As a sixty-year student of military history I have learnt of innumerable clashes between military commanders and their political “superiors”. Almost invariably, no matter how correct he may be, the military or naval commander comes off worse – in the short term at least.
Well, in the current USS Theodore Roosevelt Covid-19 crisis, the short term has been unusually short. The hastily acting political “superior”, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, has already come off second best. He has already been fired for his thoughtless and extravagant antics. His victim, Captain Brett Crozier, former Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier, has been “relieved”, but the scuttlebutt is that he will soon be re-instated and, hopefully, compensated for the stress and embarrassment of his peremptory “relief”.
Good commanding officers are very scarce, particularly for $12 billion, 5,000-crew aircraft carriers. They must be intelligent, well-educated, experienced, multi-talented, brave, decisive and brimming with common sense. A rare breed indeed.
Especially so, as like so many commanders before him, he was trying very hard to do the right thing by his crew, his ship and the US Navy. Unfortunately, his naval and political superiors failed to respond to the concerns this obviously very professional officer tried to communicate to them about the spread of the coronavirus through his crew.
There is no doubt now that his concerns of mid-March were well founded. One of his chief petty officers has died of the virus and many hundreds, if not now thousands, of his crew have contracted it. He was certainly not panicking.
This imbroglio resulted in his being relieved for the alleged crime of whistle blowing. As things have turned out, Captain Crozier is very clearly a hero and certainly, in no way, a villain or even an incompetent. The only incompetent in this sad tale is former Assistant Secretary Modly. He, sadly, now appears to have been maliciously incompetent.
Obviously, a vast and unwieldy bureaucracy such as the United States Navy will take some considerable time to reverse the decision to relieve Captain Crozier. However, it can only be hoped, for the sake of naval morale and the wider good name of the navy, that Captain Crozier is reinstated both quickly and with appropriate fanfare.