Commentary

Dispatch from Rome: Former Theodore Roosevelt skipper should be praised, not pilloried

I can’t help the feeling that I have some skin-in-the-game. The firing of Captain Brett Crozier, the commanding officer aboard the COVID-19 afflicted aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, hit me hard. Unlike roughly 98 percent of the officer corps of the US Armed Forces, I know exactly how he feels.

I was twice fired by the United Nations from senior supervisory positions: Both times for insisting that there are occasions when my first loyalty is to staff and mission ahead of allegiance to superiors.

The effect of these UN firings on me personally and professionally was shattering, as is no doubt true for Crozier. My sympathy and understanding goes out to both him and his family and this most difficult time. But just what did he do?

The skipper of the Roosevelt wrote an email. Per Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, the justification for the firing was that Crozier exercised poor judgment in the way he “broadly” distributed that email. Also, “…he did not take care to ensure that it (the offending letter) could not be leaked, and that is part of his responsibility.”

One wonders what this email might have conveyed that was so egregious that it warranted a firing.

Crozier’s email is quoted as follows, “This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do. “…We are not at war. 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.”

A bit more follows from the Acting Secretary of the Navy: It appears that when the letter was leaked it, “… raised alarm bells unnecessarily.”

Crozier did not run his ship aground. He did not have sexual relations with a subordinate. He did not make a crucial error in seamanship. He did not share classified information with the enemy. He did not run his ship into another vessel.

No, he placed his loyalty to his crew and their lives ahead of allegiance to his superiors within the Pentagon. I cannot imagine a firing having a more chilling effect on commanders in all our military services. The crew of the Roosevelt is quite right to be enraged: As am I. It is the wrong message to send to our sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines around the globe.

Of course, the chain-of command must be respected. However, the chain-of-command is not a sacred cow never to be questioned. Superiors may occasionally require a none-too-gentle push to make the right decisions with dispatch when lives are on the line. Some senior officers on the Navy Staff and/or suit-wearing civilians of DoD may not always feel the same sense urgency to implement decisions as one might from the deck of a capital ship at sea. If a commander pushes too hard while attempting to do the right thing, his actions should be understood in that context, and subsequently be forgiven without prejudice. None of us is perfect in judgement, particularly when lives are at risk.

In peacetime, there can be no more important job for commanders at all levels than to husband the lives of their subordinates. These are America’s sons and daughters. They are precious beyond measure. Congress needs to become involved in Crozier’s case now. Loyalty must be permitted flow up and down the chain-of-command. Honest errors need to be forgiven. The military services can function properly in no other way. Moreover, and unless there is additional information that is not being currently shared with the public, the captain should be immediately restored to his command posting and later favorably considered for promotion to the rank of admiral. He demonstrated exemplary leadership qualities; appropriate care for his crewmates; while most ably exhibiting that he possesses a spine: Something our nation can ill-afford to lose.

Robert Bruce Adolph is a former United Nations Chief Security Advisor and US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel. He recently published a startling book entitled “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge,” that is available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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