The Dismissal of CAPT Crozier: Military Command Responsibility in the Age of Coronavirus

Those who know me and my opinions well may be surprised at the opinion I give below. Those people should remember that besides being an attorney and political creature that I spent the first half of my life as a military officer. Sometimes the lessons I learned in uniform skew my legal opinions.

I have to disagree with those who object to CAPT Brett Crozier being relieved of duty for publicizing the COVID19 status of the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt.  (See MSNBC report on the nuclear powered aircraft carrier situation)

CAPT Crozier was not removed from command because he tried get help for his men, he was removed from command because he violated very basic instructions every naval officer learns very early in a career. The Navy has a system called the CASREP system (Casualty Report) where a Navy commander is required to report any condition that damages the ability of his command to do any part of their mission. It can be anything as simple as a necessary piece of equipment being broken to personnel injuries to battle damage. It is a basic part of keeping the chain of command informed of a unit’s mission readiness.

My commanding officer once had to send in CASREP because I and about eight other junior officers went to a nice restaurant in Colombo, Sri Lanka and ate Chicken Kiev that was “bad” and we were hors de combat with food poisoning for ten days afterward, so CAPT Martin had to do a CASREP that 50% of his watchstanding junior officers were confined to our cabins and hugging porcelain plumbing fixtures quite regularly. A CASREP goes directly to the entire Chain of Command to the extent that the senior officers need to know the mission of a Navy Unit is impugned. In our case, the fact that a nuclear weapons carrying guided missile cruiser on deployment in the Indian Ocean was incapable of fielding a full battle-ready officer corps was such that the Chief of Naval Operations himself and everybody in between had to get the report on my buddies and my gastric difficulties.

SO, the USS Theodore Roosevelt is a nuclear powered and nuclear weapon capable ship carrying 100+ frontline aircraft and the greatest ability to project force af any single military unit in the US Military. A report by CAPT Crozier that 133+ sailors and officers on the Roosevelt were ill with COVOD19 would be required to go to COM 7th Fleet, COMNAVSURFPAC, COMNAVAIRPAC and the CNO himself. CAPT Crozier’s personal estimate of the situation is the most important part of a standard CASREP report. A properly submitted CASREP on the USS Theodore Roosevelt would have gotten to every possible level of the US Navy’s leadership.

Oh, and one more important point, a proper CASREP would be classified in accordance with the importance of the mission being reported about. But, instead of (or perhaps, in addition to) a proper legally required CASREP, CAPT Crozier sent a five page diatribe with unnecessary hyperbole to not only the chain of command but other offices that was virtually guaranteed to get released to the press/media.

AND, his letter was not classified to protect the information that one third of the US Navy’s war-fighting ability in the Far East was soon to be out of action. Within day or two, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il knew he did not have to worry about the Theodore Roosevelt as much and the Chinese and Russians knew as much about the USS Roosevelt’s ability to fight a war and respond to a foreign threat as the Pentagon did. Commander of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier is probably the most sacred and difficult duty a naval officer can be assigned. His superiors need to know he will meticulously and precisely carry out his duties in accordance with their orders. The CASREP regulation is one of those orders.

CAPT Crozier’s heart was in the right place, but he is not paid to have his heart in the right place, he is paid to have his carrier in the right place and safe. He compromised the security of information about this ability to carry out his mission. He violated a sacred understanding of respecting the chain of command. He intentionally acted in a way that appears to have been intended to draw public attention, which was both an embarrassment and a danger to his command. He managed to handle a serious problem in a way that seems to have caused morale problems on his ship. Getting himself removed from command did not help his crew nor his mission.

Lastly, a commanding officer of a naval unit has a very powerful tool to handle just this kind of problem; it is called “UNODIR.” That stands for “Unless Otherwise Directed” which is followed by the C.O’s explanation of what he intends to do to handle the problem. If the COVID19 infection onboard his ship was so severe that something must be immediately done, CAPT Crozier had the ability to do things that only the C.O. of a naval ship can do, which is whatever he deems necessary for the safety of his ship and crew. In the CASREP he submitted he should have listed what action he was intending to take to protect his crew and let the chain of command either accept it or tell him otherwise. If he did not like the “otherwise” he could have resigned. See https://careertrend.com/how-to-use-casrep-instruction-in-the-united-states-navy-13583550.html