Russia or China have known for certain that the ship was infected if not for the CO of the ship disseminating that letter wide and far? Speculation will always be there. But having the CO explicitly state the details of his ship’s weakness…come on. #OPSEC

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As a geopolitical analyst, it’s best you stay away from Navy procedures and policies. The captain of a warship has two missions: fight to win, and protect the crew. Since our President has declared a war on Covid-19, his mission was outlined. He did that with his letter, which is in keeping with his second mission. Without a crew, a warship is a museum piece. The fault is in the leak to the SF Chronicle. The second fault was that of the Asst SecNav relieving Crozier for telling it like it is, an embarrassment to the Navy

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    1. No, in fact, it’s best if more people start getting involved in military affairs. We pay for it and I’d like to know why the CO of a $16 billion war machine thought it was wise to write a letter “far and wide” outside of his chain of command. The USN knew about his predicament. They were acting as best they could. The situation was unprecedented. They were holding it in place as facilities at Guam were being constructed. Loose lips sink ships. The Department of Navy has a lot of problems and should be taken to the woodshed for various things (Fat Leonard Scandal, the waste that was the Zumwalt, etc), this was not one of them. Crozier MAY have saved the lives of his crew. Good for him. He also let Beijing know for certain that, not only is the USS Ronald Reagan holed up in Japan (because of a COVID-19 outbreak) but now his flattop is as well. Guess what? Now China’s Liaoning is the only operational flattop in the Pacific at this moment. And it just sailed out to sea through the Miyako Strait past Okinawa and turned south…Ruh-roh. #OpSec Thanks.

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      1. You have two inaccuracies in your response.

        First, OPSEC was first broken by Navy Public Affairs on 24 March when it let the press know that three Sailors had tested positive for COVID-19 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Captain Crozier didn’t do that.

        Second, at the time Captain Crozier sent his letter over the NIPRNET, his ship was the only ship in the Navy that had COVID-19 victims in its crew. He had nothing to do with letting the Chinese know that the USS Ronald Reagan is now sidelined because of the Coronavirus. That was again the work of Navy Public Affairs.

        It’s pretty clear to me that the Navy needs to add a paragraph to every Fleet Commander’s Security Classification Guidance (SCG) that states anytime a contagious virus is introduced to a Navy ship, that fact is classified Confidential, or even Secret.

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      2. The Captain sent a letter outside of his chain of command that effectively confirmed the fact that his ship was combat ineffective while in-theater. That’s a huge problem. Sure, Navy may have admitted to 3 sailors having COVID-19. The Chinese would not have known whether or not it was debilitating the ship. What’s more, by keeping the ship at sea, we were keep China off-guard as to whether or not the ship was really weakened.

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      3. Yeah, I don’t know why Captain Crozier felt that he needed to send the letter outside his chain of command. My suspicion is that whoever was in charge of arranging for quarantined quarters for his crew on Guam just wasn’t keeping him informed.

        I disagree with you regarding the Chinese and Russians, however. By the time Captain Crozier sent his letter, the whole world knew that COVID-19 was contagious. Now I wasn’t the best Intel officer in the DoD, but I can still guarantee you that if I saw an open source media report that said a previously unknown and highly contagious virus had been introduced to the crew of China’s aircraft carriers Liaoning or Shandong, or Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov, while they were underway, that definitely would have gone into that day’s Intelligence Summary (INTSUM), with a rather obvious note that we could expect to see problems aboard those ships. I can only assume that US Navy aircraft carriers hold at least that much interest for the Chinese and the Russians, and that their analysts are at least that observant.

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      4. But it would have been unknown is the point. Decisive action would not have been as easy. Crozier’s letter all but confirmed that his ship was basically dead-in-the-water. That, alongside reports of the RR’s situation in Japan meant that China would have a freehand in the area until the Truman could reposition from the Persian Gulf to the Pacific.

        Here’s another one of the Navy’s finest: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/military/story/2020-04-12/navy-destroyer-captain-relieved-in-january-after-lying-to-san-diego-fleet-command-about-ships-position?fbclid=IwAR39SkOFjIffJp1ENHlWfipu-4T73dlbQZP8hMQG6IJyqK-uXArjL8Txlj0

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      5. OK. I’ll agree with that. However, I stand by my comment that the Navy needs to add a paragraph about contagions aboard ships to their SCG’s, and to get their PAO under control.

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