The captain of one of the largest warships ever created was relieved of command as COVID-19 spread throughout the walkways and bulkheads of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). As over 600 of the 5,000 sailors aboard have tested positive for the virus, Captain Brett Crozier faced a difficult choice: sit by and do nothing, or plead for help. He chose the latter.
The situation started when a sailor came into contact with the virus while on shore leave in Vietnam, after which the virus quickly spread throughout the tightly packed ship. With social distancing being impossible to enforce, sailors packed to the brim in tight quarters, and the carrier being out in the open ocean, the Theodore Roosevelt became a floating petri dish.
While his decision may seem like a no-brainer in ethics, the problem was the response from Navy leadership, who instead of praising him for his quick thinking, decided to relieve him of command effectively ending his 20 plus year naval career.
Crozier’s decision ensured that his crew would be safe and cared for when they reached Guam, even though he himself tested positive for COVID-19. A decision like this is not a hard one to make, it is not the Kobayashi Maru from Star Trek where it is a no win scenario.
“We are not at war,” Crozier wrote. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”
It is also unfortunate that one sailor from the Theodore Roosevelt has died from COVID-19 after being in the ICU at Naval Hospital Guam. That sailor’s death can be directly attributed to Navy leadership for not acting quick enough.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly flew out to the Roosevelt while it was docked in Guam and gave a speech to the crew over the ship wide intercom about how Crozier was too “naive or stupid” to be in command. This did not bode well for him. A few days later, he submitted his resignation to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
Both Modly and Crozier know what entails commanding a large unit such as a carrier like the Roosevelt. Both men graduated from the brutally tough US Naval Academy and have commanded aviation squadrons throughout their time in the fleet. Modly left the Navy after his initial five year service commitment when one attends a service academy, but Crozier decided to stay and make a career out of it.
The requirements to command one of the 11 aircraft craft carriers in the Navy includes being a qualified naval aviator, command of a deep draft ship, and attending the PhD level US Nuclear Power School. But even completing all of these requirements does not guarantee command of a carrier, something Crozier managed to do and was well liked in.
For Modly to openly disparage Crozier on the shipwide intercom was a slap in the face to Crozier’s career, Modly’s professionalism, and the reputation of the US Navy. His resignation should have been submitted sooner.
While the Navy’s top leadership may have seen his letter as a poor judgement call, his crew would seem to think otherwise. As Captain Crozier disembarked from the Roosevelt, the crew gathered on the deck to give him a proper send off filled with cheers and wild chanting for his decision to protect his crew above all else.
When faced with the potential death of his crew, or to act like nothing is happening, Crozier made the right decision to call for help, even if it cost him his career. Captain Crozier should be given a medal for his tough call and doing what was right for his crew.