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OPINION

Capt. Crozier and the imperative to do what's right

By CHRIS SMITH | The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif. (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 3, 2020

Just five months ago Brett Crozier, of the Santa Rosa High Class of 1988, assumed an awesome responsibility aboard one of the largest, most lethal warships in the world.

In a dockside ceremony Nov. 1 in San Diego, Crozier, long ago a Press Democrat carrier and conductor of the train ride at Howarth Park, accepted command of the nuclear aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.

“You have dedicated yourself to an incredibly noble cause,” he declared in his first address to the crew of about 5,000, “choosing not what is easy, but what is right and just in the service of our great nation …”

Five months later, Capt. Crozier looks to have himself chosen right and just over easy. On Monday, amidst a mounting COVID-19 crisis aboard the ship, he drafted an extraordinary, four-page letter to superiors in which he pleaded for aggressive measures to protect the Nimitz-class carrier’s crew from the disease.

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SOMEONE PASSED a copy of the letter to the San Francisco Chronicle. Quickly on Tuesday it became international news that a Navy captain had urged superiors, “This will require a political situation but it is the right thing to do.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”

A retired Navy captain and former assistant secretary of defense, Lawrence Korb, was quoted saying the writing of such an unusual letter “shows that this is a person who is putting the welfare of his sailors ahead of his career.”

The future of Crozier’s career was a matter of speculation and debate for the better part of two days.

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THOMAS MODLY, the acting secretary of the Navy, said that for Crozier to express his concerns up the chain of commander “is exactly what we want our commanding officers and our medical teams to do.”

But Modly publicly took issue with the letter being shared and winding up being distributed by the press.

“I don’t know who leaked the letter to the media,” he said. “That would be something that would violate the principles of good order and discipline, if he (Crozier) were responsible for that. But I don’t know that.”

Among those who advocated against Crozier being punished by the Navy was Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.

“For this captain to come forward and do what he did up the chain of command, he should be heralded as a hero, and I’m sure they’re already finding ways to undermine because that’s what the military does,” Speier was quoted as saying.

“The fact of the matter is had (Crozier’s letter) not been leaked, more lives would have been affected.”

Speculation about whether Crozier would sustain retribution ended Thursday with the announcement by Modly that the captain was relieved of his command for poor judgment and for sharing his memo with people outside the chain of command.

Modly said the letter “created the impression the Navy was not responding to his questions. It creates the perception the Navy is not on the job; the government is not on the job. That’s just not true.”

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THE NAVY’S ACTION against Crozier marks an abrupt disruption to a distinguished and liberally commended military career inspired by the Tom Cruise character in the classic 1986 film, “Top Gun.”

About two years after a teenage Crozier saw the flick in Santa Rosa and set his sights on becoming a Navy aviator, he was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy on a nomination by then-Congressman Doug Bosco, an investor in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

Following graduation in 1992, Crozier trained to fly the Seahawk helicopter, then the F/A-18 Hornet fighter. He logged more than 3,000 flight hours,

Crozier earned a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in 2007 and completed Nuclear Power School in 2014.

He received his first command in mid-2017 as captain of amphibious command ship the Blue Ridge, flagship of the U.S. 7th Fleet.

Last Nov. 1, he stood on the flight deck of “The Big Stick” and became the carrier’s 16th captain. He thanked the assembled crew members for doing what is right and just, and “doing it on the greatest warship in the world.”

I have no access to what is in Crozier’s heart and head. But it could be that at a unique, historic and perilous moment his loyalty to that ship and crew and to right action drove him to do something he knew might cost him dearly.

chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com

©2020 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)
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