Capt. Brett Crozier
The commanding officer of USS Theodore Roosevelt broke the chain of command and used a regular email to send out sensitive information, which put national security at risk, acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly said, explaining his decision to fire the captain.
Capt. Brett Crozier was relieved of command on Thursday, following the leak of his four-page memo in which he pleaded for the Navy’s “decisive action” to evacuate 4,000 sailors from Roosevelt as Covid-19 transmission has accelerated on the 5,000-crew carrier.
Crozier will be temporarily replaced by the carrier’s executive officer, Captain Dan Keeler, until Rear Admiral Select Carlos Sardiello arrives in Guam to assume command, Modly said in a statement. Roosevelt has been ported in Guam since last week after completing its port visit to Vietnam.
“Rear Admiral Select Sardiello is the former commanding officer of the Theodore Roosevelt so he is extremely well-acquainted with the ship, many members of its crew and the operations and capabilities of the ship itself. He is the best person in the Navy right now to take command under these circumstances,” Modly said.
The now-widely circulated letter was first published by San Francisco Chronicle, which Modly described as Crozier’s “hometown paper.” Crozier is a Santa Rosa native.
While saying Crozier was “absolutely correct in raising” his concerns, Modly said his action was not done properly.
“It was the way in which he did this, by not working through and with his Strike Group Commander to develop a strategy to resolve the problems he raised, by not sending the letter to and through his chain of command, by not protecting the sensitive nature of the information contained within the letter appropriately, and lastly by not reaching out to me directly to voice is concerns, after that avenue had been provided to him through my team, that was unacceptable,” Modly said in a statement.
Modly said the carrier strike group’s commander, Rear Admiral Stuart Baker, Crozier’s immediate superior, is embarked on the ship, “right down the passageway from him.”
Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly explains his decision to fire Capt. Brett Crozier.
Instead of going directly to Baker, “The letter was sent over non- secure, unclassified email even though that ship possesses some of the most sophisticated communications and encryption equipment in the fleet,” Modly said. “It was sent outside the chain of command, at the same time the rest of the Navy was fully responding.”
In his letter to the Navy leadership, Crozier said that “in combat we are willing to take certain risks that are not acceptable in peacetime. However, we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily.”
While acknowledging the need to address the sailors’ well-being, Modly said national security is a larger strategic context that all commanders must consider.
“While we may not be at war in a traditional sense, neither are we truly at peace,” the navy official said. “Authoritarian regimes are on the rise. Many nations are reaching, in many ways, to reduce our capacity to accomplish our national goals.”
Modly said the decision to relieve Crozier of his duty was not made lightly. “I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interests of the safety and well-being of his crew,” he said.
However, Modly said, Crozier’s action did the opposite. “It unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our sailors and marines with no plan to address those concerns,” he said. “It raised concerns about the operational capabilities and operational security of the ship that could have emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage, and it undermined the chain of command who had been moving and adjusting as rapidly as possible to get him the help he needed.”
Dismissing Crozier was not “one of retribution," Modly said. "It is about confidence. It is not an indictment of character, but rather of judgement.”
He noted that military commanders are required to have “the judgment, maturity and leadership composure under pressure to understand the ramifications of their actions within that larger dynamic strategic context.”
“We all understand and cherish our responsibilities, and frankly our love, for all of our people in uniform, but to allow those emotions to color our judgment when communicating the current operational picture can, at best, create unnecessary confusion, and at worst, provide an incomplete picture of American combat readiness to our adversaries,” Modly said.
Modly said when Crozier wrote the letter on March 30, the Department of the Navy had already mobilized significant resources for days in response to his previous requests.
The Navy has finalized an agreement with the local government to quarantine the sailors at hotels in Tumon. About 3,000 sailors are anticipated to be brought off-shore by today.