Acting Secretary of the Navy Letter to The New York Times

By Thomas B. Modly

I have the utmost respect for Mr. Roosevelt and his family’s immense heritage of service to the nation.  In the case of Captain Crozier, however, he is wrong.  I suspect he has no other motive than to defend a courageous man, a man in the arena, but he simply does not have access to the relevant facts that led to the captain’s dismissal.
 
Capt. Crozier’s emotional letter on official Navy letterhead, addressed to no one in particular, was attached to an email which he distributed broadly to multiple addressees. It began “My Fellow Naval Aviators.”  It included, and intentionally excluded, various people from his direct chain of command. 
 
In the body of the email to which his letter was attached Captain Crozier wrote, “I fully realize that I bear responsibility for not demanding more decisive action the moment we pulled in (to Guam), but right now my only priority is the continued well-being of the crew and embarked staff.”  While this may have been his self-assessment, I know that no one in his chain of command, up to and including me, who felt that Captain Crozier bore any responsibility for not demanding more decisive action at that time. 
 
The facts are that Capt. Crozier’s direct chain of command, up to the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, had been communication with him well before (and after) he sent the email. So had my office.  I asked my Chief of Staff to call him just after the ship pulled into Guam.  He did so twice, and Capt. Crozier expressed no alarm to him at all.   Bottom line, the public disclosure of Capt. Crozier’s letter had no impact on the flow of support to the ship.  None.  The crew of the ship was already being tested as rapidly as possible, isolated as necessary, and moved off the ship to quarantine.  That was all happening to the greatest extent possible while still providing for the safety of the ship and all those still aboard.  
 
Capt. Crozier did tell us that he was impatient with the pace of moving Sailors off the ship.  We were ALL impatient with the pace.  Securing 4,000 individual rooms suitable for isolation on Guam in the middle of a pandemic-forced shutdown is not a simple task.  That being said, in less than a week, thanks in large part to the Government of Guam and the support of the rest of the Pacific Fleet, we have secured nearly 3,700.  That plan was in action well prior to Capt. Crozier writing his letter, and it continues to be executed today. 
 
What the public release of his letter did do, however, was unnecessarily create a public panic, when what was called for was calm.  In my view, this is one of the main areas where Captain Crozier “bears responsibility.”  It was his lapse of judgment in a moment of adversity that led to my loss of confidence in him.    
 
I don’t doubt Captain Crozier’s love for his crew.  But in my view, he did serious harm to his Sailors and the rest of our Navy when he created an atmosphere of crisis, while it was his primary duty to be a steady hand on a stormy sea.  He did not send his dire warning on classified networks, or place any markings to suggest the information was classified, sensitive, or for official use only.  While this may sound mundane to the average citizen, it is unacceptable behavior for the commanding officer of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, and it should never be tolerated.  As a civilian leader responsible to the American public for their safety and security, as well as that of every Sailor and Marine serving and standing the watch, I will not.
 
Sensitive information about the material condition of our biggest and most powerful warship made its way out into the public arena, in the hands of our adversaries.  So did statements about political decisions outside the purview of the military.  It was my determination that the Navy could not afford to wait to see if this lapse of judgement was just an aberration, or even the Captain’s new normal in the midst of a challenge.  The stakes of our national security are simply much too high for that.
 
After all, Mr. Roosevelt, Captain Crozier was the Commanding Officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and I am relatively certain your great grandfather would have demanded much more under pressure.  I certainly do, and we all must.


The New York Times (April 3, 2020) Opinion: Captain Crozier Is a Hero
Letter to The New York Times (April 6, 2020): Captain Crozier: Navy Hero, or Unsteady Leader?

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