A Perspective For Those Out of the Loop: Thoughts on the USS Theodore Roosevelt

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I, like many, avoid the news like plague, especially given the current circumstances. I prefer to get my news on social distancing laws from policemen shouting at me to leave the now closed public parks. The news’ morbid and ceaseless coverage of death counts, quarantined homeless shelters, and overworked morticians is so thoroughly unpleasant that plenty of people have just taken to ignoring the news entirely. Improved mental attitude and a slightly sunnier world view can come at the cost of missing the truly thought-provoking and interesting stories that come out of all this hysteria. The saga of the USS Theodore Roosevelt seems to be drawing to a close in one of the most dramatic and polarizing stories in the year. For the like-minded and out-of-the-loop this post serves to provide a general run-down of the events.

            In early April, I noticed, as you likely did, a sudden rush of Navy themed memes, either vilifying or glorifying some guy named Brett. I’d had my fill with Brett controversy with that supreme court business last year, so I kept my nose out of it. It was only a week or so later when someone brought up the dismissal of Captain Brett Crozier in an unrelated Zoom meeting that I realized that this was probably something important to know about.

            So in the first week in April, people were absolutely losing it over Captain Crozier’s dismissal from the USS Theodore Roosevelt. A few of the sources I looked in to initially claimed that he was fired for telling his superiors about the threat of COVID-19 on his ship. He was neither fired, nor was that the reason for his being relieved of command. It seems that he sent a particularly strongly worded memo to his superiors, but not through the proper chain of command, and not using encryption. Both of these tools are important to OPSEC and COMSEC, which exist to ensure operational security and communications security. He reported that the email went out to 20 or so people, and that one of them must’ve leaked it to the press. Why the press cared so much about an aircraft carrier in Guam is anyone’s guess, but as soon as they knew, the cat was out of the bag, and the firing of the captain brought even more attention to the mission critical aircraft carrier with the soon-to-be very sick crew.

            I really don’t know how I missed this one, because it was a media circus: Captain Crozier made an honest (though potentially grave) mistake to protect his crew in a time of emergency. I cannot speak to how the acting Secretary of the Navy should have handled it, but his speech to the crew, indirectly calling them hypocrites, and then very directly calling their captain “naïve or stupid” does seem like something of a misstep. A misstep not remotely warranting the numerous death threats sent to him and his family, but certainly the words of an overworked, exhausted man trying to tame a media circus.

            As it stands, Captain Crozier is waiting for another assignment, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly resigned the day after his speech, and 800 sailors have tested positive for COVID-19. This should serve as a lesson about escalating argument, prioritizing, and attention to detail. The issue and its handling are nothing if not wrought with controversy, but it should be noted that conflicting opinions should not reflect poorly on the people involved nor the US Navy itself.