Professionalism/Brett Crozier and the U.S. Navy

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Captain Brett Crozier, 2019

Navy Captain (CAPT) Brett Crozier served as commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. When an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred within his crew, he took action outside of normal military channels by sending an email to other navy members and was relieved of command. His actions and the actions of the Navy following them serve to demonstrate the contrasting professional ethics of the armed forces, and the conflict between protecting one's soldiers and serving the nation as a whole.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Events Leading Up To The Email[edit | edit source]

The first recorded case of COVID-19 on the Theodore Roosevelt occurred on March 24th, 2020.[1] Only one other major outbreak had occurred on a ship at this time, the Diamond Princess cruise ship.[2] The U.S. declared a state of emergency only 11 days prior to the first case on the Roosevelt.[2] Test kits were available, but their reliability was questioned.[2]

In response to the outbreak, CAPT Crozier ordered that twice daily cleanings, daily screenings, and extra food prep precautions. The crew was ordered to practice social distancing, which was difficult due to the tight confines of the vessel.[1]

The Email[edit | edit source]

CAPT Crozier sent the email on March 30th, 2020, following a sharp rise in the number of positive tests.[3] The email described the situation, the current COVID measures underway on the ship, the problems with these measures, and predictions using available information. He cited the Navy’s guidelines at the time and CDC instructions. He argued that the guidelines could not be followed when the ship was at sea with a full compliment of sailors.

His conclusion was that there were two possible courses of action. One was to stay at sea and be ready to fight if needed, which would likely result in COVID deaths. The other was to stay in port, disembark as many sailors as possible and allow the crew to appropriately isolate in order to stem the spread of the virus. Crozier found the latter to be the best option, and asked that Navy leadership give him the assistance he needed to make it happen.

“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.” - Captain Brett Crozier[3]

Response and Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Crozier's email was leaked to the press on March 31st, 2020, prompting acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly to relieve Crozier of his command.[4] Modly reasoned that Crozier's choice to break with standard chain of command procedures was unacceptable. Crozier was allowed to retain his rank. Responses to the removal were mixed, with many congressmen and president Donald Trump approving of the decision.[5] Others, such as head of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith, found the removal an overreaction. The response to this removal from the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt was largely negative, with Sailors seen chanting his name as he left the ship in the following days.[6] Following footage of the crew being leaked online, Secretary Modly visited the Theodore Roosevelt in person, giving a speech that reprimanded the crew and called Crozier "too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer."[7] This speech was also leaked, causing many people, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to call for his removal. Following the leak of the speech, Modly resigned from his position. A navy inquiry was then launched to determine if Crozier's removal was justified. It found Modly's decision correct on June 19th, 2020.[8]

Evaluation of Professionalism[edit | edit source]

The Navy Values[9][edit | edit source]

As the following actors are all members of the U.S. Navy, the Navy values will be used to asses their professionalism.

The Navy's core values are honor, courage, and commitment.

CAPT Brett Crozier[edit | edit source]

Based on the Navy's definition of professionalism, a strong argument can be made that CAPT Crozier acted professionally.

CAPT Crozier demonstrated honor by being honest and truthful with his leadership, making honest recommendations, and taking responsibility for his actions. CAPT Crozier identified that he could not handle the situation alone, and escalated the problem. CAPT Crozier did this knowing that it may adversely affect his career and took full responsibility for the recommendations he provided.

CAPT Crozier demonstrated courage by doing what he thought was right without regard for personal consequences. CAPT Crozier did what he believed was in the best interest of the nation, the Navy, and his Sailors. He did this knowing that it could adversely affect his career.

CAPT Crozier demonstrated commitment to his Sailors and crew by doing everything he could think of to ensure their personal well-being.

While an argument can be made that CAPT Crozier did not react with the level of competence and problem solving required of a leader in his position, very little argument can be made against CAPT Crozier’s character. CAPT Crozier placed the mission and his Sailors ahead of his own career. CAPT Crozier’s actions are a demonstration of selfless service. He upheld Navy Values in his decisions, serving as a clear example of professionalism.

Acting Secretary Thomas Modly[edit | edit source]

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly

The initial behavior of Thomas Modly was mixed in terms of professional ethics. While he initially refrained from attacking Crozier on a personal level when removing him from command, his decision was in many ways rash, being based on false pretenses and done without a full navy investigation. Modly claimed that Crozier sent his email "to 20 or 30 other people" outside of his chain of command, while an external investigation found Crozier to have sent the email to 10 people, all Captains or Admirals.[10]

Modly's behavior became significantly less professional during his trip to the USS Theodore Roosevelt. In his speech on the ship, he chose to attack the character of Crozier, rather than his actions. While the correctness of Crozier's decision is debatable, the reasoning for it was clear and was explained clearly in his email To attack a fellow professional as "stupid" and "naïve" shows a lack of honor, and shows that Modly was either incapable or unwilling to attempt to understand Crozier's reasoning. Modly's actions did not serve the best interests of the Navy or the nation, and did not embody the Navy's core values. His resignation following the speech reflects this.[11]

Navy Tribunal Official Investigation[edit | edit source]

The Navy released a report of their investigation finding on June 19 2020.[12]

In contrast to the views of Acting Secretary Modly, the investigation found that at least one additional person should have been included as an addressee in the email, and that the email did in fact stay within the chain of command. The report stated that CAPT Crozier’s values and priorities were not in question. As Captain, he was appropriately concerned for the safety of his crew and the readiness of his ship. The investigators instead found fault in the ways Crozier pursued crew safety. The report states that CAPT Crozier was too passive in the period leading up to the email, and that he should have been ‘forceful and fearless’ in voicing his concerns up the chain of command. The investigators found that due diligence was not performed when assessing the facts of the situation prior to sending the email. These were the primary reasons the report suggested that CAPT Crozier not be reinstated as CO of the USS Theodore Roosevelt.[12]

Sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt[edit | edit source]

The response of sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt can be viewed as unprofessional in some ways, as their reaction to Crozier's departure breaks with military standards for behavior. However, it also reveals a level of respect from the sailors towards Crozier. The crew's willingness to break with decorum to show support demonstrates the feelings of many crewmen towards Crozier's decision: that it was made in their best interests, and with the goal of preserving their health and safety.

Conclusions[edit | edit source]

Leadership vs "Likership"[edit | edit source]

One of the biggest criticisms of CAPT Crozier has been that he placed the needs of his ship ahead of the needs of the Navy and nation, and that CPT Crozier prioritized the comfort of his crew over mission success. This opinion can be boiled down to "leadership" versus "likership". There are a number of people, including Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday, who believed that CAPT Crozier made decisions based on what would be popular among his crew, rather than making the decisions most likely to result in mission success.[1]

CAPT Crozier's response can be defended in a number of ways, and the boiling down of his decision making to "likership" seems to neglect many of the details of the situation. CAPT Crozier did what he thought would be best for his crew and for the Navy.

Selfless Service[edit | edit source]

Both the initial response to the email and the more thorough investigation that followed seem to agree that CAPT Crozier's concern for his crew is genuine, so too was his lack of concern for the personal consequences he and his career would face as a result of the actions he took. If his service as CO of the USS Theodore Roosevelt was in fact deficient as the Naval Tribunal's investigation claims, such deficiencies likely did not extend to CAPT Crozier’s sense of professionalism. It is possible that one can act entirely professional and still be removed from command for legitimate reasons. Regardless, many of the Navy’s core values are evident in CAPT Crozier's actions.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c LaGrone, Sam (2020-06-19). "TR Investigation Fallout: Crozier Won't be Reinstated, Strike Group CO Promotion Delayed". USNI News. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  2. a b c CDC (2023-03-15). "CDC Museum COVID-19 Timeline". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  3. a b "TR COVID 19 Assistance Request". Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  4. Kube, Courtney; Gains, Mosheh. "Navy relieves captain who raised alarm about COVID-19 on ship". NBC News. Retrieved 2023-04-28.
  5. Feuer, Will. "Trump says Navy captain letter asking for help on coronavirus-stricken ship 'was terrible'". CNBC. Retrieved 2023-04-28.
  6. Sailors cheer fired Navy Captain Brett Crozier from USS Theodore Roosevelt, retrieved 2023-04-28
  7. Thomas Modly speech on Theodore Roosevelt, retrieved 2023-04-28
  8. Schmitt, Eric; Gibbons-Neff, Thomas (2020-06-19). "Navy Inquiry Faults Two Top Officers Aboard Roosevelt for Handling of Virus" (in en-US). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. 
  9. "United States Navy > About > Our Core Values". Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  10. Boburg, Shawn (April 16, 2020). "How an outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt became a defining moment for the U.S. military".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. Gordon, Gordon Lubold and Michael R. "Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly Resigns in Wake of USS Roosevelt Comments". WSJ. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  12. a b Department of the Navy. (2020 Jun 19) Final Endorsement 5800 Ser 100002.